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A cloud of uncertainty remains among PRM (Passengers with Reduced Mobility) stakeholders. While most lean towards a gradual resumption of PRM travel, an immediate global return to pre-COVID-19 passenger volumes remain overly optimistic. Results from our recent Covid-19 PRM Survey suggested a six to twelve-month recovery period, although an eighteen to twenty-four-month period for total recovery isn’t beyond plausible expectation.
PRM services must now transition their focus from commercial survival to the restoration of operational services in a COVID-19 environment that presents disruptive challenges, unseen in scale since the immediate transformation of air travel following 9/11. Some alterations in policies and processes will be enforced by external bodies, others will be introduced by airports and service providers themselves who proactively re-write their own best practice policies to protect staff and nurture a safe environment and travel experience for those considered high-risk passengers (PRMs).
Here we explore initiatives and configurations of PRM Software Management Systems that can help passengers requiring assistance, service providers, airlines and airports as we begin to increase our passenger numbers.
1.The ever-increasing need to monitor the passenger journey in real-time
Two distinct approaches to PRM Software development are currently integrated into airport PRM services whereby passenger volume warrants the integration of such a tool, these two software approaches can be defined as:
- Agent focused software that assigns jobs and tasks to agents
- Passenger focused software that assigns passenger(s) to agent(s) with real-time monitoring and tracing
The scope of this article is based on the latter as it is the only way to secure each passenger, manage the service levels and secure the overall airport on-time performance.
Airports and service providers continue to transition and realign their focus from an agent’s job to the passenger journey, the benefits of empowering an ability to manage and track a passenger’s journey in real time is achieved through milestoning (automatic via beacons, geo-fencing, etc.), this secures the airport operation and on time performance. It is a fundamental concept that provides the versatility needed for a system to be adapted in the COVID-19 environment.
2.Incorporating additional checkpoints into the passenger’s journey
Air travel is likely to see the introduction of more stringent measures imposed on all passengers. At the forefront of discussion is the introduction of temperature testing, electronic health declarations, thermal scanners and testing kits on departure.
At the time of writing officials hadn’t yet determined at which point in the security screening process possible health screening would occur, however, the impact of this process presents a possible emerging need for support services to incorporate this as part of the PRMs journey through milestoning in the PRM management software. Given the possible ramifications of screening failure, the operational procedures must be understood before system integration.
How to incorporate additional actions into the PRM Management System
Incorporating new milestones in the system should be a simple process and achieved remotely. Users must, fundamentally map how the process and potential deviations of passenger journey may unfold. Once understood, each stage can be incorporated into the PRM system to ensure control, traceability of both passenger and agent.
3. Prioritizing family members flying together and requiring assistance
Dispatchers have always been advised to keep families travelling together throughout their journey. Doing so, doesn’t only increase operational and resource efficiency, it encourages a positive passenger experience. Unfortunately, such separations occur far more frequently than desired, largely due to a fast-paced dispatching work environment and a lack of inattentive decisions. Passenger experience aside, providers and airports will reopen their doors in a higher risk environment where physical distancing will be enforced. Travelling companions present lower risks to one another compared to strangers.
How to positively encourage family members who require assistance to travel?
PRM software should quickly identify travelling companions so the dispatchers can keep them together when assigning agent(s). Doing so will improve the passenger experience, maintain physical distance and increase resource efficiency.
4. Dynamic Waiting Areas
Waiting areas and rooms will see the introduction of capacity limits. When capacities become saturated dispatchers and agents will need a seamless means of allocating a passenger from a virtual “overflow” waiting area/room. In practice, once waiting zones are identified and implemented into a PRM management software each passenger can be allocated to an area with a vacancy.
The ideal option is to have unrestricted areas where the passenger may check in remotely, have the agent notified and receive service without having to enter a crowded waiting area.
However an operation is structured on reopening, a PRM management software should be versatile and be ready for dynamic change.
