In a presentation on designing the customer experience at the Aviation Festival in London, Qatar Airways SVP Customer Experience, Rossen Dimitrov, explained why refining passenger touch-points at the airport is as critical to the airline’s brand as it is in the skies.

Dimitrov was hired in 2013 to bring together all the different departments at Qatar working on individual elements of the passenger experience into a single department, to ensure a seamless delivery of service and product to passengers across at all stages of the journey.

The process required integration of product design departments and staff training, but also a direct involvement in the design of the passenger experience at the new Hamad International Airport in Doha.

“I get asked the question why does an airline get involved with airport design? We’ve been fortunate that we had the opportunity to design the airport. We wanted to design the airport, not only around the airline’s needs but we wanted to design the airport around the passenger’s needs,” said Dimitrov at the at the event’s AirXperience panel.

Dimitrov relates those needs as a seamless transition between one phase of the journey and the other without any disruption to the brand experience passengers perceive.

“I would like to arrive get quickly through check-in area, I’d like to get quickly through immigration and customs, have a pleasant shopping experience and get inflight,” he said.

Hamad International Airport has partnered with high-fashion brands to bring stores to the terminal, opened up a Samsung store, included a large variety of restaurants serving food from around the world, and added a five-star hotel for transiting passengers complete with pools and squash courts. But designing the Lounge Experience was key as well.

Dimitrov says that by the time all concourses are completed Hamad International Airport will have a total of fourteen lounges.

“[We wanted to] create a link and synergy between check-in for first and business through to the lounges,” Dimitrov said.

Controlling the Flow

To ensure premium passengers have an uninterrupted flow, from the check-in to the lounge, Qatar provides guides to accompany passengers through the process. It has also established a training process for the airport authorities, who while independent and serving a security function, are educated on the passenger experience the airline wants all its customers to have.

Qatar has also trained its onboard staff to handle ground services, so that they can develop better awareness of the process for customers, and so that they bring some of their onboard service training to the ground staff team.

“I spend almost everyday, or every second day, at the airport just listening to our customers, and to our employees on the comments and the feedback we receive,” he said. “I spend time at arrivals very often and interesting when you listen to passengers arriving, when their loved ones ask them about their Journey, usually people ask how was your flight, but now I hear people talking about the ground experience.”

Dimitrov said that not all experiences the airline designs work as originally imagined. For example, Qatar set up a dedicated lounge for young travelers, traveling as unaccompanied minors, where parents can drop off their children register with an Apple ID or Skype ID, and keep in touch with their children until they depart on their flight. The airline includes activities in the dedicated lounge to keep children comfortable and entertained. But, Dimitrov says, Qatar discovered young travelers over the age of 8 or 9 were more interested in someone taking them shopping through the terminal, and had to redesign its ground product to provide that service.

“What I learned from working on [the design of the airport experience] is that, no matter how much time you spend designing an experience at the airport, you always have to be open to amendment, to adjust it to customer’s needs,” Dimitrov says.

Photo Credit: Playground Sculpture by Tom Otterness at Hamad International Airport. Hamad International Airport