Passengers at Helsinki Airport will get a new expansion area in February: Aukio is the heart of the long-haul expansion area, through which departing passengers will reach their flights and where arriving passengers will get their first impressions of Finland.
Before the opening, the test day event was organised to get feedback from different passenger groups, helping to ensure smooth travelling already before the area is put into full passenger use.
“In 2017 we hosted a passenger test day before opening the South pier expansion. The feedback was valuable, so we definitely wanted to have a similar test run with Aukio,” says Kati Hollmén, Marketing Coordinator at Finavia, one of the organisers of the day.
An invitation to the event was shared on Finavia’s social media channels, where hundreds of applicants soon expressed their interest. The goal was to get passengers with different profiles – from frequent flyers to first timers, from families with children to those with handicaps.
Frequent travellers Kalevi Aho and Leena Kauppila were eager to see the new terminal expansion at their home airport.
“I recently saw a TV programme where travellers were trying to find their way at international airports and got lost because of inadequate signage. When I saw the post about the test event, I was immediately eager to see the newest solutions in this field at Helsinki Airport,” says Aho.
On their several trips abroad, the couple has learned to look at airports from the perspective of a transfer passenger.
“We go on about 10 trips per year. In choosing the flights, the possible transfer airports play a great role. It is nicer to go to a familiar airport where you know how long the walks from gate to gate can be, for example,” Kauppila says.
Security control with a full-body scanner
“Today, you will be transferring passengers coming from Japan and headed to Rovaniemi,” Finavia’s Customer Service Advisor Annika Vellonen announced before a bus ride to the new terminal expansion area.
The test passengers also got to go on a rare ride around the apron, getting a new perspective of the expansion areas and construction sites at Helsinki Airport. The expansions are needed as the airport received over 20 million annual passengers last year, and is preparing to serve 30 million annual passengers – all made possible through its billion-euro development programme.
When arriving to the new terminal area, every participant picked up a test suitcase. The group of 200 gave the security staff a test run on how the security check will function with a large number of people.
One of the new features of the state-of-the-art security check is a full-body scanner – the first of its kind at Finnish airports – which can quickly analyse if passengers are carrying any forbidden items.
Kalevi Aho experienced his first security check with an appliance of this kind. “The greatest thing for me was that I didn’t have to lift my arms up, as is often the case in many other airports. This is uncomfortable for me because I’ve had an operation on both of my shoulders.”
Digital nature experiences
The test passengers were divided into six groups, each instructed to give their feedback on certain topics. After the security check, the participants proceeded to Aukio, the heart of the terminal extension, and had lunch at Ajisen Ramen, a restaurant originating from Japan.
Mea Ruoho in the pink test group answered questions about the smoothness of the security check experience, WiFi functionality and terminal temperature and air quality, for example.
Ruoho wanted to participate in the test day because she is not a frequent traveller. She travels abroad from Helsinki Airport approximately once a year, but is nevertheless very interested in the user experience and aesthetic solutions at the new airport premises.
“Moomins, Iittala and other Finnish products available at the shops next to Aukio definitely belong here, as well as Ajisen Ramen, a restaurant that will be able to easily cater for Asian passengers. The food was good, and the restaurant even has a nice view towards the runway with planes taking off and landing,” Ruoho says.
Leena Kauppila admired the 75-metre long chain of LED screens going around the entire central square, presenting the passengers with changing views of Finnish nature landscapes in all four seasons. Singing birds and other sounds of nature create a 3D soundscape in the space.
“I believe this is a very interesting experience for tourists as well. The sounds, such as the babble of a brook in spring, are beautiful and calming. I also learned new facts from the touchscreen info, for example about reindeers and how their eyes function,” she said.
Aukio will be gradually taken into use
Jenni Koskinen, ORAT Project Manager at Finavia, has been coordinating the trial period, after which the new premises will be put into full operational use. This includes, for example, staff training, equipment testing and furnishings.
“The three most important goals are that the equipment works perfectly, the staff know what to do, and the customer experience is the best possible, starting from day one. The goal of the test day is to find possible flaws in the process and fix them in advance.”
The area is set for a soft launch in February.
“At first, passengers from individual flights are directed to this part of the terminal. When we can be sure that the security check functions as desired, we will increase the number of flights here. If something is not working, we will decrease the number of flights and make the required corrections,” says Koskinen.
The goal is to have the expansion area in everyday operative use by the end of February, ready to welcome passengers to Finland.