Houston Airports’ 1,200 employees have stars in their eyes. Five stars, to be specific.
Houston Aviation Director Mario Diaz has been consistent and vocal in championing the airport system’s quest to achieve its often-stated vision: “Establish Houston as a five-star global air service gateway where the magic of flight is celebrated.”
Houston’s airports again boast two four star-rated facilities after the 2019 World Airport Awards results were announced earlier this year by Skytrax in London. Recognized as a leading global air transport-rating organization, Skytrax awarded William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) a four-star rating in 2019 for the fourth year in a row, while George Bush Intercontinental Airport IAH) earned its second straight four-star rating. Houston remains the only city in the Western Hemisphere with two four star-rated airports. There are only five four-star airports in North America and the only other cities in the world with two four-star rated airports are Tokyo and Seoul.
Liliana Rambo, general manager at HOU, said, “Four stars is a noteworthy accomplishment to be applauded and celebrated, but for Houston Airports, that’s not the goal. The ultimate goal is to be a five-star airport, because that means we’ve reached the pinnacle of customer service.”
Houston Airports has been upgrading standards and facilities at both airports over the last three years, working closely with anchor tenants United Airlines at IAH and Southwest Airlines at HOU to improve product and service offerings. IAH is also undertaking the Terminal Redevelopment Program through the development of additional international facilities needed to support continued unprecedented growth in international traffic at the airport. Nearly 44 million passengers traveled through the airport in 2018, including almost 11 million international passengers.
The redevelopment program includes refurbishing the existing Mickey Leland International Terminal and demolition of the Terminal D/E parking garage to create an international terminal processor between Terminals D and E, where all the international ticketing counters, security checkpoint lanes and baggage claims will be consolidated. The completed program will include two concourses – one each in the current terminals – where passengers will board their planes, dine or use facilities such as airport lounges.
Diaz said, “This project is of essential importance to the city. If Houston is to remain a top-ranked international gateway to the United States – if we have any hope of reaching five-star rating and providing an experience to our passengers that is unsurpassed by any competing city – we must succeed with this project.”
IAH has also undertaken the Terminal A Modernization Program which includes restroom renovations, holdroom gate station counter replacements, new check-in counter millwork, exterior waterproofing, building systems upgrades, and check-in lobby enhancements, among others.
Skytrax has noted many upgrades and improvements at the two airports in recent years, from terminal cleanliness, food and beverage offerings, and immigration and customs processing to terminal seating and the world’s first no-download, turn-by-turn way-finding.
All of these are contributing factors to the “drive for five.” What makes a Skytrax five-star airport? Among the major factors are: a strong sense of place within an airport: hospitality, food and retail, often with an emphasis on local flavor; functionality and efficiency; outstanding customer service; stellar signage that is very easy to comprehend; and clean restrooms.
The road to five-star status
Senior staff at Houston Airports have undertaken a deliberate strategy to achieve five-star status. The plan is currently underway and includes building a Skytrax-audit database, defining gaps from Skytrax recommendations and scores, and much more. Significantly, educating staff on the factors that lead to attaining five-star status is a deliberate portion of strategy.
“Ultimately, a five-star customer experience is the key to five-star success,” according to Saba Abashawl, chief of External Affairs for Houston Airports.
Houston Airports recognizes that the passenger is essentially the most important person at an airport and is deliberate in making modifications to enhance the passenger experience. Creating and sustaining an environment for a positive passenger experience demands excellent customer service overall. By providing excellent customer service, the customer is more likely to return to that airport, fly the same airline, or go to the same concessions.
“The most important thing,” Abashawl said, “is to realize that Houston Airports must strive to provide the best possible passenger experience in order to be at our best and truly celebrate the magic of flight.”