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Hubs of connectivity

Taken together the airports of Europe are among the busiest in the world, annually hosting upwards of half a billion passengers flying into and through the great cities of the Continent. On both the airside and the ground, handling the enormous number of fliers and getting them to their ultimate destinations has made European airports among the most forward-thinking people movers in the world.

Two of the Continent’s landmark facilities are located in the heart of Europe: Frankfurt and Amsterdam. Each has developed its own distinctive approach to connectivity and passenger amenities – and both have launched new initiatives to take the next step forward.


Frankfurt airport is filling up fast. Its two terminals are expected to exceed capacity by 2021, and with approval now granted for a third, the chief executive of its operator, Fraport, is clear how essential this expansion is for the airport.

“Without construction of a third terminal,” Stefan Schulte says, “increasing numbers of large aircraft, which primarily serve intercontinental routes, would have to be handled at remote parking positions away from the terminals. Aircraft congestion and waiting times on the taxiways would reach unacceptable levels.”

Frankfurt has more passenger traffic than any other German airport, with almost 60 million people passing through in 2014, the last year for which complete numbers are available. After London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle, it is the third-busiest airport in Europe and the 11th-busiest in the world, according to Airports Council International.

Currently, the facility is operating at 80 percent capacity. Its four runways collectively host 100 take-offs and landings per hour, with the ability to go up to 124. This alone would ensure Frankfurt’s medium-term future as a top-tier hub, and governmental approval of plans for a third terminal has all but guaranteed further growth.

Then there is Frankfurt’s location in the heart of Germany. The airport sits next to two of the country’s busiest autobahns, has an adjoining train station and is only 8 miles from the city center. Frankfurt is Lufthansa’s number one gateway airport with good reason.

“There are links between air, the railway system and the highway system so it’s a perfect destination for connecting from trains to flights and from cars to airside,” says Andreas Doepper, the airline’s head of station and infrastructure development at Frankfurt.

Still, more than 55 percent of passengers are there to transfer between flights and Frankfurt is investing considerable resources in facilities for them. As part of a €10 million improvement program, in the past few years the airport has introduced free WiFi, upgraded seating zones and added rest areas.

It has also installed travelators and provided shuttle taxis to combat the sometimes lengthy walks from terminal to gate – something that has long been a source of complaint for those traveling through Frankfurt, where the distance between business class check-in and the end of Concourse A, the location of many Lufthansa short-haul European flights, is more than a half mile.

Some 108 airlines operate flights to 295 destinations in 105 countries each week (peak season figures). Of those, 172 destinations in 72 countries are served by Lufthansa. More than half of the connections offered by the airport are located outside of Europe.

Terminal 1 is mainly occupied by Lufthansa and Star Alliance and has the most convenient location, being linked to the airport’s train station. It has four concourses: A for passengers traveling to the border-free Schengen area, Z for non-Schengen area flights, and B and C mainly for international services.

The smaller Terminal 2 is adjacent to Terminal 1 and is used by other carriers including members of the Oneworld and Skyteam alliances. It has two concourses – D and E. Unaffiliated carriers are split across both terminals.

The airport’s twin terminal set-up is capable of accommodating 65 million people a year – five million more than it saw in 2014. Nevertheless, with an average growth rate of 2.5 percent per year, it is reaching its limits at check-in, security, passport control and customs during peak times in the summer.

This is why Frankfurt has been given the green light to expand. Its fourth runway opened in 2011 and Terminal 3 is scheduled to open in 2021. The first phase of T3 comes with a €1.2 billion price tag and will include the central terminal building and two piers.  

Once fully complete, Terminal 3 will have 50 gates serving 25 million passengers. It will be linked to Terminals 1 and 2, as well as the existing rail station, by extending the Sky Line passenger transfer system and the baggage conveyor belt tunnel under all four runways.

Lufthansa has no plans to move its services into Terminal 3 when the new facility opens, as to do so would significantly lengthen the airline’s transfer times. Currently, the minimum connection time for short-haul flights is 45 minutes and for long-haul services is 60 minutes.

“We calculated a travel time of more than one hour between these terminal areas,” Doepper says. “It’s not an option for us to go to Terminal 3, but for the airport’s development it is a necessary improvement in capacity.”   He adds, “From the customers’ point of view, to make sure they can transfer through a major hub within 45 minutes… that’s an important factor for us to guarantee.”

Whatever the eventual configuration of carriers among FRA’s terminals, an increase in stopover traffic is the primary force powering Frankfurt’s growth. So continuing to attract the transferring traveler will no doubt remain its principal focus for the foreseeable future.

Amsterdam Schiphol

Unlike Frankfurt, Schiphol enjoys the luxury of five runways, no slot constraints and yet more room to grow – and is steadily building global connections for passengers across the world. The Dutch hub has a strong worldwide network of 323 direct destinations in 99 countries, of which about 140 services are intercontinental. It’s no wonder many business travelers in the region are choosing to route through Amsterdam.

It’s perhaps no surprise that a country built on global trade and exploration founded its airport with the key aim of providing “connectivity to compete,” as Jos Nijhuis, president and chief executive of Schiphol, puts it.

“The Netherlands is a small country so connectivity is key for our economy,” he explains. “Almost every business in the Netherlands is international because the domestic market is too small. To be able to offer this amount of intercontinental destinations, we need to have the transfer passenger, and that’s the whole business model of [Dutch flag carrier] KLM, which it has developed over the past 95 years. We have designed the airport according to that, because we have always understood that connectivity is so important.”

Schiphol is certainly purpose-built to serve transfer traffic, and more than 40 percent of travelers using the airport are connecting to another flight. Its one-terminal concept helps the airport to minimize connecting times. While some may argue that walking distances can be longer as a result, way-finding is excellent. Intercontinental services operated by KLM and its Skyteam partners are grouped in piers D, E and F, near the center of the terminal, to keep flights close together. Flights are also organized in waves throughout the day to optimize the number of global links the airport can offer.

Schiphol’s airport environment itself, meanwhile, is among the most imaginative you will find anywhere. The rest areas are inspired by nature (complete with trees and tweeting birds), there’s a roof terrace, public art, a library, numerous Dutch touches – from a tulip shop set inside a greenhouse to a choose-your-own Bols cocktail station.

Major renovations of Departure Lounge 2 are now going on, which will increase the amount of retail and food and beverage space by 20 percent. New retail outlets will include a flagship Johnnie Walker House store and a Gucci boutique. The area remains open while the renovations are taking place, and at latest report, the work is scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2016.

The revamp in departures is part of the airport’s master plan to boost capacity from 54.9 million passengers in 2014 to 65 million in the next five years with the ability to go to 80 million if necessary. This includes adding another pier and extending the terminal, both of which are due to be ready by 2018.

One of the milestones of the project has already been achieved with the introduction of centralized security areas, eliminating the 130 security lanes at the gates. Launched in June, the new security arrangement now uses five large central checkpoints, with a goal to keep security queuing time at peak periods to no more than five minutes for premium passengers and ten for other travelers.

“The transition to central security is a milestone in the renovation of the terminal,” Nijhuis says. “It means greater comfort for passengers and a more efficient process for the airlines.”

Another feature of the long-range plan is the new Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol which opened in December. The 433-room hotel replaces the previous Hilton, which opened in 1972.

Yet despite Schiphol’s steadily increasing capacity, the airport remains popular with travelers and consistently wins awards as Europe’s best airport. In large part this is due to its single terminal layout – a one-of-a-kind feature among international airports that contributes to ease of connection for those in transit.

And, by all accounts, it’s one feature Schiphol doesn’t intend to change.  

By Michelle Harbi & Graham Smith