Customer Service Dominates Newquay Airport Meeting
Treatment of passengers and onward transport links dominated a public meeting about Newquay Airport on Tuesday.
The managing director, Al Titterington and operations manager Richard Thomasson of the Cornwall Council-owned airport addressed islanders at the Old Wesleyan Chapel.
The meeting was arranged as part of the debate over travel since the helicopter services ended and Land’s End flights have been rerouted through Newquay because of waterlogging.
Mr Titterington explained that the airport was a, “critical and vital piece of transport infrastructure” for Scilly and Cornwall. But passenger numbers had fallen and Ryanair’s pull-out over the airport departure tax and the end of Air South West operations had been a blow.
The airport is trying to encourage new routes and the business of Scilly passengers was valued, he said.
From March 25th that will be recognised with a dedicated Scilly transport representative at the airport who will help answer passengers’ questions.
At the Heart Community meeting last week, councillors were critical of how Newquay security staff treated passengers. Gordon Bilsborough compared his experience to the cold war “Checkpoint Charlie” and Marian Bennett felt repeated requests for photo identification were “Stasi-style.”
Similar complaints were voiced on Tuesday evening.
Al explained that Newquay fed into larger airports and the government required extra tiers of security checks. They had no control over that.
The airport operators’ professional association had lobbied for relaxation of the rules, such as restricting carry-on liquids, but many of the regulations were brought in after the 9-11 attacks.
Al warned that Scilly could be subjected to increased checks. The current exemption for smaller planes, which allow lighter-touch security checks here and at Land’s End, could be removed in the future, he said.
Star Castle Hotel owner, Robert Francis, was applauded when he suggested special consideration for Scilly passengers and loosening the security. But Newquay management was emphatic that they were just following the rules.
And Council officer Diana Mompoloki pointed out that islanders treated the airline like a bus service, which it wasn’t.
The meeting heard that some islanders with special medical needs have had bad experiences with travel including one person with a pacemaker. Al said locals should contact the airport if they need private security screening because of a condition.
Some information on passengers with special requirements had been lost though, with the rerouting of services. The airport works closely with disability groups to ensure they are compliant with current regulations but they can only deal with passengers whom the airline is happy to convey, said Mr Titterington.
A number of locals argued it was the attitude of staff, which concerned them. Mr Titterington said it was “inexcusable” if staff did not smile and say “hello.”
He welcomes constructive criticism, saying that specific complaints are taken seriously and discussed at management level. Some could be reviewed on CCTV. But there was laughter when it was revealed that complaint forms were at check in. There will be more placed around the airport and you can also complain online, he said.
There had been just six security and four general complaints from 375,000 passengers last year. Islander Bo Green has used the airport frequently and he praised recent improvements to levels of courtesy shown to passengers.
But Al said they’d heard enough comments to warrant a “revisit” of their training package.
Bo, and other locals were unhappy at the £55 fines issued to any drivers who overstayed the free five minutes car drop off waiting period. Bo’s family had been fined three times in one week, and he explained that you could easily have to wait longer while checking information about delayed Land’s End planes being routed through Newquay.
Al explained that the parking contractor used cameras to automatically issue tickets. Management can put a hold on action while they investigated mitigating circumstances and some fines have been overturned.
The free waiting will end in April anyway, when paid parking is introduced, partially in order to increase income.
Cornwall Council has slashed £750,000 from the airport’s £3.1m funding this year.
But when tackled about the controversial £5 fee that all passengers who have booked to travel through Newquay have to pay, the managers said they were forbidden to discuss it.
Dudley Mumford felt Scilly’s Council could take up this matter with Cornwall although he didn’t expect much progress.
Onward travel is an issue. It was suggested that building a terminal nearer the road would help. That was once suggested but is unlikely to happen with the current financial constraints.
And whilst Newquay staff were in talks with bus and taxi operators, including one who may be able to offer better fares to Truro, “at a non standard rate” for islanders, this wasn’t within their remit and there is, “no magic wand.”
Diana Mompoloki pointed out that onward travel was not the Council’s job to organise in Scilly either.
Management agreed to look at the availability of seating for people when check-in has opened but security has not.
Steve Kessell of Newquay tourism also presented a PR pitch for the benefits of Newquay and explained that, “it isn’t just a party town” but is “a contemporary version of a seaside town.”
He explaind that, at the height of the summer, five train services run from Newquay direct to London, while National Express and Megabus services stopped there, too.
Dudley Mumford again felt islands’ councillors could work with Cornwall on this.
Dudley felt that the meeting was valuable and proposed another session between Newquay airport management and islanders in the summer.