Bathrooms

Airports add pet potties & play areas; dump pay phones, banks

Modern-day airports no longer concentrate solely on being gateways to help passengers get from here to there.

That’s still their key role, of course. But today the focus is also on making the airport experience efficient and enjoyable for travelers – and profitable for the airports – through an ever-improving mix of dining and shopping options and an evolving mix of amenities.

“Whether engaging with passengers through an animal therapy program to instill a sense of calm in a busy terminal or providing ample electrical charging stations for mobile devices, airports are committed to not only meeting passengers’ expectations but exceeding them.” said Kevin Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International – North America.

A recent survey by the airport membership organization identified the top 10 airport amenities in North America, the top amenities airports are adding and several amenities many airports say they will likely be eliminating in the next few years.

According to ACI-NA’s Passenger Amenities Survey, the top 10 most commonly offered airport amenities and services are:

  1. ATM Services
  2. Gift Shops / News Stands
  3. Airport Websites
  4. Electrical Charging Stations
  5. Restaurants and Bars
  6. Lost and Found
  7. Parking / Taxi and Limousine Services
  8. Free Wi-Fi
  9. Pre-Security Pet Relief Facilities
  10. Food and Beverage Vending Machines

No surprises there, but among the amenities on the rise are some designed to make traveling with kids – and pets – a bit easier:

  1. Nursing mothers’ rooms and pods
  2. Post-security pet relief facilities
  3. Children’s play areas
  4. Airfield observation areas
  5. Adult changing and washroom facilities.

In part to make way for these new amenities, airports say that over the next three to five years they’ll be phasing out and, in some cases, eliminating a few other amenities.

So get ready to say goodbye to smoking rooms, payphones and bank branches at airports.

ATMs are plentiful at many airports, but staffed bank branches are already quite rare.

One holdout is Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where there is a branch of Wings Financial.

“The local bank has a built-in customer base, as they began as a credit union for airline and airport employees,” said airport spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski, “So we don’t expect to eliminate that service.”

Smoking lounges still exist at just a handful of major U.S. airports, including Washington Dulles International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but in 2016, Salt Lake City International Airport closed all its smoking rooms and by the end 2018 the last remaining smoking lounge at Denver International Airport will end its contract.

And those once ubiquitous banks of pay phones at airports are being replaced with charging stations or making way for other services.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport removed the last of its payphones in 2016.

With the rise of cell phones, “Folks simply don’t use pay phones,” said SEA spokesman Brian DeRoy, “And there are hardly any companies now that want to have the financial burden of taking on a pay phone contract for a very limited number of users.”

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has also ditched all its payphones, but provides a courtesy phone for free local calls next to the information desk on the baggage claim level.

“Our information desk staff can also make calls for passengers when needed, such as when cell phones batteries are dead,” said AUS spokesman Derick Hackett.

The number of payphones is being steadily reduced, but not yet eliminated, at airports in Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis and Chicago, where there are now 503 payphones at O’Hare International (down from 650 five years ago) and 174 payphones at Midway International (down from 180).

“The payphones taken off line were removed because of low usage, requests from the airlines due to construction in their gate areas and repurposing of space for revenue producing ventures,” said Gregg Cunningham of the Chicago Department of Aviation, but some will remain “because they are still a necessary means of communication for some customers.”

At Reno-Tahoe International Airport, free local or toll free calls can be made from any courtesy phone in the airport.

“In 2008, AT&T ended their payphone contract at the airport, at same time they pulled out of shopping malls and other public buildings due to decreases in revenue,” said RNO airport spokeswoman Heidi Jared, “But the airport authority knew an option was needed to fill that void since not all travelers have a cell phone.”

And, totally bucking the no-payphone trend, thanks to a deal dating back to 2012, Denver International Airport still has about 200 payphones in the terminal and on the concourses that provide unlimited free national domestic calls and international calls that are free for the first 10 minutes.

(A slightly different of this story about airport amenities appeared on CNBC)

Airport loos land top spot in America’s Best Restroom contest

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My “At the Airport” column in USA TODAY this month is all about airport bathrooms and celebrates the fact that Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport took first place this year in the annual contest to choose America’s best public restroom.

