Heading out to the airport, you feel like you should be going on holiday, or at the very least boarding an aircraft.
Usually when I travel, I head straight through check-in, grabbing a coffee first if there is time to kill. Then there is security to navigate before getting to the fun of the pubs, coffee shops, stores and restaurants. It is the time to catch up on some work before heading off on business, or to kick-start your holiday with a glass of wine.
But who decides what brand of coffee you will be drinking? Who is supplying your newspaper? What if you have forgotten to bring along your European adaptor and need to buy a new one for your laptop?
Behind the scenes at Aberdeen Airport there is a dedicated team who work there every day, without even going past check-in.
Yvonne Birch has worked there for 28 years and is the head of retail. It is her job to make the passenger experience as enjoyable as possible, offering them all the services a modern traveller needs.
Having worked in retail and travel for the majority of her career, Yvonne looks after the commercial and e-commerce side of the passenger experience, from the car park on landside right through to the shops on airside.
The 55-year-old has been a terminal manager and has worked in admin as well as retail and has seen a lot of changes in the aviation industry since her career began.
“I study the likes and dislikes of our customers,” said Yvonne. “People mainly prefer to get through security quickly and dwell airside. I also look at the passenger profile and the most common demographics to ensure that we are catering for the needs of our customers.
“I think it’s great the staff here know many frequent flyers, meaning passengers get a more personalised service.”
Yvonne loves shopping and freely admits it. She worked in travel after college, including several well-known travel agents we see on the high street.
“I always try to work to the best of my ability and provide the best service I can,” said Yvonne, who is originally from Glasgow and moved to Aberdeen with her husband.
Yvonne looks for what will make the experience more convenient for customers. Working with technology, drivers can now pre-book with systems which make it easier from the passenger perspective. The airport offers a shop and collect service, so travellers don’t have to be weighed down with gifts.
Whisky sells at a different level in the airport compared to the high street, so you will often find collectables and aspirational spend items in the shop.
The team at Aberdeen don’t claim to be Heathrow, but they are still passionate about the passenger experience.
They find and create what the customers want, and this is more important now with the airport’s expansion.
Phase one of the three-year terminal transformation project, offering new international and domestic arrivalsfacilities and business lounges, will be completed this summer, with phase two starting on the airside retail before the end of the year.
The phased approach ensures that the airport remains functioning and operational while the refurbishment is going on. Once finished, there will be exciting new facilities for a competitive airport.
“We are talking to new and existing retailers to fit in bigger stores and new retail opportunities,” said Yvonne.
“The revamped terminal transformation will involve World Duty Free and existing partners who have committed to new space. We also hope to attract new retail partners with a bigger range and choice, as well as an improved coffee bar.
“We build on partnerships, relationships and trust to make every part of the customer experience special and create Aberdeen as an airport of choice.”
To organise the many existing and new retailers, Yvonne needs to have a commercial head and build on positive relationships.
“I prioritise and have to be adaptable to emerging technologies. We communicate heavily with customers through the website and social media,” said Yvonne.
Yvonne has enjoyed a varied career within the airport industry, and recommends travel to those considering it. From the airfield to passenger-facing positions to behind the scenes, the airport is a hive of exciting activity.
“Once you’ve worked in an airport you find it difficult to work elsewhere,” she said.
“It is so different every day. People love aviation.”