family travel

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)

Cat in the Hat at LAX Airport

Today is the birthday of Theodor Geisel – better known to most of us as Dr. Seuss – the author and illustrator of books such as “The Cat in the Hat,” “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Horton Hears a Who!”

To mark the day, airport police officers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) will hold a “Dr. Seuss Hour” from 10 to 11 a.m. as part of Read Across America Day.

During that hour, officers will read books to kids and adults and the Cat in the Hat will pose for photos with travelers. The LAX PUPs (Pets Unstressing Passengers) and their handlers will be on hand as well.

Kids who attend the Dr. Seuss Hour will get souvenir travel bags with copies of Dr. Seuss’s book, LAX activity coloring books, and “Cat in the Hat Read Every Day” bookmarks.

And don forget:

“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

 

 

Party at Pittsburgh Int’l Airport

PIT Trading card one

There’s a party going on at Pittsburgh International Airport this week, as part of a renewed commitment to celebrate the region’s local institutions, food, music and culture in the airport.

So far this week there’s been live music, visits by sports mascots, a display of (replica) Egyptian relics from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and a class in hieroglyphics. The Carnegie Science Center distributed liquid nitrogen ice cream, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum brought by some history displays and the Phipps Conservatory let passengers pot their own air plants.

The party continues today – Sept 15 – with a live African penguin from the National Aviary, button-making hosted by The Andy Warhol Museum, a steel drum band and free popcorn.

Andy Warhol Wallpaper at PIT

Friday, Sept. 16, the entertainment includes live reptiles from the Pittsburgh Zoo and a musical theater performance.

Sounds like fun!

Miami Int’l gives moms a welcome amenity

MIAmamas nursing pod

The number of airports with special rooms or stand-alone nursing pods for moms continues to grow. The latest: Miami International Airport, which kicked off September by installing eight Mamava pods throughout the airport – at least one in each concourse.

The suites are made by the Burlington, Vt.-based Mamava company and are self-contained units that have benches, a fold-down table, an electrical outlet for plugging in a breast pump and a lockable door.

MIA is the 15th airport in the U.S. to get one of the lactation suites. Other airports with at least one nursing pod are: Atlanta (ATL); Austin (AUS); Boise (BOI); Burlington (BVT); Jacksonville, Fla. (JAX); Milwaukee (MKE), New York JFK’s JetBlue T5 (JFK); New York LaGuardia (LGA); Manchester, N.H. (MHT); Newark Liberty (EWR); Key West, Fla. (EYW); Oakland (OAK); Palm Beach, Fla. (PBI); San Antonio (SAT); and Spokane (GEG).

July 4th events at airports

IAD STILTS

courtesy J. David Buerk Photography

Many airports are bracing for a record number of passengers over the July 4th holiday weekend and have lined up entertainment and activities to welcome some travelers and send others on their way.

Thousands of travelers will be heading to Washington, D.C. to see the fireworks on the National Mall this weekend and both Dulles International and Reagan National Airports will be offering red, white & blue retail specials, Uncle Sam stilt walkers and interactive photo booths.

Look (up) for the Uncle Sam stilt walkers at both Reagan National and Dulles International today, July 1, from 12 – 5 p.m. and Monday, July 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Fourth of July interactive photo booths will be onsite at both airports today from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and on Monday, July 4 from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.

The photos booths will have a “#4th of July frame” and a selection of patriotic and Washington, D.C.-themed digital props. Once you take your picture, you’ll be able to view it on a touch screen, print it out or share via social media.

4th-of-july-uncle-sam-patriotic-flag-balloon

In Chicago, both O’Hare and Midway Airports have holiday events planned for the holiday weekend as part of the ongoing Air Carnival activities, which feature face painting, balloon sculpting, and stilt walkers in the terminals.

Carnival events take place at O’Hare today, July 1, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. And special guests Anna, Elsa and Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen” will make an appearance at ICE Dishes & Drinks near Gate L1 in Terminal 3 today from 3 to 4 p.m.

Live entertainment will be featured at Midway today (July 1) from 2 to 5 p.m. in the baggage claim area and airport ambassadors will be handing out complimentary lemonade to passengers today from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.