by RAHIMI YUNUS
WASHROOMS are often the last facility air travellers use before queuing for boarding and the first place they run to upon landing at the airport. To say that taking care of the airport’s washroom cleanliness is a mundane job would be an understatement — it is a key passenger experience and says a lot about the overall state of the airport. Airports Council International (ACI) in its annual Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards has recognised the best airports in the world in various categories including Best Airport Infrastructure and Facilitation by size which considers availability and cleanliness of washrooms. Air travellers seek luxury and the last thing they need are dingy facilities. They want clean washrooms that offer an overall pleasant airport experience. With over tens of thousands of airline passengers daily, maintaining the terminal’s hygiene including the washrooms pose tremendous challenges. Airport operators around the world are upping their game in delighting airport guests by keeping the facilities spotless.
As washroom cleanliness remains one of Malaysia Airports’ top priorities, the organisation is using the current recovery period of the COVID-19 pandemic to get ahead with its washroom refurbishment project over the coming 12 to 18 months. Since June 2017, the airport operator has rolled out a major washroom refurbishment programme to revamp the functionality and ambience of KLIA Main terminal’s 225 washrooms. The programme is entering its last phase with 94 sets of washrooms targeted to be completed by June 2021. As for klia2, the second terminal of the airport, the refurbishment of 102 washrooms will be carried out in phases over the next 2 to 3 years. In addition to the major initiative, Malaysia Airports has been implementing several quick wins to scale up its service delivery quality, uphold high hygiene standards and improve guest satisfaction of washrooms. This will be well received by airport guests, as hygiene concerns have been amplified due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Through the washroom refurbishment programme, these washrooms are redesigned to give a fresh new look equipped with the market’s latest washroom fittings to provide comfort and convenience to its users. Every aspect of an excellent and user-friendly washroom has been reviewed from the janitor room, vanity mirror and washbasin down to the smallest details such as entrance statement, planter box and cubical height.
Malaysia Airports has, among others, enhanced the washroom signage and entrances with bright colours and plants to ease wayfinding for passengers. Benches have been placed at the washrooms for passengers to take a rest. The new vanity mirrors even have an anti-fingerprint surface where passengers can touch the sanitised edge without leaving any marks. Other improved features installed include individual hand dryers, anti-cockroach and odour floor trap, and individual ventilation for every cubicle. The new world-class design concept aims to create a soothing and pleasant ambience in the washrooms while easing the operations and maintenance activities as well as facilitate effective sanitisation practices for a continued safe airport experience.
On top of that, with the onset of COVID-19, hygiene and cleanliness are important elements in contributing to a safe airport experience. Malaysia Airports is currently looking at further enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of its disinfection exercises through automated UV disinfection technology that will be installed at passenger heavy areas such as washrooms. The airport operator is constantly exploring and keeping abreast on the latest facilities and services provided at other airports around the world so its passengers can be assured that safety measures at KLIA is at par with world standards.
Facilities suit international standards
Service delivery quality and passenger satisfaction of washrooms at KLIA are measured against the ASQ — a leading global airport passenger service and benchmarking programme. Created in 2006, ASQ is the only accredited global airport survey measuring passenger satisfaction conducted while they are at the airport. Currently, more than 380 airports across 90 countries participate in this programme. To be eligible for the ACI annual ASQ awards, an airport must participate in the monthly survey exercise and comply fully with the Fieldwork Guide and Schedules governed by ACI Quality Control. The responses collected is based on the airport’s sample plan developed by ACI and guarantees a representative sample of the flights, destinations and passenger groups served by the airport.
As a member of ACI, Malaysia Airports gains research tools and management information to better understand passenger views and their needs when traveling through an airport. ASQ research, which serves more than half of the world’s 8.3 billion annual passengers, provides unique data indicating how passengers rate airport’s services; how one airport compares to others around the world by traffic type, size and regions; which aspects are of particular importance at the airport; and how passengers’ perceptions and priorities are changing over time.