5. SLA modification and comparative reporting
Pre-COVID-19 service level agreements between airport and provider may need to be revisited. Should SLAs change, the software licensee should inform the software developer as soon as possible so the system can be configured accordingly. SLA expectations may be somewhat different post-COVID-19 due to:
- Equipment cleaning processes
- Physical distancing enforcement
- Finite resources – prolonged turnaround
- Staffing breaks
- Other processes
The key SLAs that can be easily configured in the system include:
- Standard Pre-booked (waiting time once PRM made themselves known)
- Standard – Non-pre-booked (waiting time once PRM made themselves known)
- Standard – Pre-booked (time assistance available at gate)
- Standard – Non-pre-booked (time assistance available at gate)
Clear and early communication of any alterations to the software publisher will allow for an immediate configuration of software to ensure alerts and reporting are aligned with current contractual agreements.
Beyond SLA alerts and indicators, your software developer will need to configure the system to take into account two periods when performing historical data reporting and analysis:
- Pre-COVID-19 SLA reporting
- Post-COVID-19 SLA reporting
6. Cleaning / Disinfection
PRM software isn’t designed to oversee cleaning activities, however PRM service obligations, and specifically their passenger handling agents, may see their duties broadened to include basic cleaning and disinfecting activities. If this occurs, another element of control, conformity and monitoring could be a desirable tool.
What could be included in equipment cleaning?
- Vehicles – cleaning/wipe down possibly managed by driver
- Buggy – cleaning/wipe down possibly managed by driver
- Wheelchair – cleaning/wipe down possibly managed by passenger’s agent
Why track the cleaning of essential equipment after each passenger contact?
Airports and Governments could become attentive to cleaning and disinfection of key equipment, an opportunity presents itself for service providers:
- To track completed disinfection upon final passenger milestone
- To provide a historical record of disinfection processes should an occasion occur where evidence and proof were needed
- Service Level Agreements may require service providers to include disinfection/cleaning reports/performance levels in their monthly reports
- An additional data element can positively demonstrate that the provider is supporting the passenger experience and safety to the fullest of their ability during unprecedented times.
How to implement cleaning tracking in the PRM system
A passenger’s assistance typically concludes with when they’ve reached a pre-defined milestone in their journey. For example; boarding a plane on departure, or arriving to baggage on arrival. Functionality wise an agent will alert the system of their role in a passenger’s journey by confirming the associated (and last) milestone on their PDA.
In practice, an agent’s final milestone to signify completion or handover can be extended, whereby completion is recorded upon confirmation of equipment wipe down. In the example below the arriving passenger will be assisted by two individuals, firstly the driver, and then an agent.
The driver signals completion by confirming the arrival of vehicle, the handover is signified by the Agent their first milestone. The passenger’s assistance ends with the arrival in the baggage area (BAG-A)
A simple addition of a ‘vehicle cleaned’ milestone could record that the necessary disinfection/cleaning of a vehicle before reuse is completed. Likewise, we can see with this example passenger, they are assisted by an agent to the baggage area, once the journey is complete the agent can signify that the wheelchair has been cleaned and is ready for reuse by the additional ‘wheelchair cleaned’ milestone.
7. Overcoming challenges presented by maskwear
Certain PRMs will be affected more than others by airport policies making mask wearing compulsory. Notably passengers who lip read will be unable to do so given their agent’s conformity to airport safety policy.
How to incorporate beyond the existing solution
PRM software can make special skill sets clearer so dispatchers can match passengers with agents. Deaf passengers for example should be assisted, when possible, by an agent who is able to communicate in sign language.
8. Adjusting the software to align with new terminal norms
- Plans – the redesign/re-purposing of terminal plans can have a significant effect on the software. Any alteration must be communicated so changes can be made.
- Passenger Flows – if airports follow the lead taken by the retail sector many hallways will be affected. Two-way traffic may become one-way traffic, routes to milestone may be altered and dedicated routes for the passengers requiring assistance. Each change to passenger routes and flows needs to be fed back into the system to ensure timing calculations are correct.
- Agent movement – agent movements may become restricted; providers may decide to keep two distinct teams (i.e. airside and landside). However, if agent movement is adapted it is imperative that such rules are incorporated into the PRM software to ensure calculations are accounted for.
In conclusion, there remains much uncertainty about the timescale of PRM travel recovery and the practices that will be put in place to better support passengers in a safe, controlled and visible manner. Versatile PRM Mangement Systems are vital for quick adaption to follow those practices and regulations. Through clear communication with your software provider the necessary changes can be applied to encourage a smooth and proactive resumption of service.