When Manchester Airports Group (MAG) acquired London Stansted in February 2013, it set out an ambitious strategy to return the airport to growth and make it the best in London. 18 months on, the £260 million (€330m) investment programme to transform passenger services and facilities continues apace. The first phase of the brand new departure lounge has opened, and the arrivals experience is being significantly modernised with the initial phase of an extended and reconfigured border control area soon to open, which includes 15 new generation ePassport gates.
Stansted’s desired return to growth has become a reality, with the latest available figures for July showing the airport serves a million more passengers than it did a year ago and monthly passenger numbers increasing by over 12%, meaning its busiest single month for three years.
MAG Head of Retail Steve Foster gave Airport Business’ Ross Falconer an exclusive tour to see first-hand how the latest phase of Stansted’s transformation is shaping up. The first impression on entering the terminal is of a light, airy space characterised by intuitive wayfinding. The landside area has been reconfigured, with the security search area moved away from its central location to a new area twice the size – now 5,000sqm – and flooded with natural light on the south side of the terminal. Our tour began here, as we followed the route of a typical departing passenger. The number of security lanes has increased from 18 to 22, with an hourly capacity of 5,500 passengers, and we navigated this part of the passenger process quickly and efficiently. Foster enthused about the features of the high-tech zone, including 20 automatic self-service gates, dedicated lanes for families and passengers with reduced mobility, and a fast track lane for premium travellers. The first section was opened to passengers last December, while overall completion and the official opening was in March this year, marking the end of Phase 1 of the airport’s transformation.
Interestingly, to inform its approach MAG used research by psychologists to understand where passengers feel confused, stressed and relaxed during their airport journey. One of the key results of this is the 542sqm transference area between security and the departure lounge. “This area is a tranquil space, there’s no advertising or messages, and our idea is that by the time passengers have passed through this zone, they feel relaxed and prepared for the rest of their journey,” Foster explained.
Passengers then enter an orientation zone replete with a large flight information screen, an orientation map, and essentials including a foreign exchange unit and Harris + Hoole’s first airport coffee shop, before moving on to the main retail area.
Tenders for 16 retail units
The £80 million (€100m) redevelopment of the international departure lounge is Phase 2 of Stansted’s transformation and includes World Duty Free’s biggest walkthrough store in terms of retail space. The store provides a flagship entrance to the new departure lounge, easing passengers on a simple and intuitive journey past essential travel retail, luxury goods and high street fashion, and on to a dedicated food & beverage area located near the departure lounge exit points. Flight information screens are being installed in all retail units and also at regular intervals along the main public areas.
After just a few minutes in Foster’s company, his passion for retail shines through. He speaks enthusiastically about the new World Duty Free store, which is double the size of the previous duty free area, and provides an enhanced customer experience. “It looks really beautiful and sets the tone for the rest of the airport,” he commented.
Beyond the World Duty Free store, Stansted’s new ‘high street’ is truly coming to life. Retailers to have already opened include WHSmith, Dixons Travel, Boots, Rituals, The Body Shop, Glorious Britain, Fat Face and JD Sports. Stansted is currently tendering for 16 new retail opportunities – 13 new units and three pop-up locations to test new ideas and brands. The tender process closes in October, and Foster said passengers can expect a few surprises when the units open in August 2015. “I think it will bring some really fabulous new brands to Stansted, some brands that have operated here before, and some that have never operated in airports before, so it’s a real balance and is very exciting for us,” he enthused.
The layout of the retail area has been intelligently designed to aid the wayfinding process, as our walk along the ‘high street’ demonstrated, and this is beneficial to both retailer and passenger. “An important part of MAG’s DNA from a retail point of view is that every passenger passes every retail outlet,” Foster explained. “We’ve focused on giving the retailers great positions, great zoning and purpose-built units. We’re also exposing passengers to every retail opportunity, so they can quickly make choices as to what they want to do.”
Meanwhile, the new food & beverage outlets will all be open by spring 2015. Several brands are making their airport debut at Stansted, including James Martin Kitchen, Harris + Hoole, Cabin (serving fine wines and contemporary British delicacies), and Coast to Coast (an all-American dining experience). Among the other major brands present are Pret A Manger, Starbucks, Burger King, and JD Wetherspoon. In November 2014, M&S Simply Food will open in international arrivals. Foster commented that the airport is offering a wide range of options to suit all tastes and budgets, whether that be convenient ‘grab and go’ options, or stylish choices for passengers with more time.
Other key aspects of the development include a new Escape Lounge off the main departure lounge, which will be available to any passenger to pre-book, and a 70% increase in passenger seating to 750 seats.
15 new ePassport gates
Stansted has also been working in partnership with the UK Border Force to improve the experience of passengers arriving at immigration, particularly in peak times, and will soon be opening the initial phase of an extended and reconfigured border control area, including the introduction of 15 new generation ePassport gates to help speed passengers safely and securely through the immigration process.
Since taking ownership, MAG has secured new airlines and long-term growth deals with existing carriers. It is also returning to a period of passenger growth, so the timing of its terminal improvements couldn’t be better. These major step changes are tangible results of MAG’s efforts to transform the airport’s passenger experience. Stansted is not just getting a makeover, it is receiving a multi-million pound investment to create contemporary, convenient, innovative and stylish terminal facilities. The airport clearly has an exciting future and Airport Business will report on the next phases in its transformation as they are brought to life.
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