Low Cost & Regional

easyJet partnership with DHL is expanding even further

Aviation logistics partnership
photo_camera Baggage sorting (Photo Credit: DHL)

One year on after DHL took over easyJet’s ground handling operations at London Gatwick, the partnership is expanding even further.

Customer satisfaction, employee engagement and technological innovation are key elements of easyJet’s partnership with DHL, the two companies stated during a recent media tour of their ground handling operation at London Gatwick Airport, which includes handling everything from arrival at the airport to boarding.

Gatwick is easyJet’s largest operation, and DHL has been transferring its logistics expertise into delivering ground handling operations for the airline at Gatwick since winning the contract in 2017.

“Going back to about 18 months, we were approached by easyJet to look at the end-to-end solution at Gatwick,” states Martin Willmor, DHL UK and Ireland’s managing director. He says the station previously presented challenges, with punctuality and employee turnover being some of the key areas of concern at the Gatwick operation.

“That is where we are good from an organisational perspective. Looking at customer challenges and problems, and identifying through our DHL tool kit solutions how to improve the end-to-end customer experience.”

In 2017 easyJet signed a five-year agreement with DHL to provide ground handling services for the airline, and the scope of the operation is rather colossal as some numbers show. Over 900 DHL employees cover

services from business support, baggage services, airside ramp to front of house personal, all dedicated to the easyJet operation. Also, some 480 pieces of ground handling equipment were brought in by DHL to cater to the airline’s needs, including 30 electric pushback tugs.

So how did DHL end up being the ground handler? Well, it’s obvious that DHL is also one of the largest airlines globally, and the experience gained from parcel services with the DHL Express unit comes into play.

easyJet DHL partnership
It’s a very high-volume operation says Willmor

Parcel delivery is often very time sensitive to ensure they make their connections to reach final destinations.

“We have applied a lot of that logic here [Gatwick] with our ‘Express’ colleagues to come together and provide the solution that we are really proud of, but more importantly, we have really invested in our people here,” Willmor continues.

Gatwick is the largest station in the easyJet network, and as Willmor states, it was one of the ‘most troublesome’ stations, but a year on, that has now changed.

“I think there is still a lot more that we can do to really raise the benchmark even further. Certainly, looking into next summer, we have a lot of plans and initiatives to look at, broadly, how to approach the operation,” he says.

Since being awarded the contract, Willmor admits that there were a few sleepless nights in readiness to get everything in motion. “It’s a very high-volume operation, it’s very time sensitive, and it requires everything coming together in perfection to ensure we get the aircraft pushed away on time and in full.”

Essentially, easyJet passengers that turn up for travel at Gatwick are processed by DHL employees but wearing easyJet uniforms, and Willmor feels the operation over the past year has made some good strides to make people feel welcome at the airport, and in using some of the technology and solutions that DHL has brought in with easyJet.

The easyJet bag drop area is fully self-service, and is the world’s largest automated bag drop area, as indicated by the staff during our media tour.

Training was a big part of the process to give the employees the tools they needed. DHL say they have a consistent approach in the processes of managing staff that has allowed them to have the right people in the right place.

The management team had to learn new ways of working and got heavily involved in the HR process to allow for staff development.

Interestingly, there is cross functional role sharing going on, which means when staff express an interest in something else, they can be allowed to go experience another department, allowing them to progress through the roles.

easyJet DHL partnership
easyjet and DHL signed a 5 year handling agreement at Gatwick

It was essential for staff to feel a connection to easyJet.

“Before we actually transferred the team over to DHL [from the previous ground handler] we actually listened to their feedback – there were a number of things that we needed to do to improve that experience, and how to make sure they felt connected to the easyJet brand,” recalls Millmor.

The most visible change was the uniform, which has a 95per cent commonality with the mainline easyJet uniform. The uniforms were actually designed, procured and managed by DHL inhouse, and are very similar to what the crew wear on board the aircraft.

