So, is South Korea’s Incheon International or Singapore’s Changi the envy of the world? According to two major rankings for 2010, they’re both the world’s number one airport.
Airports Council International (ACI) came out with its annual Airport Service Quality awards last week, and named—for the sixth-straight year—Incheon Airport in Seoul as the best of the best.
ACI, a global trade representative of the world’s airports, compiled their 2010 rankings by tallying up 300,000 passenger surveys completed across 153 airports around the world. They were based on ‘customer feedback on a range of service delivery parameters that track the customer experience at an airport from the moment of arrival to the departure gate,’ including measures such as cleanliness, check-in efficiency and waiting area comfort. Summing up the results, ACI Programme Director Craig Bradbrook explained that the ‘top performing airports are those that deliver on the basics first—general ambience, cleanliness, check in efficiency, courtesy of staff, clear signage, availability of facilities, comfortable waiting areas—and then turn their attention to provision of other services.’
Following Incheon International in the top five are Singapore’s Changi, then Hong Kong International, Beijing Capital International and Shanghai Pudong International—all in Asia.
Meanwhile global airline review company Skytrax also revealed its own World’s Top 10 Airports ranking for 2010, and not unlike ACI’s, the majority of them are based in the Asia-Pacific. According to Skytrax, its survey this year was an ‘extremely competitive’ one that assessed (an impressive) 9.8 million completed survey interviews. Their results showed that while it was a very close race, Singapore’s Changi comes out slightly ahead of Incheon International, earning the title of 2010 World's Best Airport. Included in Skytrax’s top ten also are Hong Kong International, Munich and Kuala Lumpur, Zurich, Amsterdam Schiphol, Beijing Capital International, Auckland Int'l and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport—placing seven of the ten in the Asia-Pacific region.
All this chimes with the conversation I just had with a friend in Britain who said that in contrast, London’s Heathrow feels like a bit of an embarrassment. She told me that there, ‘as a British national, I’m greeted on my return by chewing-gum covered carpets, lengthy queuing, surly staff and lost luggage. I’ve never got to baggage claim before my suitcase in Singapore, but when I re-enter London, I can guarantee my bag is on the wrong conveyor belt.’ She went on to suggest that Heathrow’s lack of effort to improve is simple, and political: ‘London’s clinging to its high-powered past and expecting status to be given automatically. Now Britain is unwilling to develop, because it feels that power and world status will automatically come to a formerly great country.’
Airports offer countries a great chance to make a strong first impression on tourists. It seems that airport operators in the West have a thing or two to learn from their Asian cousins.