Posts in the category "Lounges":

The best airport amenities of 2013

In the sky, hassles abound as airlines squeeze in more seats on their planes and tack on more fees for checking baggage, changing flight plans and using other services.

On the ground, it’s a rosier story.

Airports are steadily upgrading their facilities and adding amenities that offer passengers more enjoyable experiences that can make the time spent waiting for a flight the best part of the trip.

As we close out 2013, here are some of the best of airport amenities rolled out this past year.

Automated passport kiosks

Automate passport kiosk at ORD

You can’t really enjoy your time at an airport unless you can get into the airport, and this year we’ve seen wait times at customs significantly reduced at a handful of North American airports that have installed automated passport kiosks.

U.S. citizens can use these machines – for free – to scan their passports, answer customs declarations questions and cut short the time they need to spend in conversation with a customs officer.

The first machines were installed in May at Vancouver International Airport. In August, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport became the first U.S. airport to roll out the kiosks. Since then, the wait-reducing machines have been introduced at New York JFK International Airport (Terminal 4), Miami International Airport, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Montreal-Trudeau International Airport and, on Dec. 4, at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

TSA Pre-check expands

TSA PreCheck Enrollment Center at IND Airport - courtesy TSA

At the end of 2012, the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-check program offering expedited airport security screening was available at 35 airports for eligible passengers on five airlines (Alaska, American, Delta, United and U.S. Airways) and members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler program.

Today, the Pre-check program is available at 102 airports and the number of participating airlines has expanded to nine: Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways and Virgin America.

Beginning Dec. 20, active members of the U.S. Armed Forces (including the Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard) who use their Department of Defense ID number when making a reservation may use the Pre-check lanes as well.

And last week, TSA launched a program offering eligible travelers five years of Pre-check membership for $85. Applications may be started online, but must be completed in person at the enrollment center now open at Indianapolis International Airport, at one of the centers TSA will open in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles by the end of 2013, or at one of the more than 300 centers planned for the future.

Lounge-like checkpoints

 

DFW CALMING CHECKPOINT - courtesy Security Point Media

Thanks to a three-month pilot program that began in October, Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport each have a security checkpoint that could (almost) double for a relaxing hotel lobby.

A joint project between Security Point Media and Marriott’s SpringHill Suites, the checkpoints have stylish décor, soothing wall art, colored lights and relaxing music as well as “re-composure” areas with comfortable leather couches and – a brilliant touch – mirrors.

Response to what’s been dubbed “The Next Level Experience” has been so positive that talks are underway to continue these installations at these two airports and possibly expand the concept to other airports in 2014.

Improved airport transportation

BWI MARC TRAIN - courtesy BWI

Getting to and from the airport can be part of the hassle of any trip, but during 2013 a few airports smoothed out some transit options.

Boston Logan International Airport says there is now “no scheduled end date” for a pilot program introduced in 2012 offering free Silver Line bus rides between the airport and the city center.

San Francisco International Airport, which took legal action last summer against car and ride-sharing programs it claimed were operating illegally at the airport, now has an agreement with the car-sharing company Relay Rides. This should pave the way for other non-traditional transportation companies to negotiate deals at SFO and other airports grappling with this issue.

And, just in time for holiday travel, the Maryland Transit Administration added weekend MARC commuter rail service between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, with stops at Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Airport service plazas

Denver Airprt_Dunkin Donuts

Facilities offering a wide variety of truly helpful services for passengers – and for those picking folks up – popped up this year outside two airports.

In September, Denver International Airport opened its a super-sized, 253-space cellphone lot called “Final Approach” adjacent to a fueling station. The lot’s building has a children’s play area with iPads built into tabletops, lounge seating, indoor restrooms, free Wi-Fi (which reaches the parking lot), flight display boards and four restaurants, including a Dunkin’ Donuts with a 24-hour drive-through which, airport officials report, is selling about 7,200 donuts each day.

In October, the Service Plaza opened near Indianapolis International Airport. In additional to a fueling station, automated green car wash, automobile detailing and quick lube services, there are two restaurants, a Circle K convenience store, flight display monitors and restrooms.

Great food and drink

IHOP

Interesting places to eat and drink continue to show up at airports and this year fresh additions ranged from the Shake Shack at JFK’s T4 and the first airport IHOP – which opened at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – to Root Down at Denver International Airport, which operates with a decidedly “field to fork” flair.

The food-trucks-at-airports concept also expanded this year, with San Francisco, Sacramento, Tucson, Austin and Long Beach airports following the lead of Tampa International, which first invited food trucks to visit that airport around this time last year.

Great ideas

And then there are some interesting one-off ideas that we may see adopted by other airports during the next year.

Since February, Denver International Airport has had collection containers at four security checkpoints seeking donations of loose change for Denver’s Road Home, an organization that helps the homeless. Parking meter-style collection stations are inside the airport and so far this year, more than $69,000 has been raised.

In August, Vermont’s Burlington International installed a free-standing, pod-shaped Mamava Lactation Station to offer nursing and breastfeeding mothers a clean, comfortable and private space, post-security, to take care of business.

Burlington_MAMAVA ON SITE

And this year, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport not only made room for an automated kiosk that taught air travelers a simplified, life-saving CPR method called Hands-Only, this holiday season DFW is offering what could be a face-saving service for last-minute shoppers: free shipping for last-minute gifts purchased in the terminals.

(My round-up of the Best Airport Amenities in 2013 first appeared as my December 2013 At the Airport column on USA Today Travel.)

 

Have you encountered any great airport amenities this year? Please share your favorites below.

