Airport amenites

Best new airport amenities for 2017

My “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY this month was a round-up of some of the best new amenities introduced at airports this year. Take a look a let me know if I missed one of your favorites.

Scratch and sniff

In 2017, passengers were able to visit with specially-trained therapy dogs and their trainers at a longer list of airports, with the newly re-branded Hollywood Burbank Airport joining the pack just last week with the introduction of its Traveler’s Tails program.

The type of animals visiting airports expanded this year as well. In 2016, a pig joined the canines on the Wag Brigade at San Francisco International Airport and miniature therapy horses became regular visitors at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. In 2017, Denver International Airport welcomed the first feline – a 12-pound domestic shorthair named Xeli – to the Canine Airport Therapy Squad, known as CATS.

 Reel entertainment

Back in 2014, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport opened the “See 18” screening room near Gate C18 to showcase short films. This year, at least other airports joined the in-airport movie fan club as well.

In March of 2017, a 17-seat Hollywood Theatre ‘microcinema’ opened at Portland International Airport, showing a round-the-clock program of short features made by Oregon filmmakers.

In August, a bank of old flight monitors at Miami International Airport began showing vintage film footage of the airport and of celebrities arriving the airport from the 1950s through the 1980s, courtesy of Wolfson Archives.

And in October, San Francisco International Airport unveiled a pre-security Video Arts Center in the International Terminal which features a rotating showcase of short films.

Gate Delivery

Many travelers are familiar with OTG’s iPad-enhanced airport seating areas that allow passengers in many gate hold areas to order food, drinks and products from nearby restaurants and shops to be delivered to them at their seats.

This summer two app-powered services, Airport Sherpa and At Your Gate, announced they’d be offering a new perk: airport-wide delivery of pretty much anything sold on-site, for a small delivery fee.

Gate-huggers rejoiced, but roll-out has been a bit slower than planned. Airport Sherpa currently provides this service only at Baltimore/Washington International Airport (use the code “Stuck” and you’ll get your first delivery for free), but says new airport partners will be announced soon. At Your Gate, which won approval of the Innovation Lab at San Diego International Airport, had planned an August launch, but that is now slated for January.

Biometrics and beyond

Biometrics is beginning to take hold at U.S. airports.

In June, JetBlue partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and global IT company SITA, to test a program using biometrics and facial recognition technology to verify customers at the gate during boarding. Travelers flying from Boston’s Logan International Airport to Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International Airport and from Boston to Santiago, Dominican Republic can choose to opt-in to the program.

Delta Air Lines also added biometric options for some travelers. One of four self-service bag drop machines the carrier installed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is testing facial recognition technology to match customers with their passport photos through identification verification, a step the airline says is a first for U.S. carriers and has the potential to process twice as many customers per hour.

At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) Delta Sky Miles members enrolled in CLEAR can now use their fingerprint scans to gain entry to the Delta Sky Club and to board flights. The fingerprint test is also underway at the Delta Sky Club on Concourse B at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Getting to the gate – even if you’re not flying

Remember the ‘good old day’s’ of flying, when friends and family could go with you to the gate to send you off, and when your loved ones could greet you at the gate with hugs and kisses when you got home?

9/11 changed all that, but this summer Pittsburgh International Airport worked out a unique deal with the Transportation Security Administration to bring that perk back.

Now members of the non-flying public who check in at a special MyPITPass ticket counter can get a pass that gives them access to the gates, shops, restaurants and art offered by PIT airport beyond the security checkpoint. No other airports have yet been given permission by TSA to replicate this perk, but at PIT the service is quite popular and is being used by between 75 and 150 people a day, according to PIT spokesman Bob Kerlik.

Furthering Fitness, health and universal access

Marked walking paths and yoga rooms (at SFO, DFW, Chicago O’Hare and Midway, MIA and others) offer passengers a healthy alternative to just sitting by the gate – or in a bar. But travelers who want a more robust pre-flight workout got a new option this year at Baltimore/Washington International Airport when Roam Fitness opened what is currently the only post-security fitness facility offering a gym, workout gear and shower facilities. The company hopes to announce new airport locations this year.

This year the number of airports hosting Hand-Only CPR training kiosks expanded this year to 11 (see the full list here) which means travelers now have more opportunities to use their dwell time to learn how save a life. And Memphis International Airport became the first airport to offer blind and low-vision users of Aira assistive technology access to the airport. The program provides real-time visual interpreters to service subscribers through smart glasses or the camera on a traveler’s phone.

 Fun stuff and great ideas


This year there’s a long ‘bonus’ list of fun offerings and great ideas.

