Service design in Copenhagen airport: improving security and staff working conditions

Service design in Copenhagen airport: improving security and staff working conditions

In 2006, Copenhagen Airport, along with all other airports around the world, was facing new and tighter rules for passenger security. For example any laptop computer had to be taken out of the bag and screened separately. The same applied to coats and jackets. Fluids could only be carried in the hand luggage, if the containers were placed in a transparent bag visible to the security staff. 

The Civil Aviation Administration put a pressure on the airport operations. A consequence was a need for almost 50 percent more personnel for security checkpoints. Overall, this created significant challenges and problems for Copenhagen Airport. Just to mention af few examples: Staff reacted with an increased absenteeism. Suddenly the airport urgently needed three times the number of plastic trays used to carry hand luggage into the screening.

Up till 2006 security checks were undertaken in two different terminals.  Sometimes travelers had to wait in long queues at the security checkpoint in one terminal, and almost nobody was waiting at the other.

Moreover – and probably a natural consequence of the situation – Copenhagen Airport experienced a lot of criticism for its service levels at the security checkpoints. Employees were perceived as arrogant; they talked “past” the passengers and were in general not valued for being service oriented.

So all in all, there was a need for change in the managerial systems and procedures. The airport decided to establish an entirely new security checkpoint area. And not least, it was determined that this should be a joint project: The security staff should be involved intensively in designing and developing the new area in order to ensure the best solution. But also to “anchor” of the project well in the organization and to guarantee an acceptance from day one.

There were several objectives for the new security checkpoint area. The airport wanted to obtain a higher efficiency, generate the foundations for improved passenger-service, and simultaneously create better working conditions for the staff in a centralized location.

Copenhagen Airport

It is often recognized that passengers who do not have any reason to feel nervous, might still become be slightly upset, when they approach a security check, most often because they are not that familiar with travelling procedures. Inevitably, checks imply that security staff will get very close to the passengers, intruding the privacy zone. Passengers have to take coats and jackets off, “strangers” are checking the personal and private belongings in their hand luggage and a security officer might physically examine the passengers.

The objective of the new security checkpoint was therefore to ensure that the environment in itself did not reinforce the tenseness. In many airports, security checkpoints are placed in low-ceilinged, factory-like areas with no daylight and bad acoustics, which will not help passengers to relax. Copenhagen Airport wanted most of all the opposite. The new security checkpoint was therefore designed to be light, friendly, relaxed and quiet.

An added advantage of the new organization and design of the area is that it is easier for the security staff to identify passengers who are potentially dangerous.

Another objective was to ensure that the passengers kept the feeling of control. For that end it was important to do the check at a pace and in a sequence, where it was possible for the passengers to follow the procedures.

The new central security checkpoint area was opened in June 2007 after an investment of DKK 200 million.With 16 “tracks” the capacity was doubled. An entirely new and automated system for handling the trays for the hand luggage was installed. The system did not exist before, and besides the fact that it contributed to an increased capacity and   led to time savings, the system also resulted in a much-needed physical relief of the employees. The system can be set at different speeds, which helps passengers to maintain an overview of where their hand luggage is at any time.

As the only airport in the world, Copenhagen Airport also decided to display the current waiting time at the security checkpoints. The pressure on the security checkpoint varies according to traffic levels and it is impossible to avoid long lines at certain times during the day. But if the passengers are informed of the current waiting-time they tend to accept and handle the waiting-time in a more relaxed manner. The airport’s goal is that most of the passengers are through security in less than five minutes and that no passenger would wait for more than 20 minutes. In 2008, the average waiting time in Copenhagen Airport was 3 ½ minutes. The measurement of waiting times is based on advanced technology involving approx. 3.500 daily measurements based on Bluetooth technology in passengers’ mobile phones.

Besides engaging in innovation solutions in terms of physical environment and technology, the airport also worked intensively on “service training” of the employees. A security checkpoint at an airport is first and foremost put in place to ensure security. For that same reason a major part of the training of security personnel is to identify problems and search for weapons etc. This very strong security focus tended previously to hamper the service element. For that reason was the employees were perceived as arrogant and not able to combine security and service.

Copenhagen Airport decided to demonstrate that security and service do not have to be  mutually exclusive. A “security service concept” was therefore developed. At the heart of the concept is still security, but service elements are now added including e.g. that the employees have to focus on welcoming the passengers. Staff has been training to attentive to the individual passengers’ needs. The concept also included a new focus on the individual employee’s attitude and behaviour and on how that influenced the passenger experience.

After the establishment of the new security checkpoint, the airport has experienced improvements in several fields. The measured satisfaction among passengers at the airport has raised significantly. Satisfaction with security controls in the period 2006 to 2009 went up by more than 40%. And the new checkpoint entails that security checks now take place in a calmer and more welcoming atmosphere.

On the employee side, the new security checkpoint as well as the introduction of the “security service concept” contributed to a decrease in sick absenteeism from a very high level to and expectable one, simultaneously with a significant increase in employee satisfaction.

Søren Bechmann contributed with this case to INNOTOUR. You can find other cases and descriptions of the service design discipline in the book “Servicedesign” by Søren Bechmann published by Gyldendal Akademisk, 2010. (in Danish) See also

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.