With a target of accommodating over 75 million passengers by the year 2015[1], the Dubai International Airport seems to have geared up to actually win the title of being ‘the busiest and the biggest airport’ after outpacing the rest. Proudly stating it out, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the president of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, the chairman of Dubai Airports and the chief executive of Emirates Airline asserted, ‘This figure will help Dubai International Airport to top the list of the busiest and biggest airports in the world in terms of international passenger capacity, overtaking London Heathrow.’[2] According to the aviation plan, the number of new destinations to be accessible from Dubai International will be increased by 20 this year, 22 next year and 24 in 2015[3]. Yet another analysis states that the capacity of Dubai International Airport is expected to increase from 60 million passengers to 90 million by 2018[4], owing to the continuous deluge of expats and tourists swarming to this particular destination from all around the globe.

Ninety million international passengers, all to be served at one single facility — it certainly increases the responsibility on part of the airport administration to make sure that every single customer’s needs are well taken care of.

Crowd Management and Customer Service

Customer Service in Airlines IndustryManaging such a huge gathering is a tough row to hoe and it necessitates putting systematic processes at work and most importantly employing personnel who are not only present but also willing to go an extra mile to assist the customers. Crowding can be exasperating, and sometimes individuals don’t really behave the way they should, if and when they find themselves stuck in an overcrowded place. It also increases the odds of customers getting into feuds and disagreements, not only with each other but also with the employees. Moreover, overcrowding always surges the possibility of serious security hazards. On the other hand, dealing with so many people tends to slow down the speed of staff’s actions, employees usually start getting crankier, hence leading to poor customer service.

Keeping in view all these facts, it is pivotal to have crowd management strategies implemented in order to serve the customers better. Crowd management calls for implementing strict policies, practices and procedures which can result in proper supervision and control on part of the management, and in so doing achieving the ultimate objective of delivering fine customer experiences; where Crowd Management is literally defined as the systematic planning for, and supervision of, the orderly movement and assembly of people.

Dubai International Airport: Why is it Racking up Worldwide Fame?

Roots date back to 1960, when it was established after considering the region’s foreseeable inclination of transmuting into a transcultural hub. In order to billet the ever-increasing number of travelers, the airport was constructed to serve as regions’ primary airport, giving way to little or no grounds to relocating or even constructing a new airport altogether.

Scoring huge when it comes to offering amenities entwined with extravaganza, the airport very well elucidates its reputation for ranking among the best international airports. Here are a few to name:

Handling Massive Passenger Traffic

Funneling huge amounts of passenger traffic regularly, the airport serves more than 145 airlines flying to more than 260 destinations across six continents.[5]

Exclusive Airport Services

Passengers experience new heights of luxury and exclusivity while their stay at the airport facilities like Al Majlis, Ahlan and Marhaba, Executive Flight Services and Dubai International Hotel.

Conveniently Located Reservation Desks

Central reservations desks are conveniently located at the arrivals areas in Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 of the airport. International hotel chain kiosks are also located alongside.

Tour Planning Services

Saving the first time travelers all the hassle to arrange or book for safaris and city tours, experienced local tour operators stand by at the arrivals areas, across all the three terminals of the airport, to take it from there.

Currency Exchangers

Local / international banks and currency exchange houses, offering currency exchange, money transfer, cash advance and bill payment, operate round-the-clock across the three terminals.

Free Wi-Fi

Free hotspot wireless internet service named ‘MAXSPOT’ is accessible to all the customers. Reliable and fast, MAXSPOT is enabled across Terminals 1, 2 and 3 and all airside facilities.

Diverse Dining Experiences

Dubai International offers a wide array of dining experiences. With an eclectic selection of local, regional and international flavors to treat taste buds, passengers are definitely spoiled for choice.

