Airport Terminals

How airports clean up

MSP’s award-winning restroom

My “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY this month is all about germs at airports and how crews use high and low tech ways to clean things up.

Here’s a slightly shortened version of that story:

As we head into the busy summer trael season, recent news reports about bed bugs found at Kansas City International Airport and an unscientific but widely-shared ‘study’ highlighting germy spots in airports has many travelers worried they’ll unintentionally pick up something besides snacks and bottled water in the terminals this summer.

Should you worry?

Not about those bedbugs at KCI. The airport was quick to take care of that problem.

And not about that survey which claimed to find high levels of germs on screens at check-in kiosks, gate area chair armrests and water fountain buttons in three unnamed airports.

“It was a poorly designed semi-study with no real science,” said Marilyn Roberts, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health. “Anywhere there is high hand contact will have lots of bacteria. But unless you are immunocompromised, old, or very young this should not be an issue. We are surrounded by bacteria all the time and the majority are harmless.”

SFO Restroom T2

The best way to avoid harmful germs at airports (or anywhere) is – no surprise – to practice good hygiene. “Be mindful about washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes,” said Roberts. And keep hand sanitizer handy.

Travelers will also be reassured to learn how serious most airports are about cleaning and how technology is helping an increasing number of airports maintain restrooms, gate hold rooms and public spaces.

 McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and Pittsburgh International Airport are among the airports that have replaced multiple types of packaged harsh cleaning chemicals with onsite technology and machines that use tap water to create non-toxic cleaning solutions on demand.

In addition to eliminating much of the staff time previously spent purchasing, storing and managing traditional cleaning solutions (and discarding all the packaging), “We’ve replaced six cleaning products with two that allow airport staff to do deeper cleaning without harsh chemicals,” said David Shaw, Vice-President of Facilities and Infrastructure at the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates PIT Airport.

Pittsburgh International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are among airports that have tested autonomous floor scrubbing machines that allow custodial staff to spend more time doing tasks that require more skills and attention. (PIT’s tester came from Nilfisk and Carnegie Robotics; the machine at PHX is by Brain Corp.)

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, an automatic floor scrubbing machine is already part of the full-time cleaning team, operating four or five hours overnight polishing high traffic floors and, as a bonus, providing entertainment for late-night passengers.

“It acts like my co-worker,” janitorial worker Jack Lloyd explains in a C& W Services video about the machines, “I set it up, it works and I’m doing something else.”

Laser-focus on the lavatories 

Restrooms are among the most highly-visited parts of airports and, in surveys, dirty restrooms are often cited by passengers who are dissatisfied with their airport experience.

In response, airports, which now compete against each other for “Best Passenger Experience” awards, are focusing increased time, attention, and technology on making their restrooms shine.

Their efforts are paying off.

In 2016, the first batch of updated restrooms at Minneapolis-St. Paul International took first place in an annual competition for the Best Restroom in America

High-tech features that helped clinch that award were turbine-powered low-flow fixtures and occupancy sensors that monitor restroom use and signal maintenance crews to clean based on the use and number of visitors, said MSP spokesman Patrick Hogan.

Air is pumped into and out of the MSP restrooms in a way that helps dry surfaces quickly and minimizes odors and digital signs outside the restrooms direct travelers to the nearest open facility when a restroom is closed for cleaning.

Starting in 2016, housekeeping staff at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) have been wearing Samsung Gear smartwatches and using the TaskWatch app to match staff resources to peak restroom times instead of cleaning restrooms on a set schedule.

Wireless counters at each restroom entrance collect data and once a pre-set threshold is reached an automated message is sent to everyone wearing the watch. “The nearest housekeeper responds, inspects, addresses and clears the alert,” said CVG spokeswoman Mindy Kershner.

Cleanliness scoring for the airport’s restrooms increased so much (7 percent year over year) that what started as a six-month pilot program has been continued.

Now CVG airport is exploring how to use the TaskWatch system in other parts of the airport.

Officials at the Houston Airport system believe detailed attention to maintaining facilities – especially restrooms – that are clean, attractive and accessible, contributed to both George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby earning 4-star ratings last year from Skytrax, a major airport and airline rating service.

“Using the industry clean standards set by the International Sanitary Supply Association, custodial and maintenance staff at both airports work hard to ensure the facilities are maintained at or above those standard levels,” said Bill Begley, Houston Airport System spokesman.

HOU and IAH are also among a growing number of airports nationwide that, like MSP, have ‘smart’ data-gathering programs in restrooms and in other parts of the terminals.