Denver International Airport brought back free summer movies and winter ice-skating on its outdoor plaza.

Portland International Airport handed out special glasses and hosted a rooftop party for visitors wanting a glimpse of the August solar eclipse.

In the United Airlines Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport, this year OTG called on master pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres (aka “Mr. Chocolate”) to help it create and open a 24-hour bakery and chocolate shop. In addition to the Mélange Bakery Café, that terminal now also boasts an invite-only “secret” restaurant (called Classified) and a sushi restaurant, Tsukiji Fishroom, which now receives super-fresh fish flown in directly from Tokyo’s iconic Tsjukiji Fish Market.

This year Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport created a special catalog to help and encourage passengers do all their holiday shopping on site;

And, in honor of its 70th anniversary, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) created #ProjectGratitude and surprised passengers throughout the year with complimentary gift cards from airport concessionaires, surprise performances and free treats, including snazzy CVG-branded socks.


Touring Austin – and Austin Bergstrom Int’l Airport

I joined Delta Air Lines for the inaugural of its direct flight between Seattle and Austin and had one day on the ground to explore the city and the airport.

Base camp was the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin, downtown on Congress Avenue. The hotel is within walking distance of a food cart corner where we fueled up for the day at the silver trailer named My Name is Joe.

The menu includes hearty starts such as Texas Rancher Oats (oatmeal, tomato sauce, poached egg, queso fresco, black beans and avocado) and the proceeds help provide jobs and treatment program funding for service industry workers recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Next, we set out on a portion of the 10-mile ride and hike trail around Austin’s Lady Bird Lake. Transportation – and excellent guides – provided by Rocket Electrics , which offers both organized and custom tours throughout the city on fun and surprisingly easy-to-ride electric bikes.

Then, it was off to Austin Bergstrom International Airport for a tour.

Upgrades galore are underway at AUS airport, with new shops, restaurants, baggage claim and gate areas under construction.

One work-around airport officials are especially pleased about are the four temporary jet bridges -or “elevated walkways,” as the airport calls them –  that have been set up to keep things moving smoothly at one end of the terminal while a new addition is built. The longest temporary jet bridge is 720 feet and AUS’s Derick Hackett believes it is currently the longest temporary jet bridge in the United States.

Record-setting or not, the bridge is so long that the airport has created a marathon-inspired set of posters to encourage passengers on their journey from one end to the other.

We also stopped by for a tour of the newly-opened Bark and Zoom pet hotel and valet parking center right next to the airport, where dogs and cats can be pampered while their people are away. In addition to the upgraded suites where pups can watch cable TV all day (CNN was playing when we toured, but programming is usually Animal Planet), we got to see the guitar-shaped pool pups gets to play in.

Notice the “No Diving” sign….

Fresh airport amenities for summer travel

In my column this week –Fresh airport amenities make the wait fly byI offered a run-down of some of the programs and services air travelers can take advantage of this summer.

One amenity that didn’t make it into the story is self-service ice-cream sundae machine at Boston Logan International Airport.

Make-your-own sundae machine at Boston Logan Airport

We all scream for ice-cream at the airport

Using a touchscreen, customers choose a flavor (12 are available) and a mix-in. The machine then prepares and delivers the dessert.  Boston Logan Airport has two  MooBella machines installed: one is at Terminal C at the Back Bay Café (Gates 11-21); the other is at Lean & Green (Gates 40-42).

If you test it out, please send a report – and a photo.

What else is fresh and new at airports this summer?

Philadelphia International Airport offers entertainment this summer

Mimes among the entertainment at PHL this summer

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) now has free wireless and a Passenger Chillin’ Zone with sofas, tables, chairs, ottomans and foliage (Gate D-3). Throughout the summer, PHL is also hosting a Just Plane Fun program with live music, appearances by mascots from local sports teams, contests and other activities.

From now through the end of August, Miami International Airport is throwing weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) parties with a different theme each week. This weekend’s theme is Havana Nights, with domino tables, mojito demonstrations, a DJ, rumba dancing and cigar rolling.  August 20-23 you’ll find a flamenco dance show, Latin food sampling and more.

Observation Deck at Los Angeles International Airport now open

Observation Deck at LAX now open on weekends

At Los Angeles International Airport, the outdoor observation deck on top of the Theme Building in the center of the airport is finally open. Closed since 9/11, and during the building’s $12.3 million renovation and earthquake retrofit, the deck is open weekends, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with free telescopes offering great views of arriving and departing aircraft, the airport grounds and the surrounding area. Pink’s, an iconic Hollywