Airports

So long, Sydney: take-aways from IATA’s meeting of world’s airline execs

The Vivid Sydney festival – which lights up iconic buildings and structures around the city – was a great backdrop for this week’s meeting of the world’s airline executives at the World Air Transport Summit (WATS) and the annual general meeting of IATA – the International Air Transport Association.

All sorts of briefings, reports, discussions, debates and newsy announcements take place at this event each year and will generate stories that will spool out over the course of the next few weeks.

In the meantime, here are just some of the highlights from the past few days:

Courtesy IATA

In his annual report, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, said that airlines are expected to achieve a collective net profit of $33.8 billion. That’s an average profit per passenger of $7.76 for the airlines, he explained, “A thin 4.1% net margin” in 2018.

Read his full report that also touched on safety, security, environmental issues and other topics here.

 

 

A bundle of 20-minute on-stage interviews were offered, on topics ranging from alternative fuels, gender equality in aviation, airport privatization and the benefits and risks of travel and tourism. Follow the links for more details from those sessions and videos of the interviews.

 

CNN’s gregarious Richard Quest was on stage with a panel of airline CEOs, including Calin Rovinsecu of Air Canada, Tim Clark of Emirates Airlines, Rupert Hogg of Cathay Pacific Airways, Pieter Elbers of KLM and Christoper Luxon of Air New Zealand.

 

Among the notable moments was when the all-male panel was asked to address gender equality (or the lack of it) at the top echelons of aviation:

Other sessions addressed everything from some creative ways getting passengers to and from airports more efficiently to the role airlines play in human trafficking.

For media attendees, the meeting wrapped up with a final debriefing session with IATA CEO and Director General Alexandre de Juniac, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker, who will serve as chairman of the IATA Board of Governors for the next year, and Alan Joyce, CEO of the Qantas Group, which hosted the IATA AGM in Sydney.

The Qatar Airways CEO is well-known for his bravado and controversial comments, but at an event in which other CEOs expressed a committment to increasing the role of women in the upper ranks of their companies, Akbar Al Baker’s comment that of course his airline had to be run by a man, “Because it is a very challenging position” was met with disbelief.

His comment may have been a ‘joke,’ – and he did go on to mention that Qatar has women serving as pilots, as senior vice presidents and in other top-level positions – but the comment did not sit well with the group assembled (I literally jumped out of my seat!) and just underscores the fact that this sector of industry has some real homework to do.

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.”

High tech ways to clean an airport

(Courtesy C&W Services)

I’m finishing up my May “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY and wanted to share this preview of one of the entertaining new tools several airports are testing and using: robotic floor scrubbers.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is testing one out. Pittsburgh International Airport has served as a testing ground for an automatic floor scrubber as well.

But at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, an autonomous floor scrubber is already on duty full-time. Here’s a short video that shows the machine at work and employees describing how it works, how it helps get the job done, and how much it entertains passengers.

Stay tuned for more details on other high tech ways airports keep the terminals clean.

Following the flowers: how they fly from the farm to you

My “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY this month is all about how some of the world’s most beautiful roses get from a farm in Bogota, Colombia, to and through airports, and to you.

Here’s a slightly shortened version of that column:

Mother’s Day is around the corner and, according the National Retail Federation, this year American consumers will honor their moms with gifts of special outings, spa visits, meals, jewelry, electronics, greeting cards and $2.6 billion worth of flowers.

Many of the carnations, roses and bouquets moms receive will hail from farms around Bogota, Colombia. The high altitude, temperate region ranks as one of the world’s largest exporters of cut flowers and each day there’s a tightly choreographed race to get millions of freshly harvested flowers to the airport and onto planes for delivery to customers around the world.

Last week I joined a team from United Airlines to see how roses make their way from one farm near Bogota to Houston and, possibly, to you.

At Jaroma Roses, 79 acres of greenhouses produce more than 30 million roses each year in colors ranging from white and pink to green and red with dozens of shades in between and with names such as Moody Blues, High & Twinkle, Freedom, Lemonade, Showgirl and Hot Merengue.

“There are more than 2000 different kinds of roses,” company president and owner Jaime Rodriguez told me at the start of a several-hour farm tour, “Here we produce about 50 different kinds. The bestsellers are always the red ones, but breeders are always creating new combinations and unusual colors that are also very good sellers.”

This week is peak shipping time for Mother’s Day and teams of Jaroma Roses’ more than 600 workers are in the greenhouses everyday cutting flowers by 6 a.m.

From the greenhouses, freshly cut roses are gathered by color and taken by cart, or by the farm’s new ski lift-like conveyor system, to workers along long tables in a large cooled room. There, the flowers are measured, cut, graded and bundled into corrugated paper sleeves. The sleeves then move chilled storerooms where the temperature is set between 37 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit in order to keep them as fresh as possible before they’re boxes loaded onto refrigerated trucks that head out for Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport, over and hour away.

 

Like other farms, Jaroma Roses sells its flowers F.O.B. Bogota, which stands for ‘free on board’ (or ‘freight on board’) and means the buyer is responsible for arranging and paying the costs of shipment once the boxed flowers are delivered to the airport.

“The customer chooses the freight company,” said Rodriguez, “If we have a new customer who has not imported before, we recommend a company, but the customers deal directly with the cargo agency.”

The agencies, in turn, choose which airline they’ll use to ship the flowers onward to their final destinations in the U.S., Asia, Europe, Russia and other countries and, from Bogota and many other cities, there are multiple choice of carriers.

United Airlines, which a major freight agency has been using to ship Jaroma Roses to Houston and on to Japan, has room in the cargo holds of three commercial flights from Bogota each day: two 737s (one heading to Houston; the other to Newark) that can accommodate less than 1 ton of cargo and a 757 to Houston that could have room for up to 3 tons of cargo.

