The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games are fast approaching and as the official host airport for the event, Heathrow Airport now has a little over three months to ensure that everything is in place to handle an influx of around 125,000 additional passengers during the course of the event.
It is estimated that 80% of all Olympic-related traffic will arrive and depart from Heathrow. On peak arrivals and departures days, passenger numbers will be 45% above average, and the number of checked-in bags will increase by 35%. Monday 13 August is a particularly important date as it will be the busiest day for departures in the airport’s history, with 138,000 departures expected. So, just how will this be achieved at an airport that already operates at almost 100% capacity? And what impact will it have on the overall passenger experience?
Dedicated Games Terminal
A key component of the planning effort is the construction of a temporary Games Terminal. The 3,850sqm facility will be located on the south side of the airport near Terminal 4 and will be utilised specifically to process departing athletes and other members of the ‘Games Family’.
“One of the things we’re focused on is making sure it’s not just a great experience for those passengers who are going to the Games, but also all of the other passengers as well,” explained Nick Cole, Head of Olympic and Paralympic Planning, Heathrow Airport. “By having a dedicated Games Terminal, this will preserve the rest of the airport, so it should feel just like a busy summer’s day.”
No flights will actually depart from the Games Terminal itself. Instead, athletes and Games officials will pass through security before being taken by bus to their departure terminal.
Offsite check-in and bag drop
To ease both passenger and baggage processing bottlenecks, a number of special measures will be put in place. As members of the Games Family will account for as many as 80,000 of the additional passengers, Cole explained that successfully handling these passengers will have a positive knock-on effect for the rest of the airport’s operations.
With this in mind, anyone departing the Olympic Village will be able to make use of offsite check-in and bag drop facilities. Cole said: “We’ll get the bags off those departing the Village the night before they are due to fly and we will start processing these bags overnight. We will be working closely with our airline partners and we will make it nice and easy for the departing athletes to give us their bags the night before to allow for the overnight processing.”
Additionally, across the airport, dedicated border control lanes will be in place for all accredited Games Family members and the UK Border Agency will be able to switch these gates on and off to ensure a balance between business as usual and the meeting of the needs of the additional Olympic traffic.
‘Passenger Experience’ has been highlighted as one of the airport’s eight key areas of focus during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and Cole outlined that a high-level experience must be provided to both Olympic and non-Olympic traffic. The airport is currently in the process of recruiting 1,000 volunteers from local communities to help deal with passenger enquiries. “The volunteers will play a big part. The first impression is absolutely vital,” Cole commented. “Vancouver Airport (host airport for the 2010 Winter Olympics) has managed to retain their volunteers post-Games and it’s having a very positive impact on the level of experience for the passengers. We would like to have permanent volunteers, local people, working with us to welcome passengers to London and provide the best possible passenger experience.”
Elsewhere in the airport, to capture the mood of the event, the terminals will be decorated with an Olympic theme. The Olympic Rings will be on display and the airport is also exploring the possibility of positioning television screens in the terminals so passengers have a chance to watch the action live as they wait for their flight.
With 4 billion people worldwide expected to watch the London Olympic and Paralympic Games from 27 July, Heathrow Airport has a responsibility to provide a positive first and last impression. For the passengers passing through the airport during the event, the true test will be whether they receive a smooth and seamless journey, irrespective of whether or not they have an interest in the Olympics.