(1) Passengers surveyed in JD Power and Associates’ “2014 North America Airline Satisfaction Study” gave airlines a record-high satisfaction score of
712 on a 1,000-point scale.
Flying used to be fun—and it’s becoming fun again, according to American Airlines, which cites escalating levels of satisfaction among airline customers (1) as proof that the golden age of air travel isn’t in the past but rather the future.
US Airways, which completed a merger with American Airlines in December 2013, has long recognized that customer satisfaction is the key to longevity. And, because that experience starts on the ground, in 2007 the airline commenced a project to revamp and redesign one of its busiest locations: Terminal F at the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). But, the story of this project actually began several years before.
In the mid-1990s, US Airways determined that it needed a major East Coast hub for international flights, and PHL was a logical choice, according to Rhett Workman, the airline’s managing director of government and airport affairs. It’s strategically located, he says, yet it’s still significantly less congested—from an airfield, terminal, and airspace perspective—than airports in Boston and New York, offering the benefits of connectivity without the drawbacks.
“Its location in the Northeast is halfway between Washington, DC, and New York,” Workman says. “In addition to its geographic location, we realized that Philadelphia was situated in a very good region in terms of population base. Plus, a number of Fortune 500 companies are based within a 50-mile radius of the airport. So, from a competitive position, it was a very good location for us.”
So, US Airways partnered with the City of Philadelphia to build and open Terminal F in 2001, followed by Terminal A-West in 2003. Terminal F was designed to host regional express flights that would connect passengers to domestic and international flights in Terminal A-West. “Before Terminal F came online, passengers on express flights moved around a lot,” Workman says. “They were put in a hold room on the lower level of Concourse B, then bused over to an open-land area where Terminal F is today [to board connecting flights]. Obviously, that was not the best customer-service experience. So, Terminal F was envisioned as a way to legitimize our international-gateway operations, creating a world-class facility to accommodate regional flying and to feed traffic to these long-haul flights.”
A world-class facility is exactly what it was—until demand outpaced supply. “The number of operations began to exceed the design capacity of the terminal fairly quickly,” Workman says. “We soon realized that the terminal was running at maximum capacity and exceeding that several times during the day. By 2006, we knew we had an issue that we were going to have to address.”
The math is self-evident: Terminal F was designed to accommodate approximately 150 daily departures. Today, it handles more than 275. “Because of unexpected demand for the terminal, we decided to go back and make some adjustments,” Workman says.
A public-private partnership with PHL allowed the Division of Aviation and US Airways to begin redesigning Terminal F just six years after it was opened. The result: a $127 million renovation and expansion that’s being managed for American Airlines / US Airways by long-standing program-management partner, Burns & McDonnell. The project includes three phases of construction, the first of which is already complete. On the design and construction side, the airline has engaged a number of local and national firms to bring this project to fruition, including Skanska, Daniel J. Keating, the Sheward Partnership, HNTB, Darroff, and Arora Engineers, among others.
Phase 1: Concessions Galore
PHL is among the 20 busiest airports in the United States, welcoming more than 31 million passengers every year. One in six of those passengers departs from or arrives at Terminal F.
That’s a lot of passengers to please, so a major priority for the new Terminal F was giving passengers more room and amenities. “When the terminal originally opened, we quickly realized we had two shortages: one was adequate hold-room seating and another was concessions,” Workman says. “When we were looking at the expansion of Terminal F, we knew we needed to do everything we could to maximize the amount of space for our customers.”
Begun in 2011 and completed in 2013, phase one of construction focused on expanding the concession hub that connects Terminal F’s three concourses. All told, American Airlines / US Airways, working with PHL and the airport’s master concessionaire, Marketplace Redwood, doubled the hub’s size to 60,000 square feet; quadrupled the number of food, beverage, and retail offerings; and added a 300-seat food court that’s four times larger than its predecessor.
The stores and eateries are a mix of local, regional, and national establishments, and a highlight is Local Tavern, the menu of which was developed in consultation with Philadelphia-based celebrity chef Jose Garces. There, every seat includes an iPad, which patrons can use to check their e-mail, confirm their flight status, or order atypical airport fare such as duck-fat fries, brussels sprouts, or pulled pork. There’s also a spa, XpresSpa, where passengers can take a shower or get a professional shave.
“We tried to … not just fix things that we wanted to fix 10 years ago but really push the envelope in making the customer experience something unique and forward-looking,” Workman says, adding that phase one also included 10,000 square feet of new support space, including new break rooms for airport employees and flight crews, a refreshed US Airways Club for customers, and a new, improved bus stop for passengers connecting to other terminals via a shuttle bus.
American Airlines / US Airways are financing construction through leasing fees paid to PHL. However, by upgrading the terminal’s concessions first, they have managed to curb some of the project’s costs because the airport is getting a portion of the increased concession revenue. “Expanding our concessions program has allowed us to offer more services to our customers but also to offset our operating costs,” Workman says.
Phase 2: In the Bag
Scheduled for completion in 2016, phase two of construction will improve the passenger experience further by expanding and enhancing the security checkpoint and adding a new baggage claim building to support Terminal F.
Currently, passengers entering the terminal typically face long lines at security. Moving the security checkpoint to the current baggage claim area, thus allowing it to expand from two screening lanes to four, will ease congestion, and it will give the Transportation Security Administration more flexibility to install new technologies and implement new programs, including its expedited security-screening initiative, known as PreCheck, which it currently can’t offer at Terminal F because of limited space. “It allows Terminal F to catch up to the rest of the airport in terms of how we screen passengers,” Workman says.
Crews are also modifying an existing corridor connecting Terminal F to the rest of the airport via Terminal E. They are putting the corridor behind security instead of in front of it, which will give screened passengers the option of moving between terminals by foot instead of by bus.
Workman is most excited about the terminal’s new baggage claim facility, a LEED Silver-certified building—the first LEED-certified terminal structure at PHL—on the arrivals side of the airport. The current baggage claim is on the departures side of the airport, which creates confusion for passengers and the loved ones who are picking them up.
“At the end of the day, everything we’re doing translates into accolades from our customers and our employees who use the facility and work in the facility,” Workman says. “That’s really our overriding goal.”
Phase 3: Regional Rifts
Although it’s currently on hold, pending a postmerger fleet plan from American Airlines, phase three of construction will be a concourse expansion to accommodate larger aircraft. It will allow the airline to operate fewer but larger flights in order to reduce fuel costs. “[Accommodating] larger aircraft outside the terminal will require us to make accommodations on the inside to be able to handle larger numbers of passengers,” Workman says. The phase’s plans include expanding passenger waiting areas and rearranging gates, the number of which will likely be reduced.
When it’s complete, the new and improved Terminal F will allow regional passengers to enjoy a customer experience equal to that of their mainline counterparts, and this will ultimately strengthen the American Airlines brand. “If you’re a customer at the airport, going to Terminal F will be a very pleasant experience,” Workman says. “You won’t feel like you’re on a regional flight; you’ll feel like you’re on a US Airways or American Airlines flight—regardless of what size airplane you’re flying on.”