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Manchester Airport first to offer bookable security timeslots

Analysis

While airports struggle to come up with innovative ways of attracting passengers back ‘safely’, the UK’s Manchester Airport will trial a pre-booking time slot option for the security clearance function, one which could be extended to Manchester Airports Group’s other two airports.

By booking their free slot, passengers will benefit from access to a dedicated lane straight to the security checkpoint, similar to the ‘Fast Lane’ already in use, and will be able to reach the departure lounge more quickly. It will allow the airport to manage the volume of passengers coming through security more efficiently and help keep queues shorter, it claims.

The trial process is being offered as part of “a new standard for safe air travel” and to “ensure passengers feel safer and more confident about travelling by air, particularly when travel demand starts to grow again in the near future”.

At first glance it makes sense, but there might be some impracticalities, and it doesn't make full and timely use of a recently opened ‘private’ terminal, which would appear to be ideal for these circumstances.

Summary

  • Manchester Airport offers a pre-bookable dedicated security lane option, on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Seat capacity at Manchester has risen considerably in the past week.
  • Booking procedures may need to be refined.
  • Is sufficient use being made of the airport’s ‘private terminal’? 

“A new standard for safe air travel” 

Manchester Airport says it is the first UK airport to offer passengers the option to pre-book a time slot at security clearance.

Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the airport’s owner, will trial an offer of free 15-minute pre-booked security slots as part of “a new standard for safe air travel.” The approach will allow the airport to manage the volume of passengers coming through security more efficiently and help keep queues shorter, it claims.

The option is available immediately.

The trial is part of a series of measures introduced by MAG to “ensure passengers feel safer and more confident about travelling by air, particularly when travel demand starts to grow again in the near future”.

Major European and Middle Eastern airlines are returning

According to CAPA/OAG data, in the week commencing 15-Jun-2020 seat capacity at Manchester had increased quite dramatically, with international and intercontinental routes joining those that had been flown domestically in recent months on key routes such as Aberdeen and the Isle of Man.

The return by the airlines seems to have been led by the LCC Jet2.com, as predicted in a previous CAPA report.

See: COVID-19: Jet2 and TUI rely on IATA's U-recovery in Jun-2020.

Not all the Jet2 capacity will have been used by any means but that will change now Spain will allow British visitors without quarantine (from 21-Jun).

But the return of airlines also includes Emirates, Aer Lingus, Ryanair, KLM, and Lufthansa. Qatar Airways, PIA and Bangladesh Biman had retained very limited schedules.

Manchester Airport seat capacity: week commencing 15-Jun-2020

By booking their free slot, passengers will benefit from access to a dedicated lane straight to the security checkpoint, similar to the ‘Fast Lane’ already in use, and will be able to reach the departure lounge more quickly.

Shorter queues is the primary objective

This approach, it is claimed, will also allow the airport to manage the volume of passengers coming through security more efficiently and help to keep queues shorter.

The availability of slots is limited and will be operated on a first-come, first-served basis, through online booking. Passengers are encouraged to make a booking around two hours before their flight departure time and asked to arrive within the chosen slot.

If passengers arrive outside the allocated time, they will not be able to access the dedicated line and will be redirected to the security queue, which may be longer than usual, given social distancing measures that the airport will put in place.

A two-hour advance booking may not be the best option

At first glance that does seem a rather strange arrangement. With check-in times exaggerated under the present circumstances, even passengers who live in the city centre, 10 miles (16 km) distant, would expect to be en route to the airport more than two hours before a flight departure. Those that are coming from further afield (and Manchester’s catchment area extends for over 150 miles in most directions), by private vehicle or rail, would have to use mobile devices, which could be inhibited, or they could be subject to en route delays.

Manchester says it is the first UK Airport to announce such a scheme, and in so doing it is aiming to support safe standards for future air travel. The booking system was developed by MAGO, which is MAG’s in-house digital business, aimed at providing industry-leading online technology for airports.

If successful, the technology will be put in place at the group’s other airports at London Stansted and East Midlands.

Brad Miller, Chief Operating Officer at Manchester Airport, said: “Safety and security will always be the first priority and, at the same time, Covid-19 will undoubtedly reshape the airport experience. We are exploring every innovation and technology that can help us to adapt to the new world, protect public health and restore confidence in air travel.

"This new measure will allow us to manage our security process more efficiently in these challenging times, providing a better and more comfortable experience for passengers. It is the latest in a series of measures introduced by MAG to make travel safer during the pandemic, which includes asking passengers and colleagues to wear face coverings and piloting temperature screening technologies.”

A private terminal offers alternative uses

MAG has been notably innovative in recent years, especially at Manchester, which is being used as a test bed for a variety of ground-breaking technologies. 

The airport is also the site of the UK’s first ‘Private Terminal’ – PremiAir – from where passengers can book for a rapid check-in, and dedicated passport and security channels, in more relaxed surroundings that are more akin to a private jet terminal, and can be ferried to their aircraft in a private vehicle.

PremiAir has been open since Nov-2019, and while it is not known how well it was performing, it is surprising that MAG has not highlighted its existence more in these circumstances. Indeed, when the Arsenal football team flew to Manchester on 17-Jun-2020 they did so from London Stansted Airport to Liverpool, where a private facility is being used as the main terminal, rather than to Manchester, which has a terminal that is ideal for that purpose.

Manchester was in the process of opening its T2 extension, a GBP1 billion project, but that is on hold for the immediate future. No official announcement has been made about the long term configuration of the three full-size terminals in the changing circumstances.

Questions arise about social distancing

Last month, the airport group became the first in the UK to ask all passengers to cover their faces, either with face masks or with their own clothing.

All MAG colleagues interacting with passengers are also required to wear the necessary protective equipment. However, if face masks have to be worn, it does raise questions about the need for the absolute implementation of social distancing, whether it is in security queues or anywhere else.

Shortly, UK optometrists will be allowed to recommence very close visual eye inspections of their patients on the basis (source: NHS England) that they only last around 60 seconds per eye and that the real and present danger comes from "prolonged close exposure", i.e. 15 minutes or more (!)

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