As reversals of fortunes go, few have pulled off one as impressive as Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport. In 2013, the international travel hub was ranked one of the world’s worst for passenger service, while in 2018, it broke the record for the highest ever quality score for the same metric – quite the comeback.
The airport has recently been named ‘World’s Most Improved Airport’ by official airline and airport review site Skytrax, and won the award for Airport Service Quality from the Airport Council International (ACI), the same body who graded it so poorly just five years ago.
So, just how did the team behind Rome Airport achieve such a turnaround in their customer service provision? It all comes down to data and its analysis, put to work to reveal exactly where the airport most needed to improve. We’ve taken a closer look.
Just like virtually every other industry there is, airports have begun to capitalise on the service-boosting capabilities of big data in recent years. Like cities on a smaller scale, airports are complex infrastructures, generating vast amounts of consumer and passenger data that, when applied in the right ways, can uncover business intelligence capable of creating a commercial edge.
In Singapore, Changi Airport has used data about its passengers to create an area dedicated to relaxation and escapism. Realising that stress is seen as a default setting for many of its regular business passengers, the airport team have created an oasis of calm with gardens, ponds with waterlilies, a waterfall and even a rooftop swimming pool. In Dublin Airport, passengers can download an app called Dub Hub, which guides them through the terminals, highlighting shops, restaurants and other facilities as and when they need them. The app also records data that serves to show airport managers how consumers use the services on offer.
Even airlines are getting in on the act; US-based airline Delta was the first in the world to use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on its passengers’ luggage, rather than traditional printed barcode tagging. The RFID tags enable passengers to track the exact whereabouts of their bags in real-time, and flag an automatic sensor if a bag is loaded on to the wrong plane, all of which has helped Delta achieve a 99.9 percent bag tracking success rate.
But back to Rome – here’s how they improved their customer experience through the use of big data analytics.
Using data to achieve change across an enterprise as large and multifaced as an airport means first combining everything in one dataset; information silos can only reveal a partial view of any business’s operational performance. Recognising that they needed to merge multiple sources of consumer and passenger data, the team at Rome Airport began feeding different datasets into a central hub, enabling them to use intuitive dashboard software to manipulate the data into visualisations they could make sense of, like our expert colleauges do at Quant.
Feeds included open source data from road sensors around Rome (which tracked the weight of traffic approaching the airport), activity data from air traffic control and ground handlers, as well as various services in the passenger journey, car parks, public transport, check-in, security, airport shops, car rental and more. Consolidating all this data and viewing it via a data visualisation system created a picture of how services were running in and around the airport from moment to moment, and allowed the team to see where problems were occurring.
Once Rome Airport had existing operational data feeding into a single repository, the next step was to find a way to collect a deeper level of detail about how people were moving around the space. Seizing on an opportunity to maximise the value of another existing service, the team enhanced its public Wi-Fi with 2,000 new routers – an improvement that would yield dual benefits. Not only would customers have a faster, more reliable network, the airport team would have another way to analyse how they move around the terminals, or more to the point, where and why bottlenecks built up.
They soon realised though, that there were smaller areas of the airport that Wi-Fi couldn’t help to decipher, such as the security hall. First trialling facial recognition cameras that monitored the speed of passengers moving through security gates, but discarding them due to a low accuracy rate, the team instead installed ceiling-mounted cameras to track people making their way through the gates. These cameras automatically convert people in the footage into dots, hiding individual identities but creating an effective depiction of crowd flow and congestion.
Both projects allow the team to monitor passenger movement around the airport in real-time, spot problems as they form and take action to get things moving again, such as opening extra security gates.
With these data-led systems working together, the Rome Airport team have been able to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes for passengers to board their planes. As and when pressure points appear, the team can take steps to alleviate them before they cause knock-on issues. Yet, as they’ve discovered, speeding up queues in one area can create new problems elsewhere, such as passengers arriving at security before they’re expected and before adequate staff are there to assist them. Thankfully, the data enables them to see and pre-empt these problems before they snowball, and Rome Airport has since achieved its aim of getting 90 percent of passengers through security within 10-15 minutes.
Data has helped the airport team get ahead of the many daily snags that, left unchecked, can easily add up to bigger issues. Their next challenge is to make use of artificially-intelligent (AI) automation, so that issues are automatically flagged by the hub rather than identified by the team. They hope to implement technology that will be capable of automatically detecting building queues and sending a message to handlers to open more gates, all without any human intervention.
With the right data infrastructure and platforms for analysis, you too can make informed business decisions based on real operational information.
At Quant, we help our clients zero in on the data that matters to their businesses, and find ways to extract the actionable intelligence. Just like at Rome Airport, the results are better customer service for your consumers and a deeper understanding of their preferences and behaviours for you, all based on more fruitful, more commercially-rewarding relationships. Get in touch with us today to find out more.