Becoming one of the world’s top three airports is no easy feat; passengers expect outstanding facilities and exceptional services for such a privileged position. Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) provides all that passengers could want and more, and has been duly rewarded for its efforts.

Having won Skytrax World Airport awards for eight of the last 11 years, in 2011 it was crowned Skytrax World Airport of the Year. This marks more than a decade of effort on the part of the airport authority, starting with the opening of the Norman Foster-designed terminal building in 1998. This terminal, currently the world’s third-largest, replaced the cramped Kai Tak Airport and offers greatly improved facilities.

With convenient transport links to the rest of Hong Kong and mainland China, world-class facilities, and numerous dining and shopping options, the airport was from the start a world-beater, but what set it apart from airports elsewhere is the difference the staff have made to the passenger experience.

"In 2011, Hong Kong was crowned Skytrax World Airport of the Year."

By providing unrivalled customer service, these ambassadors have helped HKIA earn the five-star ranking. Stanley Hui Hon-chung, CEO of Airport Authority Hong Kong, certainly agrees.

"Maintaining customer service excellence at HKIA remains our top priority as we receive more passengers and airlines," he says. "We are very honoured to receive Skytrax’s World’s Best Airport award, which is a recognition by the global flying public that HKIA has continued to meet and exceed passengers’ expectations. As we continue enhancing HKIA’s facilities to serve its ever-growing air traffic demand, we will also continue working hand-in-hand with our business partners to further invest in our facilities and people to provide an even better airport experience for passengers."

Making your staff your biggest asset involves extensive training, support and assessment. Future Airport finds out more about what it takes to become the best of the best.

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Future Airport: What sort of training do staff undergo and what is being done to support continuous learning across the course of their career?

Stanley Hui Hon-chung: Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) is committed to providing the best airport experience to passengers. To guarantee the quality of our customer service, all newly joined customer service front-desk staff will undergo an intensive and well-structured training programme, including e-learning and classroom training, to fully equip them with job-related knowledge, good handling skills and step-by-step techniques. Emphasis is also given to cultivating a strong customer services mindset and attitude that align with AAHK’s corporate value.

"Emphasis is given to cultivating a strong customer services mindset that aligns with AAHK’s corporate value."

The comprehensive operational curriculum has over 50 subjects for the e-learning platform, which are accessible by all front-line staff to learn at their own pace and time.

Staff can also take refresher training to support their deployment plans if needed.

As employees progress throughout their career, training on coaching, feedback, supervisory skills and enhancing awareness of legal compliances will be offered. Training needs for front-line staff comes under regular review to meet operational and business requirements, and to ensure that training plans and content are effective.

How is staff performance assessed? What sort of staff incentives are there and what kind of standards does the airport operator set? What methods are in place to ensure that the passenger experience is continuously improved?

Staff performance reviews are conducted annually. Throughout the year, continuous feedback is provided to help front-line staff achieve performance targets and service standards as required for specific jobs.

To drive customer service excellence and to ensure that members of the airport community resonate the same goal, AAHK regularly conducts customer service seminars and acknowledges exemplary airport employees at our yearly Customer Service Excellence Programme. Courtesy campaigns targeting specific contractors are also being organised; for example, we recently concluded a courtesy campaign for flow-management contractors with an award ceremony recognising 15 staff members who showed outstanding customer service in their duties.

While we encourage passengers to give us their views directly by calling or writing to us, there are also established communal forums with stakeholders driven by AAHK to solicit operation feedback, explore solutions and implement improvement initiatives.

"AAHK spends over HK$2bn a year on expanding the airport’s capacity and facilities to cope with the growing passenger flow."

Hardware improvement is crucial to maintaining customer satisfaction, and is an ongoing basis. AAHK spends over HK$2bn a year on expanding the airport’s capacity and facilities to cope with the growing passenger flow; for example, we installed 56 computer terminals in 28 locations near boarding gates in terminal 1 in October 2010 and upgraded our airportwide free Wi-Fi coverage in 2011.

We have also introduced new technologies like iPads and electric scooters for terminal operation teams, with a view to enhancing incident response in the event of airport disruptions.

Recently, a three-year, HK$496m rejuvenation programme was kick-started to overhaul airport utilities such as loading bridge and baggage handling systems to enhance our system reliability and customer satisfaction. The airport’s public washrooms will be renovated, and the automated people mover and apron bus facilities will be refurbished.

How do airport staff demonstrate their commitment to first-class customer service? How does the airport ensure that a consistent standard is maintained, even where staff are not under the direct control of the operator?

We’ve set up key performance indicators, with performance standards being devised and performance on key operational processes being tracked every month.

In 2010/11, we delivered 98.1% of all our flights’ first bags to baggage reclaim within 20 minutes, with 96.9% of the last bags delivered within 40 minutes. 98.5% of arriving passengers and 97.5% of departing passengers passed through security screening in 4.5 minutes or less.

In addition, HKIA is one of the participants in the Airports Council International’s Airport Service Quality programme. Customer satisfaction surveys are conducted monthly to collect passenger opinions about service monitoring and continuous improvement. We also constantly review our retail mix to make sure the needs of different passengers can be served by offering diverse shopping and dining choices. Customer service seminars, courtesy campaigns and award ceremony also help to align the service standard and foster the same standards across the airport community.

What system does the airport have in place for dealing with customer feedback?

Customer feedback is collected through different channels and includes: written feedback collected online or by writing or by completing our feedback leaflet ‘Viewpoints’; a 24-hour hotline; at the Airport Comments Corner in the terminal; via our front-line staff, business partners, government bodies/departments and media.

"HKIA delivered 98.1% of all its flights’ first bags to baggage reclaim within 20 minutes."

We value all customer feedback and a dedicated team has been assigned to handle all views and suggestions.

Periodical management reviews are also conducted for discussion and monitoring of the development and implementation of improvement initiatives as suggested by the airport users.

The airport received a five-star rating from Skytrax – what were the major factors behind this high score?

We believe that this is the result of the concerted effort made by the 65,000 staff force of the airport community. Through the cooperation and teamwork of the whole airport community, we strive to impress travellers from Hong Kong and worldwide.

What are the areas for improvement and what new challenges lie ahead?

As the airport’s passenger volume continues to grow, our terminal capacity, both hardware and software, will be further stretched in the coming years. As more facilities, such as the Midfield Concourse, are brought in to cope with the increasing demand, we will also have to plan ahead and progressively expand and train up our front-line customer service team to further enhance our service coverage and service quality provided to passengers.