British airports can learn a lot from the Middle East

Manchester Airport grapples with long check-in delays and baggage handling - PHIL NOBLE

Manchester Airport grapples with long check-in delays and baggage handling – PHIL NOBLE

The unpleasantness of the airport experience joined death and taxes on the list of certainties in life. Recently, we’ve put ourselves in conga queues around the parking lot just to get into the terminal building, before a long wait at security to empty our pockets and pull out our toiletries. Then—again—we wait for our turn to show our passports at the gate, then we get on the plane and get crammed into our seats amid the messy road warriors and other people’s children.

Last year, Manchester Airport was among the worst performers in the country, with long check-in delays and baggage handling issues. More than 60 percent of its departures were delayed during the peak summer season. That’s why it was good to see Manchester Airports Group (MAG) this week announcing details of a new £440m Terminal 2 building that MAG CEO Charlie Cornish says will provide “a fantastic airport experience for passengers with world-class facilities”. ”. Until I see the plans.

Airports should be buildings that give pleasure and give morale. Some do. On a sunny spring or autumn day, it’s a pleasure to leave the lightly airy Heathrow Terminal 5 or Madrid’s Barajas. Munich, Stockholm, Helsinki and Oslo airports offer excellent efficiency. Tokyo’s Haneda is small and perfectly formed. Unfortunately, the new Manchester airport looks like a Westfield shopping center with added runways.

Madrid's Barajas airport;  relatively light and airy - BERNAT ARMANGUE

Madrid’s Barajas airport; relatively light and airy – BERNAT ARMANGUE

We don’t need the “27 shops, bars and restaurants arranged in high street-feeling walkways” that its proponents promise. We need two or three great restaurants, plus cafes and bars, a Boots, a Paul Smith boutique, a WH Smith and a Uniqlo (Every airport should have a Uniqlo). Manchester designers learned nothing from Stansted’s fate. So many shops are crammed into Sir Norman Foster’s glass gazebo in Essex that its bright elegance has been lost to Claire’s Accessories.

To cheer us up, we need the distinctive yellow and flamboyant colors of Barajas or the lush gardens of the new wing of Doha’s Hamad airport. Singapore’s Changi is considered one of the world’s top air travel hubs, but it looks like Manchester’s designers chose to copy only its worst feature – a colorless color palette: 17 different shades of green – without squeezing any of its best parts. butterfly garden, swimming pool, canopy park and waterfall).

But perhaps the biggest shortcoming is technology. It is rarely mentioned or seen. Smart airport operators are creating smart airports to speed up the transit of passengers. I recently checked in for a flight, dropped off a baggage, handled immigration and boarded the plane – using just my face. I didn’t even have to show my passport at immigration or get an exit stamp.

Facial recognition has replaced passports in Dubai International. My face was auto-registered when I arrived, so when I left the Emirates check-in machine recognized me and printed my boarding pass and luggage tag to stick on my trusty Globetrotter and send it to the hold of the A380. Super jumbo that will take me back to Heathrow. The e-Gates at the outbound exits recognized me within seconds. No pause. No passport control. When it was time to board the plane, I looked at the camera at the door again, identified my identity and walked straight to the plane.

At Dubai and Doha airports, new high-tech scanners mean most passengers no longer need to take liquids from their carry-on luggage (a change in the UK, but not until 2024). Dubai will soon replace traditional conveyor belt X-ray machines with secure personal and luggage X-ray “belts” that passengers can easily pass through with their bags.

Doha's Hamad airport has a large modern terminal complete with lush interior gardens - EPA/STR

Doha’s Hamad airport has a large modern terminal complete with lush interior gardens – EPA/STR

Some airports are combining new technology with new design to improve passenger travel. Abu Dhabi’s upcoming $10 billion Midfield Airport features a unique X-shape with central check-in for passengers to navigate in the easiest and fastest way, reducing distances and minimizing door-to-door walking time. an important centre. (Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok, take note). In the future, passengers will check-in and drop off their bags at hubs in downtown Abu Dhabi, where smart trains will take them and their luggage directly to the gate area and avoid long walks altogether.

Forward-looking airport operators aren’t ignoring the fun stuff. Passengers arriving in Dubai with Emirates will be able to pre-order duty-free products before their flight or on board and have them delivered to their hotel. Much easier than the click-to-get shopping offer of Manchester or Heathrow. Qatar Airways credit card holders can earn double air miles when they shop at Hamad’s luxury new stores, now including a Thom Browne boutique. (There are no such stylish boutiques on the “high street” of Manchester).

Not all is disappointing in Manchester’s plans. The new check-in area is as large as it should be to get passengers to safety quickly, as Istanbul, Dubai and Doha airports demonstrate. There seems to be enough natural light, something that is often forgotten. But this is not enough. Manchester managers should take a trip to the Bay to see how it’s done and then come back and give it another try.

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