Duty Free Shopping

Perhaps the best part of being at the airport is the fact that glitzy shops dominate the concourses where customers can do Duty Free Shopping from a range of internationally recognized brands in the baggage claim area, before passing through customs. A customer describes the experience as, ‘Had some time to spend in the massive duty free and to have breakfast, it feels like a massive shopping mall at the busiest hour of the weekend, clean spotless toilets though busy. I understand that Dubai airport would be very frustrating for those who are not living in Dubai and don’t have the e-gate, but I find it the most modern, clean airport.’

Baggage Services

The airport offers a 24/7 short term baggage storage service. Emirates also provides ‘Baggage delivery’ service for Terminal 3 Passengers, where the baggage is delivered to customer’s door step.

Parking Services

Dubai International features 24-hour parking lot in its short-term and long-term spaces at Terminals 1, 2 and 3. Throughout the parking facilities, automatic pay stations are conveniently located. Moreover, Valet parking is also available at both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3.

Emergency Services

With a world-class Airport Medical Centre (AMC), Dubai International is dedicated to making sure everyone who passes through the airport remains healthy and safe. AMC constantly upgrades its capabilities and performance to ensure staff members are ready for any kind of emergency, however large or small.

Lost Property Management

Dubai Airports strives to work towards providing the best customer service to the millions of travelers visiting airport each year. The Lost Property Management team at Dubai Airports does its best to collect all the information regarding lost items so that they are able to locate the missing item quickly and ensure its safe return to the customer.

Meteorological Services

The Meteorological Services Unit is a part of Dubai Air Navigation Services (DANS). Meteorological Services monitors weather conditions 24 hours a day across the Middle East region with particular focus on Dubai Intl, Dubai World Central and the surrounding area.

Airport Charges

According to Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, the airport charges are lower as compared to global and regional standards. ‘If you compare us to Amsterdam, our airport charges are less than 50 per cent of the total fees you pay, because of course a large part of the airport fees, particularly in Europe, are government taxes and of course we don’t have any of that.’

In 2011, Dubai International Airport handled a record 50.9 million passengers, witnessing an increase of 8% as compared to the previous fiscal year[6], and ranked as a runner-up in Forbes’ list of ‘Best Airports in the World.’ [7]

Customer Reviews: Tell Tale Signs

Some of the customer reviews, however, tell a completely different story. Richard Green, a frequent globetrotter, puts it this way, ‘Dubai International has much in common with Singapore-Changi, but I just don’t like it quite as much.’[8] Now apparently or quantitatively speaking, the rankings assigned to the airport weighed it in terms of its passenger traffic and the available terminal space and gates. Now, if the rankings are fine then what made Richard hold such an opinion? Maybe it came off as a result of the fact that despite having over 1.5 million square meters space at hand at Terminal 3 only[9], the airport management still has not been able to handle such huge crowds the way they should and perhaps there is still room for them to work on providing a better customer experience. Bianca Bene, another regular traveler holds similar views for airport’s customer service standards, ‘I have travelled a fair bit but have not experienced such lack of care towards travelers anywhere else. It was a very disappointing experience for me.’

Choking Off Customer Experiences

The airport hardly stands a chance of becoming the customer favorite as it lags in more than one way when it comes to offering fine customer experience. Regardless of the facilities that it offers, things are rather different when it comes to actual experiences. On an average day more than five million[10] passengers pass through its terminals. There are people everywhere – and the cacophony of announcements, beeping luggage carts and chattering voices add up to the stress and hassle of getting on a plane.

Arrogant Perfunctory Staff

Majority of the travelers found it extremely annoying to be at the mercy of rude and unprofessional staff. The fact has made quite a large number of travelers change their preferences for travelling through Dubai International as they feel the need to think twice before selecting it over the others. ‘After 5 years of having Emirates as my airline of choice, I have now moved over to Singapore Airlines & Changi as the transit hub. Emirates is a great airline and it’s a pity that all the effort put into building the great brand gets tarnished as a result of rude ground staff.’ The staff in duty free shops, lounges and security gates has been indicted of being rude and impolite in responding to customer queries. N Sutherland, a passenger taking a flight from UK said, ‘Transit Security is perfunctory at best – the staff weren’t even looking at the monitors, so why bother?’