“Everything pushes out data now,” said Tracy Davis, CEO of Atlanta-based Infax, one of the software services companies that collects real time data from passengers and from trash cans, lighting, restrooms fixtures and other things in airports.

“We take that data in and can let airport staff see on a map where there’s a spill or a trash can that needs to be emptied,” said Davis, “We also give maintenance crews predictive information about when flights are due in so they know when restrooms will experience peak hours.”

In addition to high tech tools, airports are also focusing on the basics to keep terminals tidy.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where that autonomous floor scrubber is earning its keep, airport cleaning crews use cordless vacuums to avoid creating a tripping hazard and use microfiber cloths to constantly wipe down screens on passport control kiosks and common use check-in kiosks.

And SEA Managing Director Lance Lyttle (who previously served as Houston Airport System’s Chief Operating Officer) keeps a plastic glove in his pocket so he’s ready to pick up bits of trash he spots when checking in with his staff in the airport terminal.

Lance Lyttle, Managing Director, Aviation, Port of Seattle, at Sea-Tac Airport, 3 February 2017.

That attention to detail sets a keep-it-clean tone. “It certainly does,” says SEA airport spokesman Perry Cooper, “When the boss does it, you pick up random litter as well.”

World’s Best Airport? Changi clinches it again

For the sixth year in a row, Singapore’s Changi Airport has been named the World’s Best Airport by Skytrax, which tallied 13.73 million surveys covering passenger experiences in 550 airports worldwide for the 2018 World Airport Awards.

Changi Airport also topped the list for the World Best Airport Leisure Amenities and the Crown Plaza Changi once again took top spot in the World’s Best Airport Hotel category.

Vancouver International was named the Best Airport in North America and the Fairmont Vancouver Airport the Best Airport Hotel in North America.

Denver International Airport came in first for Best Regional Airport in North America.

The surveys ask travelers to evaluate airports in almost 40 categories, covering everything from check-in, shopping and dining to cleanliness, staff courtesy, entertainment, signage and WiFi service.

Here are the winners in just some of the many categories in this year’s awards:

The World’s Top 10 Airports

Changi Airport – Terminal 4

Singapore Changi
Incheon
Tokyo Haneda
Hong Kong
Doha Hamad
Munich
Chubu Centrair Nagoya
London Heathrow
Zurich
Frankfurt

Best Airports in North America

Vancouver
Denver
Cincinnati
Toronto Pearson
Houston
Atlanta
San Francisco
Dallas/Fort Worth
Seattle
Montreal

Best Regional Airport: North America

Denver
Cincinnati
Seattle
Halifax
Minneapolis-St. Paul
Phoenix
Detroit
Raleigh-Durham
Houston – Hobby
Toronto City

The World’s Cleanest Airports

Tokyo Haneda
Centrair Nagoya
Incheon
Taiwan Taoyuan
Singapore Changi
Tokyo Narita
Hong Kong
Zurich
Doha Hamad
Helsinki

The World’s Best Airport Hotels

Crowne Plaza Changi
Pullman Guangzhou Airport
Hilton Munich Airport
Fairmont Vancouver Airport
Sofitel London Heathrow
Hong Kong Sky City Marriott
Langham Place Beijing
Regal Airport Hong Kong
Sheraton Amsterdam Airport
Hilton Frankfurt Airport

Pot amnesty boxes land at McCarran Int’l Airport in Las Vegas

Courtesy McCarran Int’l Airport

While it is not legal to purchase recreational marijuana in Nevada, don’t bring any leftover pot wity you to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

A county ordinance forbids the possession – or advertising – of marijuana on any Clark County airport property, so in addition to notices on the airport’s website, there are now amensy boxes installed at key locations at McCarran, including at the airport’s consolidated car rental facility.

And don’t try messing with the boxes to get the pot someone else has discarded.

The bins are bolted to the ground and have a one-way drawer that drops deposits into the bin.

Best new airport amenities for 2017

My “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY this month was a round-up of some of the best new amenities introduced at airports this year. Take a look a let me know if I missed one of your favorites.

Scratch and sniff

In 2017, passengers were able to visit with specially-trained therapy dogs and their trainers at a longer list of airports, with the newly re-branded Hollywood Burbank Airport joining the pack just last week with the introduction of its Traveler’s Tails program.

The type of animals visiting airports expanded this year as well. In 2016, a pig joined the canines on the Wag Brigade at San Francisco International Airport and miniature therapy horses became regular visitors at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. In 2017, Denver International Airport welcomed the first feline – a 12-pound domestic shorthair named Xeli – to the Canine Airport Therapy Squad, known as CATS.

 Reel entertainment

Back in 2014, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport opened the “See 18” screening room near Gate C18 to showcase short films. This year, at least other airports joined the in-airport movie fan club as well.

