"Have it your way” has long been a theme in the food industry but these days it’s also become a mantra for airport parking. Airports are working harder than ever to improve the passenger experience so that their patrons can have it their way from the moment they drive up to the airport and set foot on the pavement in the parking garage.
“Customers are demanding easy access and a variety of choices,” says Al Pramuk, the executive vice president of Aviation at Gresham, Smith and Partners (GSP) in Alpharetta, Ga. He explains airports have responded to parking issues by focusing on improving access and integrating technologies that enhance the passenger experience.
And, they have good reason for taking that approach. “Airport travel is two things for everyone: expensive and stressful,” says Stephen Callender, owner of Stellar Impeller, a public relations and brand identity firm, as well as a frequent passenger in and out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Callender says he feels innovative parking technology relieves his stress, gives him more leisure time at the airport, saves him money, and enhances his travel experience.
Chuck Reedstrom, project manager at Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. of Houston, Tex., feels that technology is changing so much and so fast that when airports implement new parking technologies, he writes specifications for a 10-year useful life. “It’s all about customer service: getting patrons through the entry and exit faster, and today’s new parking technologies are capable of doing that,” he says.
From individual space signage and in-garage baggage claims, to a variety of premium and valet services, airports have found updates to the parking garage often generate valuable business opportunities.
With increasing competition from off-airport parking services, beefing up customer service at airport parking lots is essential. Other than airline landing fees, the fees these lots generate are a top revenue contributor that helps front the costs of operating and maintaining the airport.
Making Money Easy
Airports constantly seek ways to offset the cost of the airlines, according to Pramuk. Airport managers want to keep passengers from choosing off-airport parking venues, and to do so, “options have to go beyond way-finding signage on the highways,” he says.
Reedstrom remarks tollbooth technology (using AVI transponders) is a favorite parking innovation, and the fastest payment option being implemented at up to seven airports nationwide. While he says the frequent users “absolutely love this,” premium patrons are even more excited. Regular toll users can drive right into an airport parking garage and have the parking fees added to their monthly highway toll bills, using the same device.
Pramuk says this technology can be implemented in a variety of ways, from daily travelers to Gold members-only admittance. It’s here to stay, he says, and will only be gaining more notice in the years to come as airports find innovative ways to make it work for them and their customers.
On the topic of speed, Arun Gulati, the vice president of Technology Services at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), says that his parking facilities have gained a lot of it. In 2007, DTW implemented its 1>2>3 Park Credit Card In/Credit Card Out program. The airport has more than 18,000 parking spots, and prior to adding this automated system, airport personnel manned each booth in every garage. “This offers a convenience to the person coming to park,” says Gulati. He says that a traveler/visitor swipes his or her card upon entry, but does not receive a traditional ticket. The information is stored electronically until the person leaves and swipes the same credit card at an unmanned booth, and their payment is processed automatically.
The Cypress garage will open Tuesday, offering four levels of parking atop the new five-story rental car center that opened in January.
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The push to deliver current parking information to travelers comes as airports are increasingly looking to differentiate themselves from competitors: other airports and off-airport parking lots.