Lacking the ‘Customer Comfort’ Factor

Some customers are of the view that Dubai International has been planned as a gigantic money spinner rather than a facility for passengers. According to a customer, ‘The airport is very badly air conditioned with temperatures near 28°C. It is easier to buy a watch than to find a toilet and then there are certainly not enough of them to serve the massive number of passengers. Dreadfully unpleasant experience and the horrible booming sound system in the terminal makes napping almost impossible.’ Also, the customers found the sleeper seats awfully uncomfortable.

No Transit Lounge

The airport seems to have missed out on the provision of a transit lounge for short re-fuelling turnarounds. J Lister, a traveler from Australia says, ‘Why is there not a transit lounge? A transit lounge with toilets and coffee would be the sensible thing in the middle of the grueling London/Australia trip.’ To most of the customer’s dismay, apparently the marvelous gigantic facility is nothing but a below average airport, with little consideration for passengers’ comfort.

Exchanging Currency on Every Purchase

Another bothering shortcoming that the airport has is that, every time one needs to make a purchase (even if it is as minor as buying a cup of coffee), he has to get the currency exchanged into dinars which is more of a nuisance when in transit for such a short period of time. According to a vexed traveler, ‘My main complaint though concerns the total lack of free drinking water in the entire airport. Instead, you must convert money into dinars or try to use your credit card to buy a bottle of water. This can only be described as a huge inconvenience for thirsty passengers.’

Teething System Issues

In January 2013, the airport commissioned about 14 smart gates at Terminal 3[11], while 14 more gates are to be deployed at Terminal 1 and 2 soon. These smart gates work by detecting and verifying users through their biometrically enhanced passports, ID cards or e-gate cards leveraging facial and eye recognition technology. The technology, which is supposed to reduce time, energy and hassle, was found to be non-functional by majority of the customers. ‘On arrival the brand new automatic passport gates did not work and every passenger in the queue with me was rejected from the gate (roughly 40 people with European passports)’, reported a customer.

All Over the Place Signs

Most of the customers complained that the signs at the airport seem to be all over the place. Unhelpful staff and confusing signage made it difficult for most of the travelers. Bianca Bene, a frequent traveler said, ‘I have experienced T3 as most other reviewers. I agree that it is very crowded. However I must say the worst thing for me was the unhelpful, unpleasant, unfriendly and unprofessional attitude of the local staff. This was particularly frustrating as meaningful signage is hard to come by and one has to rely for directions from the airport staff. Like most others I liked Emirates but would try to avoid Dubai as a transit destination in the future.’

Unserviceable Counters that can Function Actually

Customers have also been disappointed to see that even though there are so many counters not all of them are open for service. ‘There is one counter for one queue and three counters for another – we were in a queue with 15 people in front of us, that immigration officer took 2.5 hours to process them’, told a customer. Processing at the functioning counters goes on at a snail’s pace. Besides, the queue management is also found to be terrible by majority of the customers. William Cooper from USA says, ‘Long lines and the outside of terminal 1 is total chaos. Always crowded and one runway is always shut down. Horrible place to land, takeoff or transit. I have been an airline captain for 33 years and never seen such incompetent management at an airport of this size. Daily nightmare of long waits, insufficient toilets, rude and surly employees.’

Customers also found out that many desks were not open although there did seem to be staff wandering around doing nothing. The staff is extremely slow, takes at least 5-10 minutes with each person, they are extremely unfriendly and obviously have no idea whatsoever about customer care. This really did spoil the start of our holiday; we were using Dubai as a stopover for a couple of days. These queues were totally unacceptable, and I doubt whether we would ever use Dubai as a stopover again!, griped a dissatisfied customer.

Long Queues and Lengthy Checks

Adding to the customers’ agony, waiting in long queues has been acting as a major deterring factor to a reasonable experience. A traveler from Switzerland, Rolf Heimer said, ‘There is unfriendly staff at terminals, horrible queues without any organization, totally crowded airport and business lounges without any silent room or corner. At the gates almost no seating possibility. Small amount of finger docks, long bus transfer times to and from the terminal and airplane up to 25 minutes.’