In March of 2017, a 17-seat Hollywood Theatre ‘microcinema’ opened at Portland International Airport, showing a round-the-clock program of short features made by Oregon filmmakers.

In August, a bank of old flight monitors at Miami International Airport began showing vintage film footage of the airport and of celebrities arriving the airport from the 1950s through the 1980s, courtesy of Wolfson Archives.

And in October, San Francisco International Airport unveiled a pre-security Video Arts Center in the International Terminal which features a rotating showcase of short films.

Gate Delivery

Many travelers are familiar with OTG’s iPad-enhanced airport seating areas that allow passengers in many gate hold areas to order food, drinks and products from nearby restaurants and shops to be delivered to them at their seats.

This summer two app-powered services, Airport Sherpa and At Your Gate, announced they’d be offering a new perk: airport-wide delivery of pretty much anything sold on-site, for a small delivery fee.

Gate-huggers rejoiced, but roll-out has been a bit slower than planned. Airport Sherpa currently provides this service only at Baltimore/Washington International Airport (use the code “Stuck” and you’ll get your first delivery for free), but says new airport partners will be announced soon. At Your Gate, which won approval of the Innovation Lab at San Diego International Airport, had planned an August launch, but that is now slated for January.

Biometrics and beyond

Biometrics is beginning to take hold at U.S. airports.

In June, JetBlue partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and global IT company SITA, to test a program using biometrics and facial recognition technology to verify customers at the gate during boarding. Travelers flying from Boston’s Logan International Airport to Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International Airport and from Boston to Santiago, Dominican Republic can choose to opt-in to the program.

Delta Air Lines also added biometric options for some travelers. One of four self-service bag drop machines the carrier installed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is testing facial recognition technology to match customers with their passport photos through identification verification, a step the airline says is a first for U.S. carriers and has the potential to process twice as many customers per hour.

At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) Delta Sky Miles members enrolled in CLEAR can now use their fingerprint scans to gain entry to the Delta Sky Club and to board flights. The fingerprint test is also underway at the Delta Sky Club on Concourse B at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Getting to the gate – even if you’re not flying

Remember the ‘good old day’s’ of flying, when friends and family could go with you to the gate to send you off, and when your loved ones could greet you at the gate with hugs and kisses when you got home?

9/11 changed all that, but this summer Pittsburgh International Airport worked out a unique deal with the Transportation Security Administration to bring that perk back.

Now members of the non-flying public who check in at a special MyPITPass ticket counter can get a pass that gives them access to the gates, shops, restaurants and art offered by PIT airport beyond the security checkpoint. No other airports have yet been given permission by TSA to replicate this perk, but at PIT the service is quite popular and is being used by between 75 and 150 people a day, according to PIT spokesman Bob Kerlik.

Furthering Fitness, health and universal access

Marked walking paths and yoga rooms (at SFO, DFW, Chicago O’Hare and Midway, MIA and others) offer passengers a healthy alternative to just sitting by the gate – or in a bar. But travelers who want a more robust pre-flight workout got a new option this year at Baltimore/Washington International Airport when Roam Fitness opened what is currently the only post-security fitness facility offering a gym, workout gear and shower facilities. The company hopes to announce new airport locations this year.

This year the number of airports hosting Hand-Only CPR training kiosks expanded this year to 11 (see the full list here) which means travelers now have more opportunities to use their dwell time to learn how save a life. And Memphis International Airport became the first airport to offer blind and low-vision users of Aira assistive technology access to the airport. The program provides real-time visual interpreters to service subscribers through smart glasses or the camera on a traveler’s phone.

 Fun stuff and great ideas

 

This year there’s a long ‘bonus’ list of fun offerings and great ideas.

Denver International Airport brought back free summer movies and winter ice-skating on its outdoor plaza.

Portland International Airport handed out special glasses and hosted a rooftop party for visitors wanting a glimpse of the August solar eclipse.

In the United Airlines Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport, this year OTG called on master pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres (aka “Mr. Chocolate”) to help it create and open a 24-hour bakery and chocolate shop. In addition to the Mélange Bakery Café, that terminal now also boasts an invite-only “secret” restaurant (called Classified) and a sushi restaurant, Tsukiji Fishroom, which now receives super-fresh fish flown in directly from Tokyo’s iconic Tsjukiji Fish Market.

This year Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport created a special catalog to help and encourage passengers do all their holiday shopping on site;

And, in honor of its 70th anniversary, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) created #ProjectGratitude and surprised passengers throughout the year with complimentary gift cards from airport concessionaires, surprise performances and free treats, including snazzy CVG-branded socks.