This study would entail a comprehensive assessment of consumer research practices at commercial service airports nationwide. It would result in the identification of best practices for assessing the needs and preferences of passengers as well as meters-greeters and well-wishers. Guidance would be provided for the development and implementation of evidence-based and scientifically sound research programs that would be designed to assist managers in identifying optimal airport services and making appropriate facility planning decisions.
Traditionally, research among air travelers has focused on them as passengers with a variety of characteristics that require measurement – size and demographic characteristics of the travel party, minutes before flight time of airport arrival, amount of money spent, numbers of bags checked and taken onboard, and the like. Another common metric has been the precise origins of passengers' trips, often represented at the fundamental level of latitude and longitude. Managers have used these kinds of data to consider design issues and to explore alternative options for transportation to the airport.
Somewhat more recently, passengers have been viewed as patrons whose satisfaction warrants assessment. Studies of this sort have often involved syndicated services such as the ACSI (the American Customer Satisfaction Index), in which the same data are shared among all participating airports for comparative or benchmarking purposes. Some airports also design and implement custom satisfaction research.
Most recently, there has been an increase in the view that passengers are also customers who provide an important revenue stream and whose needs and desires need to be studied and appealed to. There is, however, little information about what is being done in this arena insofar as research is concerned and minimal understanding of what best practices might be. Recent investigations appear to be of limited scope and utility.
It is also important to note in this regard that almost universally, the data from traditional airport research have been quantitative in nature. Quantitative data have the advantages of being conclusive and of lending themselves to clear inter-airport and intra-airport comparisons. At the same time, they do not generate the depth of information and understanding that by qualitative methods can yield.
The proposed approach to the research would entail a comprehensive investigation of research programs and
practices among all types of commercial airports throug
hout the United States. Its basis would be a mixed-
(more than one strategy) survey initiated online to conserve resources and supplemented with telephone interviews as
needed to ensure a representative response. Informing the design of the survey would be a thorough review of the
literature, discussions with key industry sources, and the development of a framework for identifying best practices.
Following the completion of the survey, a delineation of best practices would be drafted. This delineation would
then be further explored and tested during site visits to a selection of airports that appear from the survey results to be
engaged in exempla
ry programs or to offer other valuable lessons. Results of the site visits would be summarized as
case studies. Understanding of best practices would be enhanced via one or two focus groups designed to add both
depth and the benefits of practitioner inte
raction to the study. The delineation of best practices would then be refined
as needed. Care would be taken to ensure that recommendations would be scalable to commercial service airports of
various sizes and levels of resources.
Two reports would be issued: an interim report following the initial delineation of best practices and a final report at
the conclusion of the study. Both reports would be submitted to the Project Panel for review and revised as
appropriate based on the Panel's comments and concerns.
The proposed research would consist of the following 14 tasks, organized into two phases.
- Literature Review
Conduct a comprehensive literature search to identify relevant studies and related publications addressing air
consumer research and the measurement of relevant airport performance. Prepare an annotated
Task 2 – Identify Target Audience for Research
Conduct discussions with key industry sources to determine which types of airport personnel are involved in
managing customer research. On the basis of key informant input and information from other pertinent sources,
including those identified in the literature review, assemble a list of airport staff involved in customer research at
commercial service airports in the United States.
Task 3 – Develop a Framework for Identifying Best Practices in Consumer Research at Airports
Based on the findings of the literature review in Task 1 and the industry discussions in Task 2, develop a framework
for using the
research findings from subsequent tasks to assess best practices in air passenger consumer research
given airport reports of experience with different techniques and the use of consumer research results.
Task 4 – Design, Program, and Test Survey
Design a survey questionnaire to be administered using mixed methods (telephone and Internet or mail and
telephone, for example) in order to maximize response. Survey questions would focus on airport experiences with
consumer research, benefits and challenges of
various approaches, and the use of research results in practice.
Review the questionnaire with the Project Panel and make the appropriate changes in response to their comments.
Program the survey for initial online administration. Test the survey among a random sample of potential
respondents, assess the results, and make final modifications as needed.
Task 5 – Implement Online Survey
Invite carefully selected members of the target audience who did not take part in the survey test to participate in the
online survey. Follow up as necessary to enhance the response rate.
Task 6 – Conduct Supplemental Telephone Interviews
If the online survey does not achieve a satisfactory response rate, conduct supplemental telephone interviews using
the same survey instrument, with modifications appropriate to the method.
