Category Archives: Marketing Communication

Cleared for Landing: January 5-9

This first week of January may have seen the temperature plummet in Washington, but our AirportsUnited efforts certainly heated up.

On Tuesday—which also was the first day of the 114th Congress—ACI-NA, the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), and the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) sent a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate committees overseeing the 2015 FAA Reauthorization.  The airport industry’s priorities are clear: modernize the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) local user fee and maintain the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

On Thursday, the AirportsUnited “Beyond the Runway” coalition—which is comprised of more than 20 associations and organizations representing a broad range of interests—sent their own letter to House and Senate committee leadership.  “We firmly believe that modernizing airport infrastructure is the best option for strengthening our nation’s aviation system to meet the needs of today and the challenges of tomorrow,” the coalition wrote.

Also on Thursday, AirportsUnited ran a full-page ad in the print edition of Politico, showcasing our unified message and coalition partners:


ACI-NA’s social media channels this week, too, featured robust AirportsUnited activity.  Several of our coalition partners engaged with us and our campaign’s messaging on Twitter, and our fiscal-year countdown infographics encouraged our audience to contact their members of Congress.  Visit to see how you can get involved.


But our most popular post on Facebook this week was the announcement of the latest additions to the North American Airport Trading Card series—a.k.a. #AirportCards: Indianapolis International Airport and Prince George Airport in British Columbia.  We’d be very surprised if our friendly bit of trivia that Prince George had ever-so-slightly nudged Edmonton International Airport from the top spot as the northernmost participating airport—and which EIA shared with their Facebook followers—wasn’t a factor:


Finally, Instagram gave us a glimpse into another busy—and cold!—week at several member airports.  This photo from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, though, proved that while it might be dreary outside, inside the terminal is a different world altogether:



Caroline O’Reilly
Senior Manager, Communications and Marketing

Airport Trading Cards: A Mint-Condition Marketing Opportunity

by Maureen Riley
Executive Director
Salt Lake City Department of Airports

More than 20 million people travel through Salt Lake City International Airport each year. For many of our passengers, the airport plays a big part in their imaginations. From first-time fliers to the most well-versed aviation geeks, airports have an instantaneous appeal. They represent both anticipation and completion, where travelers head off into the world and return home. Airports are also complex and fascinating communities in their own right, as our employees work to ensure safe and secure operations each day.

Earlier this month, SLC joined nearly 20 airports from across the U.S. and Canada in the inaugural series of the North American Airport Trading Cards. The idea for the cards initially had been that of a collectible. Like many of our fellow Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) members, SLC routinely gets requests from airport enthusiasts for memorabilia branded with our three-letter International Air Transport Association (IATA) code. But as SLC’s card started to take shape, another possibility emerged.

SLC Executive Director Maureen Riley and junior aviation enthusiasts show off the SLC trading card

SLC Executive Director Maureen Riley and junior aviation enthusiasts show off the SLC trading card

As the first vice chair of ACI-NA, I represent the interests of not only my own airport, but those of our full membership. ACI-NA is well-known as the “Voice of Airports” in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa, but sometimes it can be a challenge to have airports stick in the minds of lawmakers. The new trading cards series helps us do exactly that.

On the back of SLC’s card, you’ll notice some fun facts, such as how we were the gateway to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and that we’re within an hour’s drive to 11 ski resorts. We also offer more than 650 daily arrivals and departures to nearly 90 non-stop destinations. But did you also know that we’re in midst of a $1.8 billion terminal redevelopment program that will be completed in 2022?

It’s this last fact that makes SLC’s trading card more than a keepsake—it transforms it into an advocacy tool. Capital improvement projects, like our terminal redevelopment, might not easily capture the public’s imagination. But when it reads like a batting average, infrastructure investment becomes an all-star stat for a world-class airport.

The next time you’re flying through SLC, stop by an airport information desk to start (or complete) your trading card collection.

Translating Airport Needs for the Public

By Tom Smith
As airports continue an effort to educate Congress to secure billions to fund a backlog of capital projects, two words of advice – localize and personalize.

Messaging efforts on the Hill are lost when the focus is on the large numbers. Audiences’ attention span wanes and eyeballs begin to glaze over.

The message needs to be distilled into easily digestible sound bites, said Marc Scribner, research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Personalization is important. How does this impact the local community?”

“Take one step back,” said Keith Laing, of The Hill’s Transportation Blog, “and make it relate to a person. Relate it to the ticket price and not the billions needed.”

