Airport services in times of corona

The effects of corona are immense

January 20, 2021

Travel restrictions have had a drastic effect on traffic development at Munich Airport. From January to September, the passenger volume in Munich fell by around 27 million to a little more than ten million, nearly 73 percent lower than the previous year. But what exactly does this mean for the overall terminal and passenger management? Ulrike Reddel, Head of Terminal and Passenger Services at Munich Airport, kindly answered a few questions.  

The last few months have been shaped by the global effects of the corona pandemic. As Head of Terminal and Passenger Services, how do you experience these difficult times?

During the first few weeks it seemed as if corona would not really reach Munich – at least it felt that way. I believe that many people thought this crisis would bypass Germany and that we could continue with our day-to-day business as usual. But this impression and our daily work (and private life) changed very quickly. Processes and terminal layouts had to be adjusted, airlines had to be informed and staff had to adapt to the new regulations – all in a very short period of time.

Ulrike Reddel is Head of Terminal and Passenger Services at Munich Airport
Ulrike Reddel is Head of Terminal and Passenger Services at Munich Airport © Flughafen München GmbH
  • Corona signage at Munich Airport
    Various corona signages were placed through the airport, to ensure everyone keeps the necessary distance. © Flughafen München GmbH
  • Corona signage at Munich Airport
  • Corona signage at Munich Airport

Munich Airport established a crisis team to not only continuously monitor the situation, but to also coordinate and implement all necessary measures across the different departments. What challenges are you facing with these measures when it comes to the overall passenger experience?

On the one hand we want to convey to our customers, that travelling is still safe by implementing all important safety measures. On the other hand, this new framework should affect our processes as little as possible to allow for a smooth and seamless passenger experience.

As a result of physical distancing for example, we have considerably less space available, which has to be compensated for by completely altered and highly dynamic resource planning. Also some of our passengers have to literally go different ways, as we e.g. closed Terminal 1 temporarily and some airlines were transferred to Terminal 2.

Besides the procedural changes, we were also facing changes in terms of service and personal interaction with our guests. We are now confronted with completely different questions via the telephone switchboard or at the information desks. Since covid-19 reached us, travelers have other fears and needs when it comes to planning their next flight. All in all, it’s about building trust and to do everything possible to bring people back in aircrafts and to restore air travel.

How do you rate the measures taken at Munich Airport? In which areas do you see further need for action?

In my opinion the measures taken are very good and implemented with a reasonable sense of proportion. They can stand up to any national and international comparison – in short, Munich Airport meets more than just the required standard. However, we find that signage and announcements alone are not enough to remind our guests of behavioral rules: we need a relatively large number of staff to e.g. repeatedly point out the rules of social distancing and the correctness of wearing the mouth-nose-cover. Some guests simply forget the regulations and react very friendly and with understanding once reminded. Others are a little annoyed and we need to act soothingly.

With the second wave of infections slowly emerging, the uncertainty and unpredictable developments make it almost impossible to forecast passenger numbers and traffic movements. How do you handle these uncertainties in your area?

Adequate personnel and resource management has never been so difficult. In the last few months, however, we have learned a lot, adjusted our planning parameters and recognized certain “trends” in our flight plan and passenger development. In order to avoid bottlenecks, such as queues at the security check, the passport control or the baggage claim, we tend to plan with a little more personal than usual and try to be as flexible as possible. Sadly, a proper stabilization of air traffic cannot be observed yet. Over the past weeks we have experienced many situations within the terminal management, where we had to react ad hoc. Presumable, this will not change in the near future.

  • Passenger with mask using vending machine
    Passengers can buy mouth-nose-masks and varous other sanitary products at vending machines at Munich Airport. © Flughafen München GmbH
  • Vending machines at Munich Airport offer masks and antibacterial whipes
Airport staff explaining directions to passenger - both wearing masks.
Besides the procedural changes, we were also facing changes in terms of service and personal interaction with our guests. © Flughafen München GmbH

Even if there is still no end to the pandemic in sight; what do you think the world – especially the aviation world – will look like after corona? Will our travel behavior change permanently?

Projects revolving around digitalization and new technologies will certainly pick up speed, which I think is very good. Contactless and seamless travel are the keywords here, but to get there we still have a long way to go. I believe that personal contact will decrease significantly in the travel chain (e.g. no personal support for check-in counters). In future, employees will only actively intervene in the event of irregularities and be available for guests as direct contacts.

There are many predictions that the number of business travel will decrease after covid-19. Due to the travel restrictions and increased health risk, businesses were forced to maintain their business relationships via digital channels – and it worked. Therefore, they might consider reducing the number of flights in general.

When considering private travel, people are currently often exposed to the uncertainty of not knowing how the situation at their destination will develop. This not only leads to a notable increase of short-term bookings, but also forces airlines to react more dynamically. The latter can result in frustrated travelers due to last minute flight changes by airlines. I presume this is just another part of the current insecurity and might become the “new normal”. It remains to be seen whether this will have a positive effect on the wanderlust, but I definitely hope so.