An online portal is often the first point of contact between any business and its customer. But for Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which had more than 62 million passengers pass through its doors in 2007, giving customers such easy access to information is vital for more than just good customer relationship management.
On Friday 31 October, LAX's website, along with three others under the ownership and authority of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), went live with a revamp and relaunch.
Despite each of the four airports under LAWA's umbrella – LAX, Ontario International Airport (35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles), Van Nuys and Palmdale – having individual websites, search engines most readily pick up information via the LAWA portal.
Navigating customers directly to each of the airport's individual URLs was therefore a major priority of the project, according to Dominic Nessi, CIO of LAWA.
"People tend to focus on LAWA.org but it doesn't have any ring to it. LAX, however, is one of the 50 most-known acronyms in the world, so we are trying to make a concerted shift towards LAX.aero," says Nessi.
"Los Angeles World Airports is a city proprietary agency, and we wanted to separate the business of being an airport authority from the business of being a passenger. LAWA.org has information on contracting opportunities, the running of the airport and what the board of commissioners is doing. LAX.aero and Ontario.aero will be purely for the passengers now."
Van Nuys Airport is one of the world's busiest civil aviation airports and Ontario has 380 commercial flights a day. But it is LAX, the fifth-busiest airport in the world, which is the major priority for the agency.
Back to basics
Going back to basics and looking at what makes a good website was Nessi's first task. Having previously worked as CIO for the US National Park Service, he knows the importance of making the site appeal to a diverse range of demographics. In his previous role the portal had to be relevant to children wanting to become junior rangers, as well as the elderly using the internet as their way of actually visiting the national parks. Now, the task was to make LAX.aero equally attractive and useful to travellers from all over the world.
"We do have multilingual information sheets, which we didn't have in the past. We also wanted to make it very pictorial so people don't have to respond to a lot of words," says Nessi.
Building Web 2.0 features into the design was important to bring the sites up to date with modern standards. Although more of a concept than a set of distinct guidelines, Web 2.0 describes the changing trends in the use of internet technology and web design to enhance creativity and functionality.
Web design research shows that users tend to scan from the top left of the screen and work their way clockwise around the page. Reference links on the left of the page have also become standard. "We looked at a lot of navigation features and wanted it as simple as possible," Nessi says. "We have reference links on the left-hand side of the page and big, bold pictures in nine boxes on the homepage. Also, when you visit the site you can see the entire homepage on your screen."
Going forward, the LAX site will include real-time flight information, the latest weather forecasts, general information about the facilities of the airport and a photo gallery. There are also quick links to the public relations department and topics such as noise management which are of interest to local residents as well as international visitors.
Last-minute changes at LAX
The website development has been carried out completely in-house and it has taken Nessi's team almost a year to get to the point where they are ready to launch. They have looked at over 40 domestic and international airport websites to gather together the best bits of each and are now holding final consultation groups to hear suggestions for last-minute changes.
"We conducted a really in-depth search of all peer websites and found so many great characteristics that we wanted to emulate everything that was good. We have been sending staff at the airport and in the city the link to the site and asking them for their comments so we can make last-minute adjustments," says Nessi.
Latest additions include real-time traffic updates to let passengers know of any incidents that may delay their journey to the airport and latest LA news via the recently launched LAX magazine which will also feature on the LAX homepage. LAX magazine is a published title and has technology, film and restaurant features, providing visitors with a broader take on the latest happenings in Los Angeles. As well as appearing in print it also has web content which can be accessed via LAX.aero.
On top of the external redesigns, the LAWA team is also starting work on an intranet for their own internal use. "I am very excited about the new internet sites as I think they are going to be some of the best airport sites in the world," says Nessi.
For an airport that is expected have more superjumbo jet passenger services that anywhere else in the world by 2012, marked most recently by the first A380 flight on 20 October, a good website is vital.
With the number of passengers only set to increase and the number of jobs created from LAX already topping 59,000, increasing the profile of LAX.aero and making the individual URLs Google friendly is a major priority for the LAWA team. By drawing together the best of the rest, the site should at once be user friendly, informative and a news hub for all LAX events.