What airport managers can learn from vintage car enthusiasts

Vintage cars

Let’s face it. Despite all you see in industry news about new terminals being built, the majority of airport facilities are not brand new. And for most airport managers, daily reality is working with facilities that were built years ago and designed with other passenger needs in mind.

This makes improving service quality challenging and it is tempting to simply give up and wait for a new terminal to be built and hope to see satisfaction levels go up. But older facilities don’t have to be problem and some airports are able to achieve high levels of passenger satisfaction despite their age.

What’s the secret to achieving high levels of satisfaction in older facilities? For me, the answer comes down to two words: attitude and care.

While watching the news not long ago I saw a piece on a vintage car enthusiast meeting. I was struck by the similarity between old cars and airports:

  • Both are cutting edge when they are built but as years go by the technology and concepts used to build them quickly become outdated
  • As they age they can go two ways: either becoming an old clunker or turning into a vintage collection piece

What keeps an old car from going the way of the junkyard and turns it into a vintage collection piece is not the actual car itself but the care it is given by its owner. With the right attitude (and a lot of hard work) it is possible to transform an old pile of rusting metal into a shiny vintage car.

So what is it about car enthusiasts’ attitude that enables them to get the best out of something old that most people would have given up on? Here are 4 character traits that airport managers wanting to maximize the potential of their existing facilities should seek to imitate:

They set high standards

With older facilities it is quite easy to let your standards slip thinking that they will never be as good as new ones. The problem with this is that by lowering your standards you are giving people an excuse not to do their job to the best of their ability.

Like vintage car enthusiasts your job is to get the best out of your facilities. Improving ageing facilities takes vision, being able to imagine the airport not as it is but as it could be. The standards you set show what you believe your airport can be. Setting high standards shows that you believe that your airport has value and should be cared for and tells staff and passengers that you will not settle for average.

They have pride in what they do

Vintage car enthusiasts are proud of their vehicles. Similarly, when we visit the top performing airports in the world what is always striking is how proud the staff are to be working for the airport. From the airport CEO down to the cleaning staff in the washrooms you can feel the pride.

Whereas standards are the target you set yourself, pride is the driving force that will get you there. Pride gives people a sense of purpose, a reason to give it their best.  Staff that are proud of their airport feel a greater sense of ownership and responsibility for keeping it in good shape and will do their best to keep it well maintained.

Pride in the airport creates a virtuous cycle pushing staff towards excellence. Staff that are proud of their airport and work are usually happier in their job, more engaged and more motivated. So even if you are not among the best airports in the world you need to create a culture of pride amongst your employees. If your staff have lost pride in the airport, chances are they have already given up on it and are just going through the motions.

They are passionate and care about what they do

When you think of vintage car enthusiasts, one of the first things that come to mind is how passionate they are. While it sometimes borders on obsessive, it is that passion that drives them to spend countless hours working on their vehicles. With pride, passion is the second motor that will drive people to excellence.

Older airport facilities require a lot of effort to keep clean and well maintained. This work is essential to achieve high levels of satisfaction and can only be achieved if your staff are willing to spend time and effort doing so. So having staff that truly care for the airport can make all the difference. Having staff that care and are passionate has other advantages as well: they tend to be more caring with their colleagues as well, collaborating more and creating a better work environment.

Besides spending time on their hobby, vintage car enthusiasts also spend a fair amount of money on new parts, etc… Similarly, airports wanting to get the most out of older facilities need to regularly invest so that they keep up with evolving passenger needs. And this doesn’t have to be huge investments. It is quite amazing to see what a difference a new coat of white paint and some good lighting can make (not to mention simply replacing dead light bulbs).

They are creative

Finally, vintage car enthusiasts are creative. For instance, the parts they need to repair their vehicles are generally not manufactured anymore and so they need to find ways to replace them.

Creativity is essential for airport managers wanting to improve the passenger experience. Budgets are tight and funds tend to be allocated to new terminals and recent facilities. Since older parts of the airport tend to get left out, airport managers need to find new ways to provide an enhanced passenger experience on a limited budget.

Taking your older facilities from good to great is difficult but not impossible. If your management and staff have mentally given up it will never happen. But if you and your team cultivate a corporate culture that pushes staff to excel  by making them proud of the work they are doing, giving them a purpose and a sense of responsibility for the airport you will be able to get the most out of your facilities. The choice is up to you. What mind-set are you cultivating at your airport?



James Ingram

James Ingram

Director at DKMA
James has extensive expertise in airport market research and specialises in helping airports improve their passenger experience. After several years managing the ASQ Survey, James is now in charge of marketing & communication for DKMA. He regularly travels to present research results & findings to airport management teams.
James Ingram

About James Ingram

James has extensive expertise in airport market research and specialises in helping airports improve their passenger experience. After several years managing the ASQ Survey, James is now in charge of marketing & communication for DKMA. He regularly travels to present research results & findings to airport management teams.

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