Part of the feedback that we’ve had since the transfer is that the DHL team feel much more connected. It’s also easier for the customers, because they feel like they are talking to easyJet colleagues as well.

The estimated process time at the self-bag drop is five minutes, compared to the previous 40 minutes at the manned check in desks, where long queues were often caused delays to the process at peak times.

And considering that roughly 95per cent of easyJet travellers already check in prior to arriving at the airport, the traditional check in desk has become unnecessary
in favour of quicker self- bag drop units.

There are 60 kiosks available to easyJet in the bag drop area, of which it shares with Canadian carrier Westjet, but for most of the time easyJet has over 48 machines that are dedicated to processing people.

In the first wave, the operation processes around 7,000 customers from around 03:00 to 08:30. DHL states five minutes is the average time from entering the area dropping their bag and leaving it.

One area is biometrics, allowing passengers to board quicker through facial and iris scanning. The whole concept is that in the future, passengers can travel through the airport without a boarding card.

The face will be captured via the app when a passenger logs on, and it will then take them the whole way through the airport – this is a bigger project that DHL, easyJet and the airport are working on.

A trial run was just concluded over summer, and saw almost 20,000 people processed through the biometric boarding gates.

easyJet DHL partnership
DHL will handle easyjet at Manchester and Gatwick in 2019

DHL states that everything in the operation has been processed engineered. “We time everything down to what we call standard mini values – everything in terms of bag drop process, how long takes to scan versus pushing back the aircraft, every single process you see has been process engineered,” Willmor adds.

Alberto Santamarta, easyJet’s Head of Ground Operations says he is delighted with the first year together with DHL in Gatwick. “So, for us at easyJet, ground handling is a key part of the journey.

“That is the point of the journey where we get together, customers, airport, aircraft and crew. With increasing congestion across the network, we realised that at Gatwick we needed to change our approach to ground handling and therefore we looked over to DHL.”

Santamarta reports that there is improvement in all areas of the operation, customer satisfaction, operational, key performance indicators (6per cent versus the prior year).

“It’s a great story and a success. It’s been achieved by working all together as one team, DHL, ourselves, third party partners around the airport, and that also includes of course Gatwick Airport. When we all pull together, it’s much easier to drive success. We are looking at another great year together with DHL here at Gatwick.”

In the meantime, DHL announced it is to manage easyJet ground handling operations at Manchester and Bristol airports, in addition to London Gatwick from 2019.

Santamarta added: “We’re delighted with how the DHL partnership has developed at London Gatwick. The team has implemented valuable changes that have enhanced the experience for our customers and improved our punctuality.

“We’re the largest airline operating out of Bristol carrying five million passengers a year, and Manchester is a key growth market for us. These are critical airports for our business and brand, so we’re looking to DHL to ensure they operate exceptionally.”

From February 2019, DHL will take over responsibility for delivering core customer service and logistics operations, including passenger arrival and bag-drop, baggage sortation, boarding gate marshalling, aircraft loading and unloading, as well as management of other service providers across the two airports.

easyJet DHL partnership
Over 900 people are employed to handle easyjet

DHL will be responsible for managing the ground handling for approximately 700 flights per week from Bristol and 500 from Manchester. easyJet is the largest airline operating out of Bristol Airport, destinations such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, as well as connections across the UK.

Currently the second largest airline at Manchester Airport, carrying 19.5 million passengers since operations began, easyJet says it is focused on growing its presence, with five new destinations added this past summer, and new investments for customers, such as auto bag drop, the first unmanned system in the airport.

Willmor says DHL will be taking the product and this blueprint from Gatwick and applying that to those airports to improve the customer experience for easyJet. He feels content with the changes brought in at London Gatwick, and the results that have been delivered.

“Bristol and Manchester airports are strategically key for easyJet, so we recognise the importance of working in partnership to optimise performance. We’re looking forward to onboarding our new colleagues and implementing changes to enhance operations and the travel experience for easyJet customers.”

It looks likely that this partnership will extend even further, at some point.

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