Airport cleaning - how to be the world’s best

9th of July 2018
Airport cleaning - how to be the world’s best
Airport cleaning - how to be the world’s best

A Japanese airport recently hit the headlines when a staff member was pictured dusting off pieces of luggage on a baggage carousel. This is just one example of how dedicated Japanese people are to maintaining their environment and keeping it clean. ECJ correspondent Bobbie van der List visited the cleanest airport in the world – Haneda in Tokyo - to find out what their secret is.

The video of a female staff member of an unknown airline company at an unknown Japanese airport dusting off and cleaning bags and suitcases went viral. It offered a shocking contrast to the videos we are otherwise familiar with when it comes to luggage handlers at airports: throwing suitcases around and being rather careless with people’s belongings. This is not to say that all airports disrespect travellers’ belongings, but the international response to this video seems to show how much we desire the way the Japanese care for our luggage when we entrust strangers with our suitcases.

The woman dusting off is not known to us, and after some research we were still left wondering who this lady was who seemed so dedicated to keeping her customers’ luggage clean, or returning it cleaner than its original state. Purely the fact that such a video went viral illustrates how far apart the western perception of cleaning and the eastern understanding stand apart, as such the video didn’t raise a single Japanese eyebrow.

In most public places, for instance metro stations, thorough cleaning is the norm. If you visit a random train station in Tokyo, or any other city for that matter, cleaning staff have a thorough routine that leads them to clean every object: from the handle of the escalator to the shields separating the track from the platform. Places that have probably not been touched by human hands still have to be cleaned daily.

In past features about Japan’s cleaning spirit we already touched upon the thoroughness and importance of taking care of your environment – which is called ‘sojisuru’ – and we also looked into the school system, where every youngster is given the responsibility to clean their classroom at the earliest age possible.

I am always positively surprised when entering a Japanese washroom in either one of the two big airports of Tokyo – Haneda Airport and Narita Airport, as I can see the commitment to maintaining their cleanliness in an extraordinary fashion. As I tried to illustrate in an earlier washroom feature, airports are generally held to the highest cleaning standards in Japan.

To really investigate how well a Japanese airport is maintained we decided to visit the cleanest airport in the world: Haneda Airport in Japan’s capital Tokyo. This year Haneda Airport won the award for cleanest airport in the world, the ceremony took place in March and of course led to cheerful faces among cleaning staff at the airport.

Global award winner

Skytrax is the organiser of the World Airport Awards which began in 1999 when Skytrax launched its first global airport customer satisfaction survey. In 2000 the survey attracted a worldwide completion of 1.02 million users, which has since grown annually, with the 2017-2018 survey achieving 13.73 million eligible entries.

The focus is to deliver a customer survey and airport awards process that is independent, impartial and global, and this spirit remains crucial to all aspects in the present day. There is no entry fee or any type of payment by an airport to be included in the survey or awards, with the survey and awards process fully funded by Skytrax.

A central directive of the survey is for customers to make their own, personal choices as to which airport they consider to be the best, underlining the brand as the Passengers’ Choice Awards.
Having said that, we were very curious to learn what went through the cleaners’ mind when they found out they were awarded with this honour. ECJ met with Noriko Sato, a spokesperson of Haneda Airport.

Why do you think you received this prestigious award?

“Haneda Airport received its fifth World’s Cleanest Airport award from Skytrax in 2018. We were delighted to receive the award and it has motivated us to continue trying to win more. In managing and operating the international terminal, we at TIAT place great emphasis on customer satisfaction.

This award reflects the quality of the cleaning work, which is continually monitored internally by the contractor and assessed in numerical values by external specialists every year. Where areas attract a low numeric score, the cleaning contractor introduces changes to the methods used or, if necessary, changes worker shifts or adds more team members, etc. in an ongoing PDCA cycle to bring
about improvements.”

How big is the team of cleaners at Haneda? What kind of training do they get before they can start to work as cleaning staff at Haneda airport?

“Management and cleaning staff are involved in the maintenance, management and cleaning of Haneda International Terminal 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Approximately 10 management staff (six per day) and 200 cleaning staff (120 per day) are engaged in the cleaning of the international terminal and multistorey car park. This does not include the cleaning of external glass panels, etc where special skills are required. That work is done by specialist contractors who are hired to carry out this work on a regular basis by the management staff.

Tuition and training vital

“Cleaning staff are given one-on-one tuition and training in each of the contractor companies on general cleaning skills and procedures. They also attend courses given by former cabin attendants on the level of hospitality and politeness extended by airline staff to foster an awareness of customer satisfaction among airport users. The purpose of this is to encourage a level of behaviour
among cleaning staff that leaves a favourable impression.”

What are the products they use for cleaning?

“No special cleaning equipment is used. However, in our drive to provide an environment that is comfortable at any hour of the day, we have a help desk in the maintenance and management centre which operates 24 hours a day to handle customer and staff reports of dirty or malfunctioning facilities. When a report is received, someone from management contacts the cleaners who are responsible for that area by mobile phone or radio with instructions to dispatch staff, and the situation is remedied within approximately 10 minutes.”

What is the cleaning routine of the cleaners? Could you perhaps tell us more about that?

“Cleaning staff work in three shifts a day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a week and there is a lot of cleaning, mopping, polishing, rubbish collection and other routine work to do in each location. Consequently it is difficult to provide individual explanations. In the cleaning of toilets, for example, specifications stipulate the number of inspection patrols, simple cleans and replacement of toilet tissue per day based on congestion and frequency of use, and the intervals between regular cleans, wipe downs and garbage collections each day.

“However, smell as well as cleanliness is also considered. During this cleaning, different coloured towels are used for each cleaning location. Towels for toilet bowls and urinals and those used for wash basins are distinguished by colour to prevent the transfer of smells (bacteria) and, as a result, stop the toilet interiors from becoming smelly.”

Haneda airport is expected to grow over the next few years. How will this impact the cleaning operations of your staff? Do you need to hire more people? Or do you think robots can help with this development?

“With a 10 per cent increase in passenger traffic each year, it is certainly difficult to sustain the quality of cleaning. Even if we can achieve this by simply increasing the number of cleaning staff, smoking rooms and toilets are often occupied and it is difficult to get the opportunity and time to clean and, as a result, this means that it is difficult for the quality of cleaning to improve in proportion to the number of personnel employed.

“Therefore, we schedule thorough cleaning around flight times and peak passenger crowding periods, and post advance notices to obtain time to carry out cleaning. When we were unable to obtain sufficient time for cleaning when toilets are congested, we introduced a new approach on a trial basis.

"Sensors were installed in toilet cubicles to detect when they are occupied and, using IoT technology, to tell users when a cubicle is available (digital displays such as, ‘the next cubicle is available’ direct users to empty cubicles) and to decentralise toilet use. Consequently we have been able to obtain time for cleaning and, with a visual representation of hours when most cubicles are empty, incorporate this function for use in scheduling cleaning times and shift work.”

In general, one could argue that flying in Japan must be an eye-opening experience for travellers, as three Japanese airports made it to the top 10 list of Skytrax’ cleanest airports in the world survey: Tokyo Haneda (1), Centrair Nagoya (2) and Tokyo Narita (6).


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