As a conference speaker and hospitality industry trainer, I have often experienced the anxiety of flying into a foreign country with a different language for the first time. Although I (regrettably) have not yet managed to learn any languages beyond my American English, I cannot once remember flying into an airport that I could not easily find my way around. Whether landing in Sao Paulo Brazil, Sophia, Bulgaria, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Kiev, Ukraine, Moscow, Russia, Singapore, and more westernized cities such as Paris, London, Frankfurt and Florence, I have never once had a problem finding my connecting gate and/or finding my way to shuttles, parking, and transportation.
Yet several times I have had a huge problem when flying back to my own country from international flights. Let’s take for example one of my home town airports, which is MIA in Miami, FL. It seems the airport authorities managed to raise millions of dollars to build a beautiful new Terminal J a few years back, yet it took several years after its opening for them to add Terminal J to the directional signage in the terminal.
I never forget flying outbound right after the terminal opened and not seeing Terminal J listed on the map. It was kind of obvious that “J” would be after “H,” the last terminal listed, but at the time moving walkways and also the gate level lobbies did not connect and you had to walk outside, into the central median, to make it to “J.” About two years later I found myself arriving at this same terminal – just a week or so before Miami was to host its most recent NFL Superbowl - and this time I could not find signage leading me back to the parking area. I’m sure I walked an extra mile or two to find my way.
Then there is the old JFK airport, which I know has since been just recently replaced by a new terminal. I have not yet flown back into the USA at that location yet, so I sure hope they managed to spend a few bucks on some good signage. I remember several times flying back to the old JFK International terminal and the lack of directional signage made for a confusing arrival, all the way from finding where to re-check your bag after clearing customs to finding your way to the connecting gates.
Yet I have to say that my most recent bad signage experience happened just last weekend when I was flying back home with my wife from a conference in Europe, connecting in Detroit’s DTW. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and we had enjoyed a few days of rare vacation time together after the event. Since Cathy had a 3 hour layover before heading home to Florida on the same airline we came in on, and I had a 2. 5 hour layover before traveling to Atlanta on Southwest/Airtran, and since our flight was very early arriving, we were looking forward to watching some American football together and enjoying a nice dinner before going our separate ways.
The Immigration and Customs lines were not bad at all, and all was going well when we emerged to the center of Concourse A. All I had to do was figure out how to get to Concourse D, as indicated at the Southwest website, and then find a good restaurant with the NFL games on.
Yet to our dismay the signage said nothing about Concourse D. Immediately I felt a bit panicked as I had a very important speech to make at another major hotel conference the next day, and I thought maybe I made a mistake and booked the wrong departure city. Sure enough though, the website said clearly Terminal D at DTW. So we hunted down additional airport signage and maps.
There were plenty of maps showing terminals B and C and baggage claim, but nothing about Terminal D nor of Southwest/Airtran departures. My wife went to ask some of the airport workers while I tried to find the number for Southwest Airlines online. The workers were all polite and friendly, but no one knew anything about this D terminal. It took a long time to navigate the links on the Southwest website to finally unmask their toll-free number, as they appear to be hiding it like so many other online companies (including major hotel brands.) After several minutes navigating their automated system which does everything possible to send you to a talking robot, the agent I reached was polite but also knew nothing about how to get to Terminal D, although I was relieved that she at least knew it existed.
Well it didn’t take a genius from there to figure out that instead of enjoying dinner with my wife while watching football, the first step to get to D was to exit the main airport building. After that though, I have to say I felt like a genius for spotting the one small sign at the exit sign that said something about transportation to “other terminals” pointing to an escalator going the wrong way (up not down) and a steep staircase. I scrambled down those stairs with my luggage only to find no signage at the bottom. Finally, outside the doors, I noticed a small sign saying something about the “North Terminal and Blue Parking,” although it still said nothing about a Terminal D. As I waited more than 10 minutes, watching the time tick away, many other confused and stressed out passengers appeared. I felt empathy for the elderly man in a wheel chair pushed by his adult son, and also for the family from Asia traveling with grandparents and two babies.
Those 10 minutes seemed like an eternity as I imagined how bad it would be if I missed my flight and thus was not there in Atlanta at 9am the next day for my presentation. Thankfully a bus pulled up with a sign reading “North Terminal,” but again no mention of Terminal D, so I still felt a bit unsure. When the bus unloaded us there was still no terminal signage, but my sense of direction took over and it was not too hard to find the difference between the “blue” parking lot and what looked like an active terminal building. I only felt true relief when I saw several airlines listed including mine.
When I asked the super-polite TSA representative if this was maybe a new terminal, I was shocked when he estimated it was open a long time, maybe 5 years by his recollection. Thanks to the efficiency of the TSA I was able to make it through in just enough time to grab a water, but no food.
As frustrating as it was for me, I felt empathy towards the others who boarded even later, just before the door was closed, including many with children, elderly, and inexperienced travelers. Everyone I spoke with shared similar stories of confusion.
About Doug Kennedy
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly hotel industry training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hotel industry training authors in the world. He is the author of Still On The Road to Sales and Guest Service Excellence. Visit KTN at: www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly: [email protected]
Still On The Road To Sales and Guest Service Excellence
“Still On The Road To Sales and Guest Service Excellence” is a collection of monthly hotel training articles written by Kennedy from 1996 to 2012 and published worldwide in industry trade journals.
Doug's articles, which have inspired hoteliers worldwide, are presented chronologically, allowing the readers to see how training strategies and techniques have evolved over time. Read how emerging technologies, such as online distribution, online guest reviews, and CRM technology have impacted hospitality sales and service training over the years. Although technology changes, Doug's core recommendations starting from his very first article are still relevant today.
The book is available on Amazon.
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