What Makes Copenhagen Europe’s Most Efficient Airport?

Copenhagen Airport has been named Europe’s most efficient by international researchers and aviation experts at the Air Transport Research Society.


This recognition was earned through a consistent commitment to making  air travel better.

“We want to make it easier for passengers to pass through the airport, and we want to provide the optimal conditions for airlines to operate at the airport. Both prongs of our strategy are very much based on digital solutions, automation and utilisation of the vast amounts of data we collect.”—Copenhagen Airport COO Kristian Durhuus.

Self-Service and Technology

Danes like mobile check-in and since the majority airlines serving Copenhagen Airport have this feature available there’s really no need to queue.

For anyone needing or wanting a printed boarding pass, there are sufficient automated kiosks.

Many people pack light in Europe so there’s often no need to check luggage—but Copenhagen airport offers self-bag drop facilities.

Copenhagen even offers a guide to packing light—in case you want tips.

Copenhagen Airport says that Danes are “among the most self-servicing in the world” and I believe it.

Copenhagen has encouraged this behaviour by prioritising technology simplifies air travel.

“Most of our passengers have been checking in themselves for a number of years, and in the past few years many have started using the automatic baggage drop, as well. We were also among the first to adopt self-service scanning of boarding passes before security and at the boarding gates, and our most recent initiative is the introduction this June of automatic passport control. The self-service solutions save the airlines staff costs while also increasing traveller satisfaction,” explained Kristian Durhuss, also highlighting the airport’s insight into the airlines’ processes, passengers’ travel patterns and big data as a means of enhancing efficiency,” explains Copenhagen Airport COO Kristian Durhuus.

“Currently, we are investing heavily in expanding and improving the airport, and this year alone we are spending more than DKK 1 billion on expansion projects. These construction projects are based on advanced models and huge amounts of data, for example derived from some 100,000 passenger interviews annually and from analyses carried out jointly with airlines and ground-handling companies. These include analyses of how we can make it easier to use self-service solutions, analyses of how the ground-handling companies can better utilise data for their baggage team planning and reduce waiting times in the baggage reclaim area or analyses of how airlines can speed up boarding and deboarding of aircraft,” Durhuus adds.

It’s Not Complicated

Copenhagen Airport’s operations are designed to make the complicated seem effortless.

It’s a relatively user-friendly airport, even if you’ve never been there before. You don’t need to speak Danish—at all. Everyone speaks English. The way-finding feature of the airport’s website  is very useful. It includes guides in Mandarin.

The security checkpoint is always adequately staffed, with clocks at various points in the terminals reporting on the average flow time to get through the queue.

The security area is also designed to help you prepare. There are plenty of easily understood picture signs reminding you to take out your electronics, and separate your liquids and gels in plastic bags. There are even plastic bag dispensers, because we can all forget.

In my six years travelling through Copenhagen, the longest wait I’ve ever encountered was twenty minutes. It’s easy to get used to the better things in life so this was mildly irritating, but the backlog was effectively managed by well-trained staff.

“We maintain a very large, complex operation, yet we manage to do so using fewer employees than our peers. This is in large part due to our workforce of skilled and independent people who take on a great deal of responsibility,” says Kristian Durhuus.

Baggage retrieval is a breeze, and there are some benches to sit on if you have to wait. Painted lanes on the floor let you know how to walk out and even mark a path for those who have no bags to pick up so you can simply breeze through.

Connecting to another flight is also convenient, but a word of warning: while Copenhagen Airport is not as enormous as other European hubs it is large enough that you want to head out to your gate with some time to spare.

Fortunately, there are screens everywhere that tell you when that should be. There is also an excellent staffed transfer hall with helpful agents and more screens and kiosks to answer any questions you have and address any problems.

One late night I knew I had to rush to get to the other side of the airport in time for my connection to Billund. My previous flight was delayed and it seemed I’d miss my plane. I rushed to the desk and asked an agent to please call the gate letting them know I was on my way. They were glad to help. I wish other airports—even more prone to tight connections—would do the same thing. (I’m not naming names. You know who you are.)

One final warning: there are so many nice shops and restaurants along the way to your gate that you’ll want to fight the temptation to linger. It’s a great reason to arrive early for your flight, and also a good reason not to be too bothered if your connection is long. You will not be bored or go hungry. The lounges are really convenient and there are plenty of them..including lounges which let you buy a day pass to enter.

Airline and Concessions Friendly

Copenhagen Airport’s efficiencies extend to back-end operations, its partnership with concessionaires, and investments to attract more international carriers.

“Operating a business at an airport is complex, not least because of the security rules. For example, employees have to pass through time-consuming checkpoints several times in the course of their workday. The result is a lot of unnecessary idle time, costing the companies money. Last year, we therefore reorganised our critical security restricted area to better match the needs and day-to-day operations of the companies. This involved investing a triple-digit million kroner amount, but has significantly reduced the number of times a day that in particular handling company and airline employees pass through checkpoints, saving them millions of kroner,” says Kristiran Durhuus.

“The airlines know that Scandinavia is generally a high-cost area. Having efficient operations is clearly one of the principal prerequisites for our ability to compete with other European airports in attracting new routes and airlines in the future. Being rated Europe’s most efficient airport is therefore extremely important.”

Marisa Garcia

After working for sixteen years in aviation, specializing in aircraft interiors design and aviation safety equipment, and getting hands-on with aircraft cabins in hangars around the world, Marisa Garcia turned her expertise into industry insight. She has been reporting on aviation matters since 2014. Every day, she's putting words to work.

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1 Comment

  1. […] June 2016, Copenhagen Airport was named Europe’s most efficient airport for the 11th time in 13 years by the Air Transport Resea…, an independent body of researchers and experts in airport operations. ATRS assessed productivity, […]

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