Heathrow goes horticultural with their gorgeous Garden Gate

By: Jo Hindle

November 15, 2016

Heathrow's Garden Gate


How can we make things better for customers? It’s the question that led to the founding of our airline by Sir Richard Branson back in 1984 and it’s been at the heart of what we’ve done ever since.

Last year when we looked at feedback from our customers and how they felt about their experience, from the time of looking at our flights online to the time of returning home, we noticed the place they often feel worst is at the airport gate area.

Senior Customer Service Agent Shane MacGowan, pictured here with Customer Service Agent Yuko Terai

Senior Customer Service Agent Shane MacGowan, pictured here with Customer Service Agent Yuko Terai

So we tasked our creative team, known as the Innovation Forum, with a familiar question: What can we do to improve that experience for customers? They brainstormed, looked at options and ultimately made a recommendation to… drumroll… call customers to the gate 15 minutes later. It might not sound the most innovative idea, but if people don’t arrive until we are ready to board them, they spend far less time in that gate area and walk onto the plane happy. Our customer satisfaction scores for the boarding process climbed because of it, so we know it worked. It was a reminder that if you ask yourself the right question, there’s probably a simple and obvious solution looking back at you.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t love other innovative ideas for gate areas too – like Heathrow’s latest development “The Garden Gate”.  Opened last month at Terminal 3’s Gate 25, it is home to 1,680 plants, including Peace Lily and English Ivy. It’s all to help the nearly 290,000 passengers who come through Gate 25 every year with rest and relaxation before their flights. The idea is the flowers help give them the feeling of a natural sanctuary within the airport, and some of the plants have come on the recommendation of NASA, who use a similar idea to refresh the air on the International Space Station.

“Everyone loves it,” says Senior Customer Service Agent Shane MacGowan. “Passengers love it, and the crew love it.” Certainly the chap who was pressing the green smiley face repeatedly on the feedback counter seemed to be loving it on the day of our visit. And the feedback has indeed been good – with an 11% increase in how positively Heathrow passengers rated the gate facilities. Meanwhile our own ‘touchpoint’ scores for the boarding experience went up another two points last month.

So whether it’s a later call to the gate, or a horticultural sanctuary, we hope you’ll enjoy a stress free and relaxing experience as you board your flight.


Jo Hindle

Jo Hindle is the Senior Manager for Corporate Communications at Virgin Atlantic. That means she tells the story of the business for a living, and she’s been doing it for nearly six years now. Her Dad used to manage Exeter Airport, so she’s been close to the industry most of her life and can never get enough of aviation geekery!

Categories: Our Experience