Majority of the customers do not find the security screening to be up to standard as the staff was found to be more intimidating than approachable. They were found to be engaged in discussions most of the time, ignoring customer needs and requirements. ‘It was a farce. Could not be described as an efficient airport or workforce!’, ranted angry customer. Another customer complained, ‘I come in and out of Dubai T3 often and my experience through customs is always the same – utter misery. Why don’t they have the common sense to create queues for EU visitors only who can go through far quicker than most Asians who have all sorts of issues with paperwork etc.?’

Enacting Practices for Crowd Management

All the factors discussed above point towards the fact how the airport’s administration is having a botched crowd management strategy which is mainly the reason for having low customer service standards in place. In order to incorporate an effective crowd control management plan, here are a few techniques which, if considered, can provide a better experience to future travelers:

Standardizing Civil Staff Behavior

Administrations must make it clear to their staff that even a single complaint made by a customer regarding misconduct won’t be tolerated. They must devise strict checks and policies that directly relate to employees’ payrolls. This way they are more attentive to the fact that providing a fine customer experience is part of their job. Also, taking measures as having a sign at employees’ desk that reads, ‘How am I serving you?’ are more empowering to the customers as it gives them a feel that their opinion is being valued.

Rapid Deployment

There are expected ebbs and flows of customers and guests, and then there is the unexpected. It’s a facility manager’s job to plan and be prepared for the most basic blip and the most outlandish possible occurrence. Overflowing toilets in the main bathroom when its halftime – how do you keep people out to clean it up? Complaining parents as their kid lost his favorite watch in the lobby – how do you keep such crowd at bay? With rapid-to-deploy crowd control solutions at hand, employees are in a better position to think straight as to why something is not operating as expected, and when it will again be available.

Way-finding Optimization

Make directions clear so as to enable new and existing customers find their way. Way-finding can be enhanced with directional and informational signage that makes the way clearer even for those who can’t read. Digital signage also allows quick and easy alterations to changing details like time changes. Clearly marking established areas like checkouts, seating areas, waiting lounges, and so on can help people feel at home.

Queue Management

Since waiting in line can cause tension among a large group of impatient, tired, or excited people, crowd control issues can easily arise if queuing is not handled properly. Lines are inevitable, but they don’t have to be painful. Managements can always take measures that create distractions so that people forget that they’re waiting. This can be done by having in-line entertainment, such as occupying crowd’s attention by playing highlight reels or promotional videos. If heavy or rowdy crowd is anticipated, consider barriers that are not easily shifted, moved, or toppled. Invest in strong magnetic based posts or go for mounts that are permanently drilled into the ground but allow for the removal of crowd control stanchions when not needed.

Temporary Closures

Closing off areas of a facility that need to be cleaned, maintained or renovated is inevitable. The way you handle such temporary closures impacts crowd control and because the closure is not expected, it often requires a higher level of ‘policing’ than the rest. It’s critical to make sure a temporary shift is clearly marked and that the alternate routes or instructions are communicated evidently. Signage combined with physical barriers, such as wall-mounted retractable belts, post and panel barricades, swing gates, or portable stanchions, provide a concise yet clear message to deter crowds from going to the prohibited area.

Customer Flow Management

To truly keep crowds under your control, it’s necessary to have solutions in place throughout the facility so that the flow of customer movement is maintained whether they arrive, leave or make their way around inside. When you can keep customers moving in whatever direction they wish to go – or whatever direction they are supposed to go – you can easily tamper with crowd frenzy and maintain a well-oiled, highly controlled environment that is prepared for the smallest malfunction or even the biggest disaster.

[1] http://www.thenational.ae/business/industry-insights/aviation/dubai-airport-targets-75m-passengers-by-2015-and-become-worlds-busiest-and-biggest