TERMINAL OPERATIONS & AGENCY RELATIONS
“If the passenger is not enjoying the journey, none of us are succeeding”
As a long-time employee, Director, Customer and Agency Development Janik Reigate says that the commercial change at Toronto Pearson in the past five years is the most profound since the airport was corporatised in the early 1990s.
Until then, Canadian airports were managed by the federal government and taxes funded capital investments and operational costs not covered by airport charges. By 1992, the government began transferring control and operation of airports to non-share, not-for-profit airport authorities, including the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA).
“When we opened T1, it was far from being a commercial entity,” she says. “Over time we have figured out how to be creative, optimising space to make a better offer for the passenger. We have done that by taking our partners and the airlines along with us, and overcoming their traditional mindset, by building relationships. If the passenger is not enjoying the journey, none of us are succeeding.”
Reigate’s primary responsibility is to ensure that terminal infrastructure can maximise the performance and productivity of Pearson’s 75 airline partners.
Janik Reigate: “We had to move from a position where we were all pointing fingers at one another to one where we could ask ‘how can we help and make you successful?’”
As part of this remit, she is tasked with ensuring that the GTAA’s three strategic government agencies operate collaboratively and effectively with the airport and its airlines to ensure world-class performance standards are met, alongside optimum passenger flow and an enhanced customer experience.
Toronto Pearson's status as one of North America’s busiest airports means that relationships between airport teams and border control agencies require careful nurturing
Reigate and her team work most closely with the Canadian Air Transportation Security Agency (CATSA), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
For CBSA, Toronto Pearson is its largest operation and for US CBP it is the fourth largest entry point to the US and largest pre-clearance facility in the world.
As Scott Collier notes elsewhere in these pages, assisting these agencies in their work was a critical enabler in changing the cultural mindset at the airport.
Reigate says: “We had to move from a position where we were all pointing fingers at one another to one where we could ask ‘how can we help and make you successful?’. At first the agencies were reluctant but when we put some ideas on the table it became clear that we could help.
“We set them up for success with an improved ambience, coherent communication and more efficient process. We continue to share ideas on how we can move forward.”
The next steps are to minimise waiting times further with technology enabling what should ultimately become a seamless journey from curbside to gate.
“It’s our job to minimise check-in times, space constraints and processes so passengers can get through quickly. We have to confirm the perception that it’s easy for you to go from A to B, rather than a long or arduous journey.”
Reigate and her team also work with the airlines to maximise their operations, but with an eye on commercial today.
“It’s our job to minimise check-in times, space constraints and processes so passengers can get through quickly. We have to confirm the perception that it’s easy for you to go from A to B safely and securely, rather than a long or arduous journey.”
“We did a large project with CATSA which involved not only the agency, but the airlines and other key airport stakeholders too. All parties were a bit reticent at first but we all soon began to realise that we could help each other – even the airlines who have a role in flow from check-in to security. It was about everyone realising that we all had a role to play in improving passenger flow and experience. No-one has a monopoly on creating a good passenger experience, but one person could certainly undermine the entire thing! That became readily apparent.
“Now we have passenger screening points that are immensely different to what went before. The experience at these check points has vastly changed for not only the passenger but also for the workforce assigned there.
“In the past we thought about flow, not about commercial development or the experience. It was not integrated as it is today. It’s important for us to gate planes in effective locations, which means accessibility for some passengers, but also to think commercially about those carriers or flights that have high shopper volumes.
“We think about how we support our Chinese carriers during Chinese New Year to help their passengers but also to ensure synergies with commercial. We allocate flights according to operational rules of course but we also think about how passengers shop and the benefits of being at one gate over another.”
Achieving synergies through structure
The synergies between commercial and operations teams at Toronto Pearson quickly becomes clear when you pay a visit to the Customer & Terminal Service department in Terminal 1. Departments that at many other airports are in different buildings and often have little day to day contact sit next to each other, with joint discussion of the big decisions affecting passenger flow, investment and concept development.
Associate Director, Terminal Operations Tammy Smith leads the team that ensures the smooth running of the terminal. Of her eight years at the airport company, the last five have seen a huge change in how the passenger is viewed and engaged.
“In the past we didn’t focus on what the passenger wanted to see and experience. We were running it as a facility that people had to use. That is not the attitude recently.
“Today, with any new projects we ask how they will affect the passenger and their journey and try to ensure the outcome for the passenger is positive while weighing up the different interests that are at play. To do that we have built better relationships with airlines, the agencies that do border control, and CATSA for security. They understand our goals and that we are trying to help them meet their safety and security requirements.”
The big challenges now revolve around capacity to cope with traveller volumes, and introducing new technology that enables screening to be more efficient.
“We have taken great strides with technology, but there is still a long way to go,” says Smith. “Biometrics is a big talking point and we are really starting on that now. I would like to see a more hands-off flow in future where biometrics and other technology plays more of a role so you don’t need to pull out your ticket or passport three times, but rather you as the traveller controls the process.
“We have introduced CATSA Plus with longer lanes and remote screening to make us more efficient, and are using staff more efficiently in departures.”
Understanding the needs of different passenger demographics is also vital. “We have older travellers and many different nationalities, so how are we relating to them and meeting all of their needs? Do we need an officer for people who don’t speak the language?
Tammy Smith: “We know there is a direct correlation between dwell time and spend so your processes are critical.”
“Will more people just want to go through the processes themselves? Because of who we are as Canada’s largest airport, and the variety of passengers we have, we need to offer options.”
The focus on the transit traveller is increasing as that market grows and the Pearson team is working on various projects and strategies to meet that demand. The operations team is acutely aware of the importance of commercial dwell times.
Smith says: “We know there is a direct correlation between dwell time and spend so your processes are critical. That wasn’t top of mind in the past but it is now. The terminal operations team understands the impact of dwell time on commercial and also on the traveller mindset. If they have had a bad experience they are less likely to buy anything and they might just choose to sit and wait. We are aware of that and we try to make up for bad experiences if they happen.”
Ensuring teamwork with commercial is a continuous and moving goal, one Smith is encouraging to become even deeper.
“I want to develop my people, which means they move around different departments to understand what the business looks like, both on the aviation and non-aeronautical sides. That would not have happened in the past but now they should understand about the business we are trying to run. Getting my team to have more awareness is a priority, including spending time with retail or other departments. It is certainly different to what went before. Our thinking was not related at all to commercial but we have brought that into the light.”
Spotlight Series - January 2020