While continuing to experience growth, Aéroports de Montréal is focused on creating a more personalized travel experience to transform the passenger journey. The airport authority’s CEO, James Cherry, explains.

Your airport’s going through major change?

Yes, our annual growth rate over the past 10 years has been 4.1%, with international growing the fastest – up 6.7% last year.  

Since 2000, we have invested US$ 2.5 billion in a major modernization and expansion program to meet this growth, and last May we inaugurated an extension of the international jetty that added six new gates.  

The main innovation of this new section has been the architecture, with an open-plan area integrating a Montréal identity program. This features artistic and cultural elements, including a striking veil of glass ceiling installation.

There are also large murals created by local artists, showcases dedicated to Montréal’s main museums, and a children’s play space.

How is IT enhancing the passenger experience?

We know that more than 98% of new passengers carry a smartphone. The new millennium generation is connected all the time – which changes both their expectations and behavior.

We have to meet our customers’ evolving needs. We want to give them choices and options so that they feel they’re in control of their journey.

Montreal airport jetty inside

That’s why we’ve embedded technology everywhere in the new area, and we are using it to enhance customer experience.

We’re offering free Wi-Fi, as well as about 1,000 chairs equipped with charging stations and USB ports.

After having introduced a responsive design website in 2014, we launched an official airport app last spring called YULi. It aims to facilitate direction, offer promotions and create the best experience possible within the vicinity of the airport. 

How are you achieving that?

We’ve made sure you can use our app with one hand, while accessing over 90% of its functionality within two clicks.

We do this partly by swapping a menu for a map with icons – it makes it much easier to find what you need and where you’re going.

We had two immediate constraints – money and time. We had to keep within a very tight budget, and we wanted it to be available before the new extension to the airport opened.

We brought in some expert mobile vendors to help build the app and made a radical choice about accessibility. We were the first to provide an iPhone app that uses indoor positioning via Wi-Fi. The results have been outstanding with a strong signal and no need for other infrastructure.

We launched the app in March 2016 and we had 30,000 downloads within three months. We offered the Android version in late July.

How might customers use the app?

Let’s say a customer wants to get through the whole business of turning up at the airport and pass through screening and security as quickly as possible.

We’re developing something called Breeze Through the Airport to help customers maximize their working time, from the moment they turn up at the airport to getting through screening, security and boarding.

Customers can obtain this from our website a couple of days before their flight. It will include the purchase of valet parking and a priority security window, allowing them to “breeze” through to the business lounge.

Meanwhile, YULi keeps tabs on where they are, where they need to go for the gate, and any waiting time.

Take another example: a family going on vacation. They may be a little more budget-conscious. They use YULi to book parking online and to obtain a good discount for doing so.

They use a QR code to get into the car park. They then use the app to navigate their way through the parking area.

And soon we hope they will be able to use a guidance system which, given the family’s flight number, will find the most convenient parking spot for their departure. We’re working on that element, which we think will be helpful and popular.

Once everyone is in the terminal, the app’s map will help them find amenities, security checkpoints and retail concessions. For returning customers, we can offer a contextual promotion, perhaps a discount in a family restaurant.

They’re all also free to choose self-check-in or self-tagging and the self-bag-drop. They can use Automated Passport Control (APC) and soon we’ll be offering a mobile passport control system that the US Customs and Border Protection is developing.

Can you measure the impact?

For departures, 97.9% of customers are satisfied or very satisfied. For arrivals, it’s 96.8%. We’re very proud of those numbers.

After we launched the YULi app, we saw online reservations – whether through website or mobile – increase by 20% in just a few months.

It’s still early days but we’re crunching the data as it accumulates to see what products, which type of traveler, and which destinations are the most profitable and what products our customers want.

How far do you see digital changing travel?

Without a doubt, digital is transforming life on the go. We’ve been used to a focus on our own industry’s concerns and challenges – such as single passenger tokens, sharing of information and collaboration.

But digital is transforming everything. It’s expanding the landscape, with new players and new influencers.

Montreal airport jetty outside

It’s also taking us into new areas of data. For example, global asset lifecycle management for aircraft engines.

We have the potential to gather some very valuable information for engine manufacturers. It’s important for them to know under what conditions the engines operated while at the airport. Was it raining? Was de-icing used?

This is potentially rich information that we can share to help them enhance their own customer offer.

We also must consider the move towards the ‘connected and intelligent city.’ Again, there is a wealth of information we need to consider because, of course, life on the go starts and ends at the passenger’s home.

There are even more substantial opportunities ahead. For instance, we are adding 15 electrical charge stations for electric cars this year.

We recently introduced the Téo electric taxi service at the airport. Québec’s pension fund manager, the Caisse de dépot et placement, is also working on a direct train connection with downtown.

One day we will have the capability for passengers to come to the airport in a car which then autonomously returns home! We need to start thinking about that.

Will you learn more from the data you obtain?

We discuss these issues with our major airlines at the airport and we share the entire extent of the passenger journey: identifying where the airport brings the most value and where the airline brings the most value.

There are very clear touchpoints where we can exchange information that could bring significant extra value to the passenger. We’re pursuing those discussions because we want to share information.

For example, we’d like to have booking information so that when a passenger arrives at the airport we know who they are and where they’re going, without having to ask those questions.

It means we can learn more about customers and their expectations, without becoming intrusive.

18 Jan 2017