Redefining Level of Service

Prior to 9/11, FAA and lead consultants were examining how to develop new level of service standards for airports and their customers. The initiative is getting back on track. Here's an update.

Bender relates that in fact just getting the TSA to initially recognize the uniqueness of airports was an obstacle.

"That phrase that we've now heard them say over and over - when you've seen one airport, you've seen one airport - took a breakthrough for them to see it. Airports are different because they serve individual, local markets.

"Every airport in the country has to report their wait times at security screening checkpoints. At least they're trying to collect those metrics. But I believe they're all over the map in terms of their objective."

Miller says that TSA has handicapped airports because of the Congressional mandate for fixed headcounts. "With fixed headcounts," he explains, "they can only do so much in terms of trying to spread those people in the smartest way possible to reduce the wait times and have a good level of service."

TransSolutions is currently working with DFW International Airport and TSA to determine ways to provide the best level of service while putting in new screening systems. It involves looking at the overall security approach being implemented at the airport.

Explains Miller, "They're starting to identify where the shortages are, so they can explain that to the people back in Washington. It also gives them a plan to say, if I only have this many people, how can I utilize the staff in such a way that we do the best job in serving the customers and not having those long lines."

Inherent in such analyses, he says, is determining a performance standard for passengers and their baggage. For example, requiring bags to be checked 30 minutes prior to departure for all the pieces to fall into place for the bag to be safely on the aircraft at departure.

Adds Bender, "If you don't have a facility that provides a good enough level of service that you end up not being able to keep your aircraft turntimes to a reasonably short period of time, then there's a greater cost to the airlines. To keep their costs in line, the airlines have to keep the airplanes in the air, which means they have to be putting customers and bags on the plane in a timely fashion."

Design standards

Central to creating level of service standards, says Bender, other than getting TSA on board and studying what currently exists, is getting all parties involved in the process. At any airport, that will include designers, architects, planners.

"It has to be up to the local design team; that's where it starts," she explains. "I'm not an architect but I know there's a school that says, form should follow function. So, you need to look at the business that needs to happen at the airport, and then come up with a facility that will support the smooth-flowing process of that business. That might be thought of as your base design.

"Then you need to work into it an understanding of the operation. What will come of it is determining where concessions should be, etc."

Besides the impact of TSA and security on design, she says, the revolution in e-ticketing and pre-check in via the Internet is playing a major role in what the new level of service standard should be. She relates that current thinking says that only 20 percent of passengers will need ticketing counter assistance in the coming years, which will definitely impact design of facilities.

"That gives us an opportunity to take that back wall down [behind the counters] to let people see where they're going," says Bender. "People being able to see where they need to go" is a level of service issue.

Miller explains that determining a standard for an airport is a starting point, a guide, that a design team can build upon to ultimately determine the right balance for a facility.

"People don't need to get through the checkpoint in a minute," he explains, "but expecting a half hour or hour wait every time you go to the airport isn't right either. It's striking the right balance between a reasonable level of service and a reasonable cost of the facilities, and then having TSA operate it."

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