You may remember the ‘old day’s’ of flying, when friends and family could go with you to the airport – and to the gate – to send you off, and when they were there at the gate with hugs and kisses when you got home.
The airport has worked with the Transportation Security Administration to get approval for a program that gives the non-flying public to access gates, shops and restaurants beyond the security checkpoint. No plane ticket and, they emphasize, no reduction in security, will be necessary.
The ‘myPITpass” program starts at 9 a.m. on September 5 and will issue same-day passes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Here’s how it works:
Check in on 3rd Floor Ticketing Level (across from Allegiant)
Show a valid photo ID (Driver’s License or Passport)
Have your name vetted and get a stamped myPITpass
Go through security checkpoint observing the same rules as passengers boarding flights.
The program builds on PIT’s successful Holiday Open House program and the Airside access for guests program offered by the airport Hyatt hotel.
In addition to giving non-flyers access to the gates for sending off loved ones and welcoming them home, the program gives the public access to the great artwork at PIT Airport.
My overnight ‘ride-along’ last week with United Airlines at Denver International Airport was exhausting – but exhilarating and extremely educational.
I’m working on a full-length slide show (so far, I’ve got 60 photo keepers) and report for my next At the Airport column on USA TODAY, but sharing a few snaps today here on StuckatTheAirport.com to get the ball rolling.
At around 10 pm, my tour started at United’s Station Operations Center – a darkened room where about 50 people were seated in clusters at desks with multiple computer screens doing everything from making sure passengers made their connections to monitoring weather and gate assignments.
Then it was off to the maintenance hangar, where 8 airplanes were undergoing service checks and repairs, included an engine swap for an Airbus 319.
While in the hangar, another airplane was visited by a fast-moving cleaning crew, who were doing everything from cleaning the lavs and galley (with different rags and cleaning solutions) to making sure seat back literature was refreshed and the tray tables were washed.
At 3 am it was back to the Station Operations Center, which was pretty much empty, except for Zone Controller Mike Lowrey, who I’d met earlier in the evening. He was checking with maintenance to see if all the planes they’d been working on overnight were ready for morning flights and doing what he could to make sure the first flights of the day would leave on time.
3:47 a.m. : A quick look in the concourse to see if anything was happening. Nothing. Yet.
The Flight Operations Center opens at 6 a.m. That where captains and first officers such as Michael Daigneault can pick up supplies and plan for their flights.
My flight back to Seattle left, on time, at 8:08 a.m. I even got a set of plastic wings from the crew.
My full report on my overnight ride-along with United Airlines at Denver International Airport will show up during the week on USA TODAY.
Proclaimed “World’s Best Airport” for five years in a row, Singapore’s Changi Airport is where you want to be if you’re ever going to be stuck at an airport.
There are shops, restaurants and attractions galore, but once the Jewel mixed-use complex gets built in the center of the airport, Changi will become even more of a destination all its own.
Scheduled to be completed in early 2019, Jewel will boast the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, a five-story garden filled with thousands of trees, plants, ferns and shrubs, a branch of the YOTEL hotel chain, shops, restaurants and a 164-foot-long Canopy Bridge with some glass flooring to offer great views of the waterfall and other attractions.
This week, we’ve learned that the attractions planned for Canopy Park (on level five) will include Sky Nets, Canopy Mazes, and Discovery Slides as well as well as an open play area called Foggy Bowls, where kids will get to wander through mists “as though walking among clouds.”
My May “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY is all about some of the cool new technology – and creative uses of emerging technologies – that may soon make your trip through the airport less painful and, possibly, more rewarding.
The ideas were featured at the Air Transport IT Summit I attended in Brussels recently, which was convened by SITA, a global air transport IT provider owned by airlines and other air transport companies.
Here are some of the ideas that caught my eye:
No more check-in lines? KATE may help
Last year, SITA Lab, SITA’s technology research arm, introduced a self-propelling baggage robot, named Leo, who may someday greet you at the airport curb, check you in for your flight, issue your bag tags and then take your bags away for processing.
This year, SITA Lab unveiled Leo’s cousin KATE, an intelligent check-in kiosk that can move autonomously, and in teams to busy or congested areas in airports.