Task 7 – Code and Analyze Survey Data
Code and analyze the data resulting from the survey. Prepare a technical memorandum documenting the survey
Task 8 -
Prepare Preliminary Delineation of Best Practices
On the basis of the literature review, industry discussions, and the results of the survey, apply the evaluation
framework developed in Task 3 to develop a preliminary delineation of best practices.
Task 9 – Prepare Interim Report
Prepare an interim report on the results of the survey, the preliminary delineation of best practices, and the tasks
proposed for Phase II. Meet with the Project Panel to review the report and the conceptualization of best practices.
Discuss and agree on
Phase II tasks, including the selection of airports to be visited and serve as case studies. As
appropriate, make changes to the interim report based on Project Panel input.
Task 10 – Conduct Site Visits
Invite a representative sample of airpo
rts engaged in what appear to be exemplary research programs or programs
that offer valuable lessons to participate in site visits to detail and showcase their efforts. During the visits, explore
features, benefits, challenges, and perceptions of best practices. Consideration may also be given to visiting airports
that reported experiencing challenges in conducting consumer research if it appears that the experiences of these
operators would be useful in understanding and delineating best practices.
11 – Prepare Case Study Reports
Prepare case study reports on the results of the site visits. Review with the Project Panel and make the appropriate
modifications in response to their comments.
Task 12 – Conduct Focus Groups
Conduct one or two focus groups with representative cross-
sections of airport representatives to explore their
experiences in more depth, obtain pertinent anecdotal information that might supplement the information reported in
the survey or site visits, and enhance understanding of the state of the art through interaction among participants.
The project could offer to assist with travel expenses in order to encourage participation.
Task 13 – Revise Delineation of Best Practices
On the basis of the site visits and focus group discussions, prepare a final draft delineation of best practices.
Task 14 – Prepare Final Report
Prepare a final report on the findings from the research, including the literature review, the survey, the case studies,
the focus groups, and the delineation of be
st practices. Key considerations in report preparation will include
implications for improving the customer experience as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of airport operations.
Submit the report for Project Panel review, make revisions in response to Panel comments and concerns, and
coordinate publication with ACRP staff.
It is estimated that 17 person
-months of effort would be required to undertake the proposed tasks. Together with
travel costs, the funding required is
estimated at $450,000. This includes $10,000 for participant travel to attend up
to two focus group meetings and $20,000 for travel by the research team and other direct expenses.
The level of effort is based on assigning person-
months of effort to each of the above tasks and an average cost of
$25,000 per person-
month based on the budgeted cost for a current ACRP project.
It is envisaged that the proposed research could be conducted over a period of approximately 24 months, including
allowances for project panel review of draft intermediate and final deliverables.
A number of recent ACRP research projects have addressed the air passenger consumer experience at airports,
although none have specifically identified best practices in the conduct of consumer research to better understand that
experience. These include ACRP Report 157 Improving the Airport Customer Experience and ACRP Synthesis 56
Understanding the Value of Social Media at Airports for Customer Engagement. ACRP Report 109 Improving
Terminal Design to Increase Revenue Generation Related to Customer Satisfaction considers the role of the design of
physical facilities and concessions in the customer experience. ACRP Report 26 Guidebook for Conducting Airport
User Surveys provides detailed guidance on the planning. design, and implementation of surveys of air passengers
and other airport users (including meeters and wellwishers) that could be used in support of customer experience
Many airports undertake periodic surveys to measure customer satisfaction, and there is a growing interest in using
surveys to acquire data for airport performance benchmarking. In addition to surveys developed by individual
airports, surveys have been undertaken on a quarterly basis at a large number of airports as part of the Airport Service
Quality (ASQ) survey program (http://www.aci.aero/Airport
-Home) run by the Airports
Council International (ACI). These surveys are generally undertaken four times per year using a standardized survey
questionnaire with a minimum of 350 respondents for each survey. As of 2015, 28 U.S. airports participated in this
program. The ASQ survey asks respondents to rate 30 aspects of their experience at the airport where they were
surveyed and also collects information about the current air trip being taken by respondents as well as traveler
Measuring consumer experience is one aspect of airport performance. ACRP Report 19 Developing an Airport
provides a broader context for airport performance measurement generally, and
current ACRP Project 03
- 41 Common Performance Metrics for Airport Infrastructure and Operational Planning is
synthesizing current practice in airport performance metrics.