The problem – the industry’s need for funds to meet today’s and tomorrow’s passenger demands – needs to be focused on the way the traveler will see it, not from the viewpoint of the airport manager.

Visualize the situation – if nothing happens, then major airports will have “Thanksgiving” traffic once a week. Travelers can relate and are frighten by this potential.

The advice was offered by two separate panels – one of reporters and the second from potential strategic coalition partners — on Thursday during the second day of the 2014 ACI-NA/AAAE Washington Legislative Conference here in Washington.

The Press Panel: NBC's Tom Costello, The Hill's Keith Laing, Politico's Kathryn Wolfe and USA Today's Bart Jansen.

The place to start with the localization and personalize is with the local media. Airports were advised to build relationships with both the reporters, who cover the news, and also the editorial boards, who influence local opinion leaders.

The reporters noted that the national media scour local papers for story ideas and examples to localize a big picture story. While the coalition builders note politicians are also very attune to their local papers and can obsess to be on the “right side” of a high-profile local issue.

A photo of a cracked runway will not make the news or do much to convince Congress or the public that a hike in the Passenger Facility Charge is needed, said NBC aviation correspondent Tom Costello. Close a runway because of the cracks and disrupt the flights, then that is news, Costello said.

The challenge is to personalize and to educate. In a carrot-and-stick approach, Kathryn Wolfe, senior transportation reporter for Politico, suggested that an airport highlight a project that will fix a problem, an eye-sore or its least-liked facility and note if it can charge “just a bit more we will have the dollars to replace it.

“You need to get them to care and see how it will affect their life,” she added.

Wolf, Lang and Bart Jansen, the transportation reporter for USA Today, noted that they periodically try to make clear just where the various ticket taxes and fees go so that passengers get a sense of the benefits of these air fare add-ons.

Philosophically, the public – particularly the non-flying taxpayer – may be more supportive of a hike in the PFC if they understand what it will accomplish and the “fairness” of a user fee, Scribner said. If they don’t fly, they don’t pay the higher user fee.  If they do fly, then they will see a direct benefit of their dollars spent at their local airport to improve the facility that they use.

Tips for Airport’s Airline Recruiters

By Tom Smith
Former airline route planners kicked off the first day of the ACI-NA Air Service Data Seminar in Albuquerque with some “horror stories” from their JumpStart days and provided some tips on how to better pitch their communities to airlines.

Presentation mistakes

  • Greg Atkin, a consultant with Sixel Consulting Group, formerly with US Airways. – In a meeting with an incumbent carrier, the airport “chews out” the carrier for service and pricing and the meeting ends with both sides angry.
  • David Gentry, vice president of air service development for Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, notes that when working for Silver Airlines a community opened a Texas Roadhouse restaurant opposite the airport and it thought this would merit service to Atlanta. “I felt bad for them and I trashed it before anyone else in the office saw it.
  • ”A city delegation of 14 flew to Silver’s headquarter without the knowledge of the airport board and made a pitch for the carrier to fly Saabs against American’s regional jets out of Dallas. No one was sure what they were trying to accomplish.
  • Marcus Lam, an InterVistas consultant and former route planner for Air Canada, recalls one presentation that 80 percent of the time was spent talking about a new parking lot. “My eyes just started to glaze over.”

 Insights and tips

  •  Atkin — Incentive programs could win the day if an airline has 20 communities vying for two planes because the incentives reduce the start-up risk. In a risk adverse culture, senior route planners may take the safer approach to add capacity to an existing market even when it may not generate excitement to stimulate a market.
  • Lam – Belly cargo is not a factor on a domestic route with a narrow-body plane, but it definitely is a factor on an international route with a wide-body plane.  “Air cargo made some flights happen for Air Canada,” he said.
  • Atkin – Keep communication going with your airlines. Ask frank questions and you will get frank answers. Know you aircraft and anticipate if it will be replaced because of age or maintenance issues. Development and stimulate your traffic so that the community can support a larger aircraft if your small turbo-prop or small RJ goes away.
  • Bryan Dietz, air service manager at Pittsburgh International Airport, demographic helps mitigate the risks in conversations with airlines.
  • Suggestions from attendees — Monitor mayor’s social media feed for the latest developments in your community that could be the latest information tidbit in a presentation. Build your presentation around a story board to weave in your facts to tell your story, which is especially critical in a 20-min. meeting.
  • Kim Sippola, vice president of The Quotient Group, Don’t only pull information together for effective pitch presentations, but also use in a “unified talk track” in brochures and messages to stakeholders. And, then share with hotels to improve their messaging and to also trade for data. Pull out and use data from economic impact statements, share with the community.
  • The stuff others are using to sell the community to bring in jobs or tourists can be used to sell the airlines. Get involved with business retention programs because they also are telling the airport’s story.
  • Corrina Smith, senior marketing manager of the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, suggested working with your community’s destination marketing organization and partner with their cooperative advertising campaigns. The DMO can provide bed tax payment reports, access to reports tracking hotel occupancy, analytics from the groups’ website.
  • Brian Solis, air service development at Lee County Port Authority, uses property tax records and send mailings to those who live outside the county. With a large number of Europeans with second homes in the Fort Meyers area, the discovered many travel multiple times a year to Florida. The move successfully persuaded German carriers to offer more service to his airport.

