GATWICK PLOUGHS ON!
Having spent the day touring what is regarded as London’s second airport it looks like it could well come out in first place, certainly in terms of its staff and their drive to fly high on achievement.
The positive feel and buzz around the airport was perceptible as the ‘can do’ members of staff that conducted the tours with us were keen to demonstrate what great leaps forward had been made by the airport since the days when it was run by BAA (British Airports Authority) some 3 years ago.
The face-lift to both terminals North and South are what give you the first clue that things have changed there. Inside at South a shopping complex is nearing completion and probably the world’s largest airport duty free shop will take a fair while to walk through even if you don’t stop to buy a thing! On the day of the visit a brand Harrods store opened other major retail outlets are keen to have a foothold there, Dixons refitted and styled store was doing brisk business.
North is a little behind the interior development curve but as I write plans are literally being drawn up to give the place a totally different feel as they incorporate great ideas from the South project into this one.
A recently opend food outlet including, bar and restaurant at North is that of TV chef Jamie Oliver its contemporary but rustic feel is literally cooking on gas now! As Jamie only wanted gas to be used which is not in common use at airports and is a first for Gatwick.
The customer experience is what the Gatwick is about and the staff does have this desire to try to make sure that customers using the airport have a good one!
From check–in through to security and onto departure gates the ease of flow of passengers during the day is critical to the staff and facilities plus signage play a big part in helping to get that ‘good experience’ rating that the airport desires so much and it shows.
Technology does play a big part in this scheme; airlines like easyJet who fill around 48% of the slots and you only have to look at the flight boards to see how much is orange, well they have introduced in the South terminal an automated baggage drop that is shared by FlyBe too.
From a security point of view the latest body scanners are due to arrive soon helping to speed the passengers through this important and very necessary part of airport life these days. Saving 10 or 15 seconds per passenger really mounts up during a whole day.
Lines of automated boarding card readers let the passengers into the security search area helping to keep a steady more natural flow with little or no queuing. Queuing which is one of the bad passenger experiences that the teams at Gatwick do work to eradicate for their 34.2million annual travellers.
Although one group of queuing machines that were clearly not working on the hot sunny day of the visit was some £8m worth of snow clearing vehicles parked in the shadow of the control tower.
The state of the art ploughs and sweeping machines were very much a necessary expense even though they may not be called into use for months at a time. A proud boast by William McGillivray, Product Development Director, that during the last recent winter that the airport kept on flying and had its runway clear when others did not.
The desire to grow and expand was very clear, as the senior management team do want to add a second runway and that could well be built to the south of the existing one they currently have three possible choices in their plans, but the decision is out of their hands.
With the Airports Commission investigating where an extra runway could go to serve London, Gatwick does appear to have a great argument. First they have a virtually clear site on which to build it on. With very little increased noise impact from the extension in the local area and even the local County Council has effectively given them the green light to develop.
Where as at Heathrow there seems to be more huge environmental problems to face with their desire to build it’s third runway at just north of the airport at Sipson.
Stansted is another option but there does seem to be those in the airline business generally that feel it is not the best choice.
Plus ‘Boris Island’ as its been called a brand airport built in the Thames estuary even more problems and huge building costs could blow that out of the water early on in the decision making, but who knows?
Gatwick it does seem to me to have a real advantage and the commission which will still be looking into this matter for some time yet to come will I suspect have real difficulty in ignoring their well argued case!