Many train services have seen a rise in leisure passengers since the COVID-19 pandemic but business remains the main reason for passengers to travel on the Heathrow Express. Proportionately, leisure travel now accounts for approximately 10 per cent more journeys aboard the service between London Paddington and Heathrow Airport.
“We’ve always prided ourselves in the onboard experience. We’ve got an entirely new fleet of trains,” says Mike Morgan-Batney, the Head of Customer Experience at Heathrow Express.
Class 387 trains were introduced during the pandemic. They offer Business First Class and Express Class seating.
“We’ve got dedicated carriages for Business First Class. We’ve got big comfortable seating, we’ve got plugs and USB charging points at every seat, free wi-fi and dedicated space for luggage. Onboard staff continue to be there, working their way through the carriage and helping out with any questions or queries in the ticketing issues or onward journey advice,” explains Morgan-Batney.
Customer feedback has resulted in two major changes being made to what passengers experience aboard the Heathrow Express.
“The first one was the onboard entertainment. Prior to COVID, we had the BBC playing on TV screens throughout the train. We’ve taken that away because what our customers really valued was a tranquil experience. They can make decisions on what entertainment they want to listen to, rather than having BBC blaring,” says the Head of Customer Experience.
“We offer free onboard entertainment. When passengers are at their seats they can scan a QR code and access all of today’s newspapers, including newspapers from around the globe. They can access games and magazines and we’ve seen an uptake in people using that,” he adds of the offering, provided by Gold Key Media.
Detailed reports are issued on a regular basis to provide information about what passengers are reading and downloading. That enables Heathrow Express to continually evolve the offering and provide passengers with what they want.
Fast, reliable and frequent
“We pride ourselves on being really fast, really reliable and really frequent. The passenger gets on at Paddington and they can be at Heathrow in 15 minutes. If they miss a train, there’ll be another train along in 15 minutes, so it’s really regular. Once they arrive at the airport they can now get through fast-track security if they travel on the Heathrow Express. That’s something that we’ve introduced at no extra price on the ticket…when you buy a Business First Class ticket you get that as complimentary,” says Morgan-Batney of the second significant change.
Business First Class passengers can sign into the Heathrow wi-fi on boarding the Heathrow Express at Paddington. That single sign-on facilitates the availability of services into terminal buildings.
Travellers can expect dynamic ticket pricing and free travel for passengers aged 15 and under.
Listening to customer feedback
The Head of Customer Experience explains that active Heathrow Express users participate in the service’s customer forum. Members of the forum have opportunities to respond to ideas regarding proposed improvements to products and services.
During the pandemic, passengers expressed concern about touching objects such as ticket machines. Customer feedback prompted Heathrow Express to invest in upgrading the user experience of its app and website.
“We’ve really turned the dial in responding to customer feedback around ease of ticket purchase. We continue to have staff on the ground. All the way through the airport and at Paddington we have got staff to talk to passengers about what tickets are best for them and advise passengers about their transport options,” says Morgan-Batney.
Recent upgrades and changes
Until the autumn of 2021, people who needed assistance to board Heathrow Express trains were offered a ‘turn up and go’ service. Assistance can now be reserved via a booking portal.
Bins aboard Heathrow Express trains have been redesigned to be more aesthetically pleasing.
Selecting a hardwearing new carpet involved colour and comfort considerations. The choice had to fit with the Heathrow Express brand and be comfortable underfoot for both passengers and employees working aboard trains.
Finally, a multilingual avatar is being developed to aid passengers whose first language is not English.
The Heathrow Express operates services from Paddington from 5.10 am until 11.40 pm each day.