KATE the kiosk can monitor a variety of data sources, including flight and passenger flow information, sense where and where additional check-in kiosks are needed and, using geo-location and obstacle avoidance technology, move through the airport without bumping into things or people.
The robotic kiosks are also designed to automatically return to their docking stations when they are low on power or if they need to be a fresh supply of boarding passes or bag tags.
Kate is cute (although she did run over my toes) and these roving kiosks could not only help airports and airlines better serve passengers when rebooking is necessary due to flight cancellations or weather delays, but they might also be useful on duty in offsite locations, such as train stations and convention halls and, possibly, cruise ports.
New ways to pay airlines – and get paid by airlines
Airlines that use the common-use SITA check-in kiosks and bag-drop stations now standard at many airports currently don’t currently have a secure way to accept passenger payments at those terminals for extras such as baggage fees upgrades and other ancillary items.
At the Air Transport IT Summit, SITA announced that is has solved the ‘multi-merchant’ problem with a new payment system that uses point-to-point encryption (P2PE) technology that can accept various forms of payment, including MasterCard, Visa and Payment Card Industry (PCI)-compliant chip cards.
Look for a roll-out of this in SITA’s common-use kiosks and bag drops stations at airports in the next few months.
On the flipside, for those occasions when airlines must (or want to) compensate passengers for flight delays, cancellation or overbookings, a company called TravaCoin has partnered with SITA to test a voucher system that airlines can use to quickly issue credit to passengers that can (or can only) be spent on new flights, upgrades, hotel stays, services inside the airport or perhaps donated to local charities and non-profits.
TravaCoin CEO and founder, Brian Whelan told USA TODAY he envisions the digital currency being of special interest to airlines based in or flying through European Union countries that are currently required by EU Regulation 261 to pay passengers up to 600 euros (currently about $668) per inconvenience.
“At the moment airlines are holding out and making it awkward,” said Whelan. “They’re losing the money eventually, but also losing customer loyalty. This is a way for airlines, even airlines not covered by the regulations, to be proactive by issuing currency that can be spent in the TravaCoin community. The goodwill and the money go hand in hand.”
So do the benefits that airlines, especially, might gain from adopting TravaCoin currency for compensating passengers.
“There is a ‘breakages’ notion,” said Whelan, “If you give people vouchers, one way the merchant benefits is if the customer never spends the voucher.”
TravaCoin’s surveys have found that while many passengers who say they’d accept the vouchers would ‘top up’ and spend some of their own cash on top of the voucher value, about 20 percent would likely not spend their vouchers at all.
The goodwill aspect of TravaCoin appeals to Brian Cobb, vice-president, Customer Experience at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, which has successfully used new technology to improve customer service with reduced checkpoint wait times and cleaner restrooms in public areas of the airport.
“Love the idea. Especially with the consumer choice in how to spend, including donating back to the community,” said Cobb. “While it is likely sometime in coming, airports may need to leverage customer service recovery tools much in the way airlines do today. It’s a solid method to support recovering the brand perception and exceeding customer expectations.”
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport celebrated the opening of its new $3 million, 30,000-square-foot South Terminal last week with a party on the terminal’s patio, live music, a ribbon cutting ceremony and a water cannon salute for the first flight: Allegiant’s Air’s Austin – Albuquerque nonstop.
The 3-gate South Terminal is in a building that dates back to the original Bergstrom Air Force Base that once occupied the area and is totally separate from the airport’s main Barbara Jordan Terminal.
The look of new facility invokes “the nostalgia of mid-century travel, with stylish retro 70s architecture and décor,” according to the airport, and features colors and textures native to Texas Hill Country and white canopies (outside) onto which changing colors will be projected.
Passengers will go outside to board their planes on ‘old-fashioned’ stairs. Indoor amenities include charging stations, water bottle refill stations, grab-n-go sandwiches and drinks, with an outdoor patio area with seating, a pet relief area, and a food truck. There’s also a stage for live music and plans for a food-truck style indoor eatery as well.
Allegiant Airlines is now operating its 10 non-stop Austin flights out of the new terminal and Sun Country Airlines and ViaAir will move operations over to the new terminal later this year.
(All photos courtesy: Sandy L. Stevens, Austin Aviation Dept.)