Airports for the Future

By Elias Rassi
Wednesday morning at ACI-NA’s 2013 Marketing and Communications Conference featured one of the most popular and inspirational sessions from Coca-Cola’s Chief Marketing Officer Joe Tripodi. This blog isn’t about Tripodi’s presentation; however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what it meant to the staff and guests to hear him speak.

Tripodi discussed Coke’s efforts to grow its brand and help connect customers to its various products through unique experiential marketing campaigns. Perhaps the most impressive happened in March 2013 when the company set out to break down barriers and create a simple moment of connection between two nations – India and Pakistan – in an initiative labeled as “Small World Machines.” These machines provided a live communications portal between people in both countries and showed the power of human connection far surpasses the differences that set us apart.

Tripodi also showcased how Coke bridged the gap between the creative side and the technical side by bringing people together with the sounds of their favourite sports during the 2012 Olympic summer games in London. The challenge there was to come up with a creative experience for visitors given the amount of space that was provided. What you’ll see and hear was a game changer at the Olympics for the fan experience.

Now, for the real point of this blog – talking about the session titled “Airports for the Future: Trend for Serving Tomorrow’s Travelers”. This session featured Bob Hazel, who is a partner at consulting firm, Oliver Wyman, and CNN Airport reporter Holly Firfer.

Oliver Wyman's Bob Hazel

Both Hazel and Firfer touched on something very important about the future of airports: the most successful airports realize that they are part of a competitive ecosystem, but are willing to work together to enhance the customer experience. Airports are taking experiences that travelers would see outside of the airport and bringing them as part of their overall travel experience, combining fitness (airport yoga, anyone?), fresh and healthy food, art exhibits, interactive directories, and communicating with passengers like never before. People are starting to realize that airports offer a lot more to the overall travel experience than the transition point between ground and air.

(The June edition of Centerlines also takes a look at this topic, including the unique way Finland’s airports sought to improve customer service.)

CNN Airport's Holly Firfer

And there is no doubt that, today, the airport experience is better for what it provides its customers.

Airports have a variety of customer groups and extend their focus beyond the airlines and airport environment. The most successful airports in the world understand strong customer orientation that speaks to each individual group and has a strategy in place to maximize their relationship. Creating a customer profile by segment will help understand which groups generate more revenue for the airports. Airports need to know as much as they can about their customers, about their behaviours and about their spending habits.  Over the past five years, airports and airlines have improved their relationship and it’s a sign that they are starting to truly understand each other’s business.

How we can talk about the future of, well, anything really, without talking about technology. Technology plays a significant role at our airports, and it’s important to use or invent your own innovations, create a unique amenity for users that they will love and helps create a unique identity for that airport.

As for what the future holds for airports, there are a few ideas from Hazel’s presentation:

  • Check-in process will likely disappear, moving towards automated processing and curb to plane experience will be more direct
  • Bag drop will be linked with automated recognition cards, making it quick and easy
  • Security will be better and more civilized, same with border control
  • Better dining and retail choices
  • Bag drop will be linked with automated recognition cards, making it quick and easy
  • Bag tracking like you would a package from FedEx or UPS, reducing the chance of losing luggage
  • Airports will focus on developing innovative customer services and look for ways to distinguish themselves and make themselves enchanting
  • Quite simply, as Firfer put it, airports are becoming mini-cities.

Life moves very fast and even faster once you’re in the airplane. So, take a moment, stop and look around the next time you’re at the airport. You may just realize how wonderful they truly are.

And, if you want more information, Hazel in 2012 wrote two reports looking down the road, The Future of Airports: Five Trends that Should Be on Every Airport’s Radar, and The Future of Airports: Eight Ways Airports Can Differentiate Themselves from Competitors