On top of the major washroom refurbishment programme, Malaysia Airports has also been implementing quick wins such as addressing odour and humidity issues by installing additional scenting machines and new ventilation fans among others to meet the Quality of Service (QoS) Framework outlined by the Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM) since September 2018. The first-of-its-kind framework in Malaysia addresses a wide and detailed range of concerns to improve the airport experience for all users including airline passengers, airport staff and ground handlers. The QoS ensures airports in Malaysia operate in good condition in four categories namely passenger comfort and facilities; queuing times; passenger and baggage flows; and operator and staff facilities — and each category has its own service quality elements. To ensure that Malaysia Airports achieves the targets set in the QoS, it has formed a special committee that looks at the critical areas of the framework.
Washroom cleanliness is listed as one the 20 service elements in the QoS Framework. The assessment on the cleanliness of washrooms is conducted via independent inspections by MAVCOM based on 20 attributes including odour, dry floors, and the availability of hand soap. To date, KLIA users have reported high satisfaction of usage as evidenced by the number of complaints that have significantly reduced over the past 2 years. Based on data avalaible from KLIA’s feedback management system, the total number of complaints had reduced by 93% last year as compared to 2018. The performance saw more compliments than complaints in 2019, or better still, users are uploading photos of the “Instagrammable” spruced up airport washrooms to their social media. The airport was also one of the recipients of the ASEAN Public Toilet Standard 2019-2021 award for achieving the criteria of a model public washroom.
Meticulous grind gets KLIA polished
Speed and accuracy are two key factors that determine the success in maintaining airport hygiene. Malaysia Airports currently has approximately 600 cleaning staff who look after the cleanliness of KLIA, supported by a user-friendly washroom management system. To begin with, employees practise cleaning methods as recommended in the Malaysian Standard MS2015 for public toilets to keep the facilities spick and span. Washrooms and cubicles are equipped with individual QR (quick response) code that enables users to submit feedback quickly. Happy or dissatisfied, they can also rate airport restroom cleanliness via a smiley panel installed in the washrooms. “Toilet Busters” — airport personnel who monitor and receive the feedback will immediately escalate the complaints to the respective person in charge. Any cleanliness issue must be addressed within 10 minutes and Toilet Busters will inform the users that their complaint has been resolved.
Cleaning supervisor Nursabrina Izzati Mohd Amirudin said, “It is our responsibility to ensure that passengers have access to safe and clean washrooms,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). Responses from passengers and the public are managed 24/7 through four working shifts. Besides passenger convenience, the easy and quick feedback platform provided signals the airport’s commitment in hosting joyful connections; emphasising that every feedback matters as well as giving assurance that immediate attention and action will be taken to address any feedback.
“We are responsible to ensure our staff at their respective washrooms carry out the duties well. For that, briefing sessions and close observation are vital to keep up with the performance of every washroom,” another cleaning supervisor Muhammad Aidil Md Khair told TMR.
But keeping the airport clean day in day out is all but impossible without good washroom etiquette practised by the public. A cleaning staff, Md Sujan told TMR that “The public awareness campaign on good washroom ettiquete that the management is doing is slowly showing results. I notice that many passengers have started to use the washrooms properly. Many are becoming more mindful when using the washrooms and this has provided a pleasant experience for the next user. I am happy to see this improvement and I will continue to do my part in ensuring that our washrooms are kept clean and in tip top condition,” he said.
Another cleaner Md Masum Billah said the public, including the passengers, should be considerate towards others when using the washrooms by keeping them clean and dry for everyone’s comfort and convenience.
Malaysia Airports believes education is the key to creating awareness and in doing so it launched the “Pay It Forward” campaign in December 2017 to champion washroom cleanliness and good washroom etiquette. Last year, the initiative reached out to more than 800 students from 10 primary schools who visited KLIA to learn about good washroom etiquettes and the importance of practising mindfulness. They were provided hands-on learning and reminded to always maintain good hygiene anywhere they go and to always pay it forward.
Washrooms are for the use of everyone at the airport. Although one spends less than five minutes in a washroom, the facility that is situated at one corner of a huge airport creates first impressions that last. Washroom cleanliness and whole terminal hygiene will make or break airports, and these will make KLIA.