Regional Airports Improve Customer Service with Website Services

Author: 
Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 
September-October
2009




With increased security requirements, uncontrollable weather delays and oversold flights, it's tough to please air travelers. Two small airports are enhancing their websites to help the cause.




Facts & Figures

Project: Website Enhancements Idaho Falls Regional Airport Service: Real-Time Flight Information

Supplier: FlightView

Cost: $450/month

Key Benefits: Enhanced customer service; freeing airport/airline personnel for other duties

Revenue Opportunity: Equal split of revenue from advertising placed on airport website by FlightView

Aspen/Pitkin County Airport Service: Route Mapping/Schedule Information

Supplier: OAG Aviation Solutions

Cost: From $4,000/year (price varies with airport size)

Key Benefits: Enhancing customer service; freeing airport/airline personnel for other duties

Idaho Falls Regional Airport (IDA) and Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) are hoping to reduce travel stress by enhancing the flight and schedule information passengers can access on their own computers and web-enabled cell phones.

Adding real-time flight information to IDA's website and display systems within the airport for $450 per month was a "no-brainer," reports director of aviation Len Nelson. The service, from FlightView, allows users to see flight information in several different views without navigating away from the airport's website. Users can search arrival and departure times by flight number or city to view an air traffic map with terrain characteristics and a weather overlay that shows all in-air flights.

So far, Nelson is delighted with the results. "Our call volume and flight information questions have really dropped off because it's all available on the website," he notes. "People don't even have to come to the airport if they see a flight is late. They can follow the flight in the air and see when it's scheduled to land."

Under the previous system, flight information was displayed on monitors in the boarding, lounge and ticketing areas. Airline employees updated flight data on standalone computers.

"Airline employees are busy checking people in, working on the ramp, doing all the work airline employees do," explains Nelson. "So our flight information often was not up to date. [FlightView] put together a product, provided us with some visuals and it's worked out very well for us."

FlightView also placed high-end national advertising on IDA's website link, he notes, and splits revenue from ad sales equally with the airport based on the number of hits the site generates.

Real-Time Data

FlightView draws and combines data from numerous sources for subsequent display on customers' websites and airport monitors. The FAA data feed provides real-time information on flights currently in the air, while numerous airline data feeds provide pre-departure flight information on timeliness and delays. Flight scheduling comes from a separate airline data feed. FlightView also maintains a weather feed, which it presents as a radar overlay on its air traffic map.




"We pull all the information together, sort it through different aggregation rules, hold the information in a central repository, then push it out through all our various products," explains vice president of Marketing and Product Management Katherine Wellman. "Airlines and airports don't want to focus on those kinds of tasks."

According to Nelson, airport staff and airline personnel at IDA love the new system. "We removed a burden from them," he explains. "I'm not getting complaints from staff and travelers that the information isn't up to date or it's not correct. Too often, we were giving out bad information. Now, everyone seems to be getting the information they need."

The airport, he adds, has also reduced the amount of hardware necessary to input information by about 25% and eliminated associated maintenance costs.

Online Schedule & Routing Info

In March, Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) began integrating a timetable and route mapping tool from OAG Aviation Solutions into its website. Now, the airport has an online avenue to provide flight schedules and routing information to customers - a particularly valuable tool when seasonal vacationers inundate airport personnel with such questions.




Steve Schultz

"We get a lot of inquiries about schedules for future flights during our peak seasons," explains ASE properties administrator Steve Schultz. "Traditionally, we relied on the airlines to provide those schedules. Often, however, the airline wouldn't have the scheduling information available that far in advance."

Now, users can see at a glance where they can fly to and from, either directly or via a connection, and view times and details of all flights on any route. Hosted by OAG, the tool is integrated into the airport's website, giving the presentation of a seamless look for the user and allowing the airport to "brand" the service within its own website.

When users move a cursor over a point on the map of North America, a city name pops up. If the user clicks on the city, scheduling information for all flights to and from Aspen are displayed in an adjacent box.




"We get the information directly from the airlines," explains Ron Weiland, director of North American sales for OAG. "We gather data in various formats, consolidate and standardize the information, then distribute it to the industry. The old joke is that we'll take information any way you want to give it to us - electronic or scribbled on a napkin."

In the past, OAG provided timetables that displayed information in a format much like an Excel spreadsheet. With the route mapping tool, however, OAG allows users to interact with a map, then immediately see the results of that interaction.

ASE is the first U.S. airport to use OAG's route mapping tool. "For the small airport," Weiland explains, "this is going to be a very powerful tool. It helps promote the airport by showing customers the network of routes available to them. It allows travelers to obtain information easily and immediately without having to filter information through a cumbersome schedule."

ASE airport personnel agree. "The people who have used it love it," reports Schultz. "They like its versatility. It takes the middleman out of the process and allows people to plan their travels on their own time."

It's also reportedly a hit with airline personnel. "They really like it because it has helped free up their time," he adds. "It's a win-win for everybody."

Subcategory: 
IT/Communications

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