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.

World’s busiest airport in 2017? Atlanta! Again.


Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which hosted almost 104 million passengers last year, has once again been tagged as the World’s Busiest Airport by Airports Council International (ACI), which has released it preliminary list for 2017.

Also in the Top Ten for 2017: Los Angeles International Airport (#5) and Chicago O’Hare (#6).

ACI extrapolates this list, and a few others, based on monthly data submissions by 1,202, of the world’s major commercial airports.

Here’s the rest of the list of airport’s around the world that made it onto ACI’s list of the World’s 20th  Busiest.

According to ACI, passenger traffic at the world’s 20 busiest airports grew by 5.2 percent in 2017. With almost 1.5 billion passengers passing through their terminals in 2017, this group of 20 represents 17 percent of global passenger traffic

  1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (Also ranked #1 in 2016)
  2. Beijing (PEK) (Ranked 2 in 2016)
  3. Dubai (DXB) (Ranked 3 in 2016)
  4. Tokyo Haneda (HND)
  5. Los Angeles (LAX)
  6. Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
  7. London Heathrow (LHR)
  8. Hong Kong (HKG)
  9. Shanghai (PVG)
  10. Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
  11. Amsterdam (AMS)
  12. Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
  13. Guanzhou, China (CAN)
  14. Frankfurt (FRA)
  15. Istanbul (IST)
  16. New Delhi (DEL)
  17. Jakarta (CGK)
  18. Singpore (SIN)
  19. Incheon (ICN)
  20. Denver (DEN)

What would make your trip to the airport more fun?

(Early flying car – the Aerocar)

I’m excited, honored – and a bit nervous – about being a moderator for several sessions during Monday’s Passenger Experience Conference in Hamburg, Germany.

The topics my presenters will be tackling in the Covergence and Mobility stream range from how mobile technology might better (or ever) tie together the many ways we now have to travel through the world (bikes, taxis, car share, trains, planes, etc…) to how – and when – we might eat or do other things along the way.

I’ll be sharing notes, pictures and musings here and on Twitter (@hbaskas) about these presentations and the new and exciting products and ideas that are presented throughout the week at the Aircraft Interiors Expo and several related events being held in Hamburg this week.

Standy by and please feel free to send your questions to me here – or via Twitter (@hbaskas) – about what’s in store for getting to and from airports and for flying on airplanes.