More images of Star Alliance Lounge at LAX TBIT

There’s lots to ooh and aah about at the new Star Alliance lounge at the just-opened Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport and you can read some of the highlights in the story I wrote about the lounge for the CNBC Road Warrior.

Star Alliance 1

One thing I didn’t get to mention in that story was the fact that there are some intriguing quotes on the walls, including this one attributed to Bette Davis:

Star Aliiance - more good acting

And this one, from Frank Lloyd Wright:

Star alliance tip the world

In case you can’t make out the words, this one says: Tip the world over and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.

Free coffee, snacks, massages at LAX TBIT

I had the great fortune to visit the newly expanded Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) this week for the opening of the swanky Star Alliance lounge.

The lounge is lovely – with lots of Southern California touches and a wonderful outdoor terrace, complete with fire pits, a water wall and views of airfield and the hills beyond.

LAX TBIT STAR ALLIANCE LOUNGE OUTDOOR TERRACE - BASKAS.

The terminal is mighty impressive as well, especially the giant electronic clock tower and story screens, which offer an ever-changing array of images and short films, and the interactive columns, which offer colorful vignettes of the destinations airplanes currently loading are jetting off to.

LAX TBIT CLOCK TOWER

While the Duty Free shops and several other retail outlets are open, many are still under construction and not scheduled to open until sometime in October. So for now, travelers will find tables set up at various spots throughout the new terminal offering complimentary snacks, soft drinks, coffee and chair massages.

LAX TBIT Complimentary beverages

Airspace Lounge at CLE; Bigger terminal for Myrtle Beach

CLE AIRSPACE BAR

Day lounges accessible to anyone willing to pay the day fee are – thankfully – beginning to pop up at more and more airports.

The latest addition to the list: a new branch of the Airspace Lounge opened on Tuesday at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), in the Main Terminal near the Concourse B security checkpoint.

At the CLE Airspace Lounge, entry pass prices will begin at $20 and hours will be from 5 am to 8:30 pm. Along with a comfortable place to work and relax, guests will be offered a range of complimentary food and beverage items and Wi-Fi.

The first Airspace Lounge opened at BWI Airport in 2011; a third Airspace Lounge is scheduled to open at JFK Terminal in May 2013.

And while CLE got a new lounge, on Tuesday South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach International Airport opened its new $118 million, 200,000-square-foot expansion, essentially doubling the airport’s size.

Myrtle Beach airport sign

In addition to six new gates, a new baggage screening system, additional parking and added cafes and chain outlets, the airport gained branches of two local restaurant favorites: Bubba’s Fish Shack and Nacho Hippo, a Tex Mex eatery.

Nacho Hippo Myrtle Beach

Delta adding outdoor terraces at JFK and ATL

ATL_Sky_Deck

Many frequent travelers buy memberships or occasional day passes for access to airline lounges in order to tap amenities such as complimentary snacks and drinks, reliable Wi-Fi and quiet, comfortable places to escape the hubbub of the airport.

These lounges are typically either tucked into windowless spaces at airports or offer views of the airfield through sealed windows.

But for fliers seeking a bit of fresh air, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is raising the stakes by adding outdoor terraces, called Sky Decks, to the Delta Sky Club lounge at John F. Kennedy International Airport and in the new international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

To develop the look and feel of the Sky Decks, Delta partnered with Architectural Digest, which brought in interior designer Thom Filicia, familiar to some as one of the experts featured on the popular TV show, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

JFK_Sky_Deck

In additional to living room style seating, power outlets and greenery, “the decks will have red stretched canvas awnings to provide shade,” said Delta Air Lines spokesperson Leslie Scott. The Atlanta club deck will be an extension of the current Sky Club and offer close -up views of aircraft and runway activity. “The JFK Deck will be on the roof level and offer amazing views of Jamaica Bay and of the runways,” Scott said. “Plane spotters will be able to see liveries from around the world.”

“This is a great move from Delta,” said Dan Gellert, CEO and co-founder of the airport travel application Gate Guru. “Delta’s Sky Clubs at JFK and ATL specifically are rated average at best in GateGuru, so it is great to see them getting a bit more aggressive in these airports to lure business travelers.”

Gellert says airline lounges in the U.S. “have not done much over the recent years to really push the envelope regarding new features or functionality to their lounges,” but he’s hopeful more airlines will expand upon this innovation, “especially in warm weather cities such as Orlando, Los Angeles and Houston.”

Over the past two years, Delta has opened or renovated airline clubs in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York, Seattle and other cities. At JFK, the rooftop terrace will be part of the Delta Sky Club in the expanded Terminal 4 and is scheduled to open in May. At the Atlanta airport, the Sky Deck will be next to the existing club room on Concourse F and is scheduled to open this summer.

Delta is not the first airline to recognize that frequent travelers — who spend a lot of time indoors, in artificial light — might like to spend some time outside before boarding a plane. “Virgin Australia’s recently opened lounge at Gold Coast, a popular sun destination on Australia’s east coast, features an outdoor area called The Deck,” Raymond Kollau, founder of Airlinetrends.com, told NBC News.

And airports in Amsterdam, Honolulu and Long Beach, Calif., have landscaped outdoor areas open to all passengers.

“The Delta Sky Deck differentiates the airline’s lounge experience by offering a bit of a boutique feel,” Kollau said. “And aviation enthusiasts will love the backdrop of the busy airport tarmac and even the occasional smell of airline kerosene.”

(Photos courtesy Delta Air Lines)
(My story about Delta’s new Sky Decks first appeared on NBC News)

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