Why Heathrow Express is building its home for the connected traveller
For the connected traveller to become truly connected it will be crucial for them to have access to information about all modes of travel, something Heathrow Express is working on
The concept of travelling by high-speed train to and from an airport is still relatively new in a number of markets. Although New York’s JFK airport serves Heathrow with the highest number of passenger numbers each year, there is no such air-rail link in the city, and taxis are widely used. However, in June this year North America launched its first high-speed air-rail link - the Union Pearson Express in Toronto.
In China too, this year saw the announcement of a new high-speed air-rail link between Shanghai’s two international airports - Hongqiao and Pudong. Rail already links the two airports but currently takes 90 minutes; this new development, though some years away, will cut the journey time to as little as half an hour.
In the UK where the Heathrow Express, which opened for business in 1998 to serve one of the busiest hub airports in the world, things are further ahead. However, while passenger numbers are growing, Heathrow Express Director Fraser Brown says work is still needed to publicise the service further.
“We need to change the perception and behaviour of customers who will automatically assume that a taxi is the quickest, and most comfortable and reliable way of getting to and from the airport,” he says. “A greater number of air-rail links in other destinations around the world would help.”
Brown is quick to add that this is not only the best mode from a customer service point of view, but also for the environment, something Heathrow Express is committed to as plans for another runway from Terminal 5 gather momentum.
Arguably home to the connected traveller, today 70% of the 17,000 customers it carries daily are on business and they want speed, comfort reliability and the availability of free Wifi – which Heathrow Express offers.
“If you land at Heathrow at 9 am and need to be at a meeting on the other side of the city at 10am, this is the only mode of travel that will get you there on time, so people use our trains time and again,” says Brown. The air-rail link takes 15 short minutes into central London.
Tactical moves to raise awareness
Now Heathrow Express is going a step further. It recently launched live screens in the Terminal 2 baggage reclaim area which pulls in and displays real-time traffic information to demonstrate the benefits of using Heathrow Express into central London.
The screens display the time, weather and how long it will take using both a taxi and Heathrow Express. It also compares the two prices, worked out according to the traffic information.
“This challenges the perception that Heathrow Express is an expensive mode of travel, while informing people that our service is also faster than a taxi,” Brown says.
Although most travellers using the service are on business, to broaden its audience Heathrow Express has introduced its kids under 16 go free offer. This combined with a duo-saver, which allows two adult returns for £25 means families are increasingly choosing to use the service.
Aside from the live information screens Heathrow Express staff are able to assist passengers with a variety of requirements. They are equipped with tube maps and London walking maps to assist with onward journeys and ticket offices also sell passes for London attractions to leisure travellers.
Overall Heathrow Express appears to be delivering - it scored 94% in overall customer satisfaction in a recent the National Rail Passenger Survey.
Looking ahead developments are underway to grow the service beyond London with an extension of its service to the west with Western Rail Access - see yesterday’s story Companies on a mission to connect travel gaze into the crystal ball to read more.
In addition, Heathrow Express recently signed a sponsorship deal with Tata Communications, a B2B technology firm which owns 24% of the world’s internet routes.
More proof, perhaps, that the firm has the connection of the traveller top of mind?