Latest news and insights from Australia’s airports

IN PROFILE: Claire Donnellan

Claire Donnellan, Manager, Service Strategy and Customer Experience – Sydney Airport

How did you get your start in the airport industry?

I began my career with Hazelton Airlines as part of its ground operations team where I learnt the ropes of airport and airlines operations. I enjoyed it so much. From there, my love for aviation took off and I’ve stayed in the industry ever since. I then moved to Virgin Australia (when it was Virgin Blue) where I was based in Brisbane. I was part of the team that launched the airline in Australia, which was incredibly exciting.

I started with Sydney Airport in the Corporate Affairs team in 2012.

What are your career goals?

To build on and share my knowledge in customer experience so that we can continue to evolve how people connect and manage their experience. Traditionally you manage that experience through infrastructure and wayfinding, now everything is digitally-focused. Digital has revolutionised the customer experience.

There are so many advances in technology in this space, bringing more and more opportunities to improve the customer experience.

At Sydney Airport we utilise Salesforce to understand our customers and personalise our service.

My goal is to continue to expand on existing and adopt new systems, across all of our touch points to improve how we react to real-time situations. Our customer satisfaction has increased by 14 percentage points over the last few years because of our focus on the customer.

A key focus for the airport is making spaces more accessible and suitable for everyone. The work we are doing is something I am very proud to be a part of. Recently, we launched a partnership with AIRA, for visitors with low vision. We launched our first bathroom incorporating facilities for Changing Places, Assistance Animals and a 5 star rated breastfeeding facility.

The work we have been doing has been recognised by our customers through winning the 2018 Skytrax Best Airport in our Region and being one of the first airports in the world to attain Airports Council International’s Level 2 Customer Experience Accreditation.

What or who has helped your career?

The aviation industry is full of so many passionate people that I’ve learnt so much from.

I have been very fortunate in my career to have been given some unique opportunities that have made me equally as passionate. Career highlights include working as part of the team that expanded Virgin into new destinations across Australia, Asia and the Pacific. This gave me exposure to many operational models, training frameworks and cultures across the region. These are experiences I draw on every day as we were continually adapting to each environment to meet expectations and requirements.

In addition, I have been fortunate to work with multiple industry bodies including the AAA and Sydney Airport’s partners to deliver initiatives and frameworks to improve the airport experience. Recent examples are the role as Chair for the newly established AAA Customer Experience Working Group, representing the region on Airport Council International’s Airport Service Quality program and the delivery of the quiet terminal initiative with our airline partners.

What three words would you use to describe this industry?

Unique. Engaging. Innovative!

What challenges do you face in your role?

Striking the right balance between operational, financial and customer needs.

What does the future hold for young women in airports?

The future is full of opportunity! Every day I see more and more women appointed to roles that drive change and strategic outcomes, not just at Sydney Airport, but airports globally.

When you consider how many women there are in senior leadership roles – from the executive teams, right up to the CEO – it shows that the future is bright for women in airport environments.

There is so much more to do and women bring a different approach and lens to each sector of the airport industry.


This article was written for the Australian Airport Association’s Women in Airports Network – an online community to support the advancement of women across all aspects of airport operations.

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