The person with the overall responsibility for setting up SWISS ground services at San Francisco airport takes us behind the scenes.
Whenever SWISS decides to operate a new route, the role of Ground Services becomes clear once we find out how much operational ground time we have. In San Francisco, our flight arrives at 16:30 and does not take off again until 19:25. This gives us nearly three hours to prepare the various services, which is quite ample. As soon as an aircraft touches down, the ground handling team swings into action. The whole scene is similar to what happens when a Formula One racing car makes a pit stop. All of the service providers swarm like ants around the plane, do their specific job and then leave the scene so that the aircraft can take off on time. Having relatively a long ground time at SFO, the handling providers have enough time to prepare the various services in all the necessary detail.
A fine highlight is always to get to know SFO airport while visiting it, taking photographs, studying the infrastructure and going through all of the passenger touchpoints. This process starts right outside the airport, where our first signage needs to be visible. The next stop is the entire check-in zone (how many counters do we need?), including monitors, to make sure that everything is branded appropriately. Now we need to inspect the gates and the lounges in order to see what possibilities these locations offer. Viewing a new destination airport and observing all of the locations and passenger touchpoints is always a little journey of discovery. And it is always interesting to talk with the airport authorities to find out what kind of users’ manual they make available. It’s similar to a set of building regulations which set the rules for every airline to adhere to. A new airline is required to sign a commitment stating that it is willing to follow the rules in the manual in order to ensure for example that the scene at check-in is consistent and harmonious.
One special aspect of airport infrastructure in the USA is the lack of a conveyor belt between the check-in desk and the main conveyor belt to the baggage sorting area. This means you have to hire baggage porters who carry the bags over to the main conveyor belt. The linking belt is missing due to safety reasons. Such a piece of equipment poses a tripping hazard, which could result in injury, followed by legal action.
One of the truly special features about the infrastructure at SFO Airport is BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit service that covers the distance between the city and the airport in about 30 minutes. A direct link like BART is quite rare in the USA, and so for once it is not necessary to get to the airport by taxi or private car. This is a huge benefit.
Another distinctive feature of our Zurich-San Francisco service is that it runs parallel to our Los Angeles service. Flights in both directions depart and arrive at almost the same time.
Having said all this, opening a new destination is a “people business” and the people who have supported the preparation a long with the new SWISS Team in SFO make the difference!