ACI Reveals the Winners of the 2015 Airport Service Quality Awards

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luggage, which can slow down the lines at TSA security check points. "But the TSA doesn't care that some airlines charge huge fees for checked bags. They have to check every carry-on, and some are bigger than others, or someone might have liquid in theirs because they couldn't bring a suitcase and are stretching the definition of a carry-on. The policies have to make sense together, but often they don't," Arussy says.

There is a need for better communication from a customer service software and technology perspective as well. Arussy says airlines are getting smart about how they deliver service through social and mobile technology, because those are the tools that customers primarily rely on when they're traveling. From push notifications that alert customers about delays to apps that enable passengers to rebook a flight or change their seats, airlines are becoming proactive service providers, but airports just aren't there yet. "Not everyone always flies with the same airline, and they might not have five different airline apps on their phones. But people do tend to fly out of the same airport—wouldn't it be beneficial to have all of the alerts and notifications come through an airport app? A great deal of integration needs to happen before this can be a reality," Arussy says. The same logic applies to customer service on social media. Customers don't always realize what falls under airport versus airline jurisdiction, so both parties should have access to the relevant social service feeds.

Despite the challenges that remain, Arussy says there is such a thing as "outstanding customer service" at an airport. The problem is that often, the outstanding service is reserved for a select group of customers that make up the top segment of travelers—think George Clooney in Up in the Air . These "very frequent fliers" are often whisked through private security checkpoints where they don't have to wait and, at some airports, are even "driven right to the plane in a Mercedes Benz," according to Arussy. Though scaling that level of service is virtually impossible, striving for an improvement from the status quo is a necessity. And sometimes, the best customer service is the result of agent empowerment and quick thinking, rather than a top-down strategy overhaul.

"I was once on a quick flight that turned into this massive ten-hour journey because we had to suddenly stop and refuel in Austin. The plane didn't have enough food for everyone because it wasn't supposed to be such a huge trip, so our in-flight crew got in touch with the airport crew and they ran to buy all this food from Starbucks so they could feed the passengers," Arussy says. "You hear about these things sometimes, but passengers would be a lot happier if they could expect that kind of service every time a similar issue arises," he adds.

Though Arussy doesn't disagree that ACI's pick for best airport offers solid customer service, he says the honor should go to San Francisco International Airport. "SFO has made a lot of changes recently. People don't realize what a difference something like free WiFi or access to tablets and electrical outlets makes for today's travelers. So many airports are just dated and not in tune with customers' needs," he says. "That's a problem," he adds, "because that's what customer service is about now: anticipating a customer need before it becomes a customer complaint."

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