Airports: Check in, chill out and take off

These days, clients can check in for their flight hungry, dishevelled and without any luggage. But after a quick trip around the airport, they could emerge looking like new ready for their holiday.

For agents, suggesting some of the special services available at UK airports could make all the difference to a sale. If your clients aren’t frequent flyers, don’t know what to do to keep the kids happy, or want an amazing shopping experience, a few words of advice from you will go a long way.

Here are a few pointers to start off with:


Everyone loves indulging in retail therapy at the airports. Customers shopping at Newcastle Airport can drop off their purchases ready for when they get back. The same service is offered at a number of BAA airports whereby shopping can be picked up on return at the World Duty Free arrivals shop.

For bookworms, best-selling titles are often released in paperback at airports months ahead of high-street stores. The ultimate designer shopping experience has to be at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 where new openings include Armani and Harrods, as well as expanded Gucci and Dior shops. Girls will love Jo Malone, an exclusive perfumery where passengers can get a free hand massage or check out the Fragrance Wall and tailor-make their own scent.

Every terminal at Heathrow has shopping information consultants – not quite personal shoppers, but they know their stuff and can point travellers in the right direction, or tell them about special offers. Look out for the green uniforms.

airports feature 220606 gate signBusiness bonus

Travelling business class comes with lots of in-flight perks, but it’s also worth remembering how flying business can often mean less hassle getting to the airport. Some airlines, such as Emirates and Virgin Atlantic, offer first and business-class passengers a free chauffeur transfer to the airport (some mileage restrictions apply).

Several airlines also offer a concierge service to smooth the way. Air Canada’s specially trained concierge agents are available at Heathrow. Concierges also add a personal touch to Continental Airline’s BusinessFirst service, providing on-the-ground assistance at Gatwick. Besides helping customers with pre-boarding, concierges greet connecting BusinessFirst customers at the gate and assist them through Customs, giving them personalised, VIP treatment.

For passengers at Stansted, the business-class airline Eos has a tie-up with Quintessentially, a concierge service offered worldwide that can secure clients access to some of the world’s most exclusive bars and restaurants and top tickets for shows and events.

Ease the pain of check-in

The prospect of long queues turns many people off the airport experience, but there are services to help avoid the feeling of powerlessness.

In May at Manchester Airport MyTravel Airways started offering self-check-in kiosks in the terminals, the railway station and the car parks. Staff are on hand to help customers and relieve them of their baggage. Day-before check-in is already offered at Gatwick and there’s 24-hour summer check-in at Manchester.

From Gatwick, Virgin Atlantic offers ‘twilight check-in’, between noon and 9pm the night before customers fly – a bonus for early morning flights.

KLM offers an online check-in with a home-printed boarding-card service for flights from London City, Heathrow, Newcastle, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and, most recently, Leeds Bradford.

Meanwhile, passengers at Gatwick can take advantage of a text message service from BAA that alerts them when their flight is open for boarding and at which gate.

Newcastle Airport will be the first regional airport in the UK to launch Common Use Self-Service kiosks from SITA. The CUSS kiosks will offer the capability for any passenger, on any airline, to check themselves in.

With more than 20,000 people using Newcastle Airport on a peak day, the addition of the kiosks will make life easier for passengers. Initially there will be 10 kiosks and KLM and ThomsonFly will be the first to use them. However, airlines including Thomas Cook, Flybe, Air France, Lufthansa and MyTravel have also shown interest.

Below we speak to a couple of the people responsible for making the airport experience a better one, and who offer some novel and useful services…

Bernard Lavelle is deputy director of business development and the man responsible for some of the special touches offered at London City Airport

What’s on offer?
Anyone buying a new shirt from the Travel Shop in departures can have it ironed so it’s ready to wear – free of charge. We get a lot of business travellers coming through this airport and they may need a new, clean shirt for whatever reason, but when it comes out of the packaging it needs to be ironed, so the store offers that service for them.

Anything else?
Free valet parking to customers in the business car park, and soon we will be able to have any pre-departure duty-free purchases delivered to the boot of the car. The passenger won’t even need to collect them when they land – just get back into their car and off they go.

Is it a top-to-toe service?
Indeed – our shoeshine service is really popular. Customers sometimes bring in several pairs of shoes at a time and pick them up again when they’re next travelling through the airport.

Darren Grover is manager of London City Airport’s Jet Centre, where customers’ wishes are his command

What do you do?
I manage the Jet Centre and smooth the way for people travelling on private jets, getting them from car to aircraft as quickly as possible.

What’s new?
Interest in hiring a jet has grown enormously and the cost of chartering has really come down so we have just launched Private Jet, our own brokerage service. We can charter aircraft from here, or any other airport.

Can an agent do this?
A bespoke agency wanted to get a group of 16 people from London to Italy and expected a twin-propeller aircraft but I managed to get them two private jets for around the same cost as scheduled fares. They were surprised and grateful.

Is it all millionaires and movie stars?
Around 98% of the traffic is corporate and leisure travel – not rich people with time on their hands and money to burn. Private jet charter is a time saver – look at it as a taxi service in the sky.

David McMahon has been a concierge with Air Canada for eight years. He is one of a team of 12 looking after Aeroplan Super Elite members and Executive First customers at Heathrow

What does it take to be an airline concierge?
When I first started, I thought it just took looks and personality! I have since learned it takes real experience to do this job well – and loyalty and belief in the Air Canada product. My mantra is be prepared for the unexpected and surprise and delight the customer – even when things go wrong. We undergo training based on that of a hotel concierge and are members of Les Clefs d’Ors – the highest benchmark a concierge can have.

What do you do?
Anything from getting passengers between terminals with minutes to spare and holding their seat on connecting flights – to looking for passengers’ lost false teeth in the cabin, then find in their handbag! There are also services such as hotel and restaurant bookings, theatre tickets and limousine services.

Do things go wrong?
Of course. Heathrow can be a nightmare, but as soon as we know a passenger is stressed or an issue arises, they get our mobile number and we remain in constant contact with them. Passengers meet a lot of airport staff who seem disinterested, so it’s almost a shock when we help them.

airport feature 220606 information signPaul Graham, customer services assistant at Nottingham East Midlands Airport, roams the terminal to help out passengers

What do you do?
I work 6am to 6pm, or 6pm to 6am shifts and the busiest period at the airport is around the 6am to 7.30am slots. There are customer services assistants at the 24-hour front desk, manning the 24-hour switchboard or roving the terminal.

What happens when you’re roving?
I look at the screens to check they’re all working and correct, inform waiting friends and family of any delays or let them know what’s happening and answer general questions from passengers. The roving customer services assistants only started last summer and it has been a real success, giving a personal touch at the airport.

What are the most common queries?
Most people are worried about where to go. Despite clear signage, people still want reassurance they are going to the right place – the airport can be daunting for some people. There are no silly questions in my book – whatever a passenger asks, I try to answer.

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