Strategic Meetings Summit London, 26 September,
September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
Transport Select Committee chairman, Gwyneth Dunwoody, has occupied the post since 2005 and has been a vocal champion of the industry for many years. Here she talks to ABTN about her plans for a root and branch review of the passenger airport experience, including crucially, the question concerning an industry-wide return to standard baggage allowances.
Leaving on a jet plane?
Two-hundred and twenty-eight million passengers passed through UK airports in 2005. This number has increased more than 100-fold since 1950 and is forecast to reach between 350 and 460 million by 2020. It raises the question: is quality keeping pace with quantity?
The past twenty years have seen a revolution in the way people travel by aeroplane, in part thanks to the liberalisation of the aviation market in the European Union. This ”opening up” of the skies has been accompanied by the birth and boom of low-cost and ”no frills” carriers such as easyJet and Flybe in Europe, JetBlue in the United States and Zoom, which offers transatlantic flights to Canada.
The continuous rise in passenger numbers, and the consequent proliferation in the number of flights and airlines and expansion of airport capacity, has made air travel an accessible and affordable option for most people. Whether it is also, these days, a pleasurable experience remains an open question. Several factors must come together seamlessly in order for a passenger to have a good flying experience, beginning with the purchase of a ticket and ending at the final destination. With increasing numbers of people booking flights on the Internet or over the telephone, the passenger herself is now the travel agent. With this change has come less certainly about the terms and conditions of tickets and about the full cost, including ”hidden” charges and taxes.
This is the first step in the passenger journey, which includes arranging transport to the airport, checking in, going through security at the airport itself, checking or taking on baggage and, finally, arriving at the destination. Difficulties can be caused by any number of factors”hidden charges, delays, cancellations, poor customer service, inadequate surface transport links and poorly-maintained facilities. Do airports and airlines do enough to minimise passengers” inconvenience?
The House of Commons Transport Select Committee has determined to look into all these issues. We have already taken evidence from passenger groups and airlines; we expect to hear from the airports and ground transport operators later this month. What appears to be emerging is a consensus that more needs to be done to improve what happens before actually boarding an aircraft; better, simpler, and considerably less stressful arrangements. Improvements I would like to see should include:
” clear and up-front pricing of tickets, including taxes and charges; ” a return to an industry-wide standard for baggage allowances; ” a review of the present carry-on restrictions; ” redesigned security areas and systems for reducing queues; and ” more, and better trained, staff at immigration points.
The Committee has not yet come to any conclusions but we will be considering these and other options put to us by passengers and the industry.
Passenger experience is central to the success and sustainability of the aviation sector. If passengers are not happy they can always choose another airline, even in some cases another mode of transport. Upgrades to the railways in both the UK and Western Europe mean that it is easier than ever before to travel a great distance whilst keeping your feet on the ground.
Airlines maintain that their passengers are happy: low cost carriers insist that they provide good value for money, and other carriers tell us that they offer a high quality of service. It is hard to dispute such claims while patronage continues to grow. And perhaps the fact that passengers are ”happy enough” should not be taken to mean there is no room for improvement. That is, perhaps, another matter; one that my Committee aims to address in the coming months.
The details when published will be on our website at www.parliament.uk/transcom