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The last time there was news about the stalls at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was in 2007 and the story centered about a senator and a sex sting.

But now MSP and its loos will get more respect.

The first batch of airport’s updated restrooms was named the 2016 winners in the 15th annual America’s Best Restroom Contest.

Hosted by Cintas, a Cincinnati-based company that cleans and provides supplies for public restrooms, the contest lets the public pick the winner from a set of 10 finalists and this MSP’s lavs were pitted against the likes of a Dr. Who-themed Tardis bathroom at a bar in Brooklyn, N.Y., a bookstore in St. Louis where the bathrooms are papered in classic books, and the restrooms at a Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, PA, (home of the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs) which feature a hands-free, motion-control urinal gaming system. (Scores get posted!)

The restrooms MSP entered in the contest are part of a terminal-wide restroom renovation plan that started in 2009 and will continue through 2025 and encompass more than 100 sets of public restrooms throughout the airport.

In addition to overhauling each restroom to stalls with out-swinging doors and niches for rolling luggage, baby changing stations and shallow trough sinks that minimize splashing, MSP created “restroom zones” throughout the airport.

Each zone has out-the-way where travel companions can wait and amenities such as flight information boards, AEDs and others emergency devices, water-bottle refill stations and curated art display cases.

Mosaic art with a Minnesota theme marks the entrance to each restroom, with each set created by a different regional artist.

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This isn’t the first time airport thrones have been in the running for the Best Restroom Contest crown.
Tampa International Airport’s renovated restrooms were among the finalists in 2013, losing out to the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis.

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And back in 2005, the loos at Fort Smith Regional Airport in Arkansas took first prize.

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(Read the full column – and see more photos here.)

MSP airport lav in running for Best Restroom award

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It’s been a while, but this year there’s an airport lav in there with the finalists for this year’s America’s Best Restroom.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport recently began renovating its restrooms – and plans to update 100 sets of public restrooms by 2025.

Here’s their pitch:

“Restroom zones are highlighted by softer lighting and a material palette that serves as a wayfinding icon. This zone includes a waiting area as well as an amenity node with flight information, emergency devices, and curated art display cases. Art that reflects features of Minnesota is also featured within the restrooms with original mosaic art in the entrances, created by a different regional artist at each set.”

The competitors are loos in ballparks, restaurants and other public spaces – and voting ends Nov 2.

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Boeing’s self-cleaning airplane lavatory

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Courtesy: Boeing

The news that Boeing engineers and designers have come up with an airplane lavatory that cleans itself with ultra-violet lights in just three seconds would have pleased Frances Gabe, an Oregon inventor who, back in the 1980s, patented dozens of ideas related to her own scheme for a self-cleaning house.

Gabe’s house did clean itself – sort of. When I visited her back in the mid-1980s for a radio interview, few self-cleaning gadgets were actually operating. And she was determined to make the whole thing operate as a self-cleaning unit before taking even one idea to market. But after spending a few hours with her that day, I was confident she’d work out a way to make the whole thing work in perfect harmony.

I imagine her saying something like “been there, done that” when hearing about Boeing’s idea for a self-cleaning lav. But, as someone who’s written stories about studies done to find the germiest places on airplanes, I’m hoping Boeing’s idea becomes standard issue as soon as possible.

Greetings from: Singapore Changi Airport

Changi candy

It’s always a delight to spend a day touring Singapore Changi Airport, which offers a wide array of truly useful amenities and a smorgasbord of entertaining treats.

Here are some snaps taken this week during a 5-mile airport hike that included a stop at Hobbiton, an encounter with a giant Oreo cookie and a view of the airfield from one of the world’s best airport powder rooms.

Air New Zealand has set up a Hobbit hole  in the departure hall of Terminal 3.

Air New Zealand has set up a Hobbit hole in the departure hall of Terminal 3.

The Easter Bunny is still on duty at Changi Airport

The Easter Bunny is still on duty at Changi Airport

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This giant Oreo cookie had a helper handing out samples of tiny Oreo cookies.

 

Changi restroom

This Changi Airport powder room has picture windows offering great views out to the airfield. I’ve been assured those outside cannot see in… Photo courtesy Yvette Cardozo.