“Our competitors can offer similar or more capacity and there are a lot of freighters going from here to Miami daily,” said Andres Torres, International Cargo Sales manager for United in Bogota. “But we work hard to compete favorably in terms of transit time and quality of service. We check everything along the way and even the final customers in Japan have our cell numbers in case anything goes wrong.”

Torres says on some carriers flowers flying from Bogota may take five days to reach their destinations in Asia and Europe. “We offer three days,” said Torres “And if the United cargo holds from here are full we try to offer customers alternative routes using interline partnerships, most often DHL Aviation, to move the cargo to another city for connecting to another United flight.”

 In United’s cargo area at Bogota airport, the temperatures were cool as the flowers I saw headed for Houston were moved from the refrigerated trucks to and through machines that scan and weigh each box. The boxes were then loaded onto pallets, weighed again, and then sent into the cargo the hold on the plane, where temperatures for the flowers were set at a cool 50 degrees during the flight.

Promising to keep the flowers cool throughout their journey is important to help maintain freshness and secure business of course, but Torres says most companies shipping flowers these day also put sensors (thermographs) in the boxes that can record the temperature along the way.

“Every country has different rules for working with customs, security and the product,” said Kristian Scayola, United’s senior manager for cargo operation in the Americas, “But we need to project the flowers as part of the trust chain between the farm, the shipping agency, the airline and the customer.”

In Houston, United works closely with the perishable cargo handler dnata USA Cargo to transfer the flowers between flights or to local customers.

“Customs sometimes meets and inspects the flowers right when they come off the plane,” said Tom Hood, general manager of dnata cargo in Houston, “Other times they inspect a shipment once we have it here inside.” Agents from the US Department of Agriculture also come by for spot checks, he said.

Once off the plane, the pallets of flowers get moved to dnata’s cooled storage warehouse and then, as quickly as possible, into an even colder ‘pre-cooling’ room. There the small round flaps I had noticed cut into each end of the boxes in Bogota were opened and any warm air that may had built up inside the box during the flight is essentially sucked out and replaced by the much colder air in the room.

The pre-cooling process helps perk up and reanimate the flowers and prepares them for the next step of their journey, which may be U.S. florists readying for the Mother’s Day onslaught or for a flight to Japan or Russia, where the premium roses like those I’d seen snipped, bundled and boxed for shipment a day earlier in Columbia might end up being sold for upwards of $50 a stem.

Read the full column on USA TODAY and see two dozen photos from my trip here.

Ho­tels, airports, airlines mark Earth Day

 

Earth Day, which has been celebrated annually since 1970, falls on Sunday, April 22 and hotels, airport, airline and other segments of the travel industry are joining in to draw attention to environmental movements worldwide.

Hotels ditching those tiny plastic bottles, offering Earth Day events

This week, 450 hotels across Marriott International’s Classic Brands, including Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites and TownePlace properties, began replacing individually wrapped soaps and tiny .7 ounce plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner with shower-product dispenser systems.

The dispensers contain Paul Mitchell Tea Tree brand products and Marriott estimates that the average hotel will divert from landfills more than 23,000 tiny bottles, or 250 pounds of plastic, per year. Overall, Marriott International hopes that, once the switchover is completed at 1500 of its hotels, it will do away with more than 10.4 million plastic bottles and save more than 113,000 pounds of plastic each year.

1Hotels, with properties in Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York and in Miami’s South Beach, is kicking off its ‘Earth Day Every Day’ campaign this weekend with a series of events and talks. Each property will also be creating lobby “action centers” designed to both educate guests about environmental issues and encourage them to take action by contacting federal, state and local legislators.

Also, in honor of Earth Day and National Park Week (April 21-29), participating Travelodge Hotels are offering guests a “Celebrate Earth Day” rate of 25 percent off Best Available Rates for stays completed by April 30, 2018. Details here .

Airport restaurants and airlines make Earth Day efforts

On Earth Day, 200 Delaware North-operated restaurants at 23 airports and highway travel hubs across the United States are kicking off a campaign to reduce plastic waste by offering drinking straws only by request. With “The Last Straw” campaign, the company hopes to significantly cut back on the estimated 8.1 million plastic drinking straws it handed out last year.

Airlines are also joining in with Earth Day efforts.

On Thursday, April 19, Delta Air Lines bought carbon offsets for an estimated 170,000 corporate and leisure domestic passengers who traveled into or out of seven major airports, including Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Raleigh, and all three New York-area airports. The airline’s carbon offset program calculates the carbon emissions per customer and then invests in projects that provide social benefits and reduce emissions.

“We know that many of our customers are engaged in their own personal and corporate sustainability efforts and want to extend those efforts to travel,” said Christine Boucher, Delta’s managing director for Global Environment, Sustainability & Compliance, in a statement, “We’re proud to help them do that through this program and projects that expand our global sustainability efforts.”

And on Earth Day Air Canada plans to save 160 tons of carbon on 22 domestic flights out of Toronto-Pearson International Airport by blending 230,000 liters (more than 60,000 gallons) of sustainable biofuel into the airport’s fuel supply system.

“Our participation is one way Air Canada is reducing its footprint and also helping our entire industry improve its environmental performance,” said Calin Rovinescu, President and Chief Executive of Air Canada.

You also have until April 30 to vote in the JetBlue for Good campaign which will award grants of $15,000 each to 4 earth-friendly causes. If you vote, you’ll also get an entry in a contest for 2 roundtrip travel certificates with carbon offsets to reduce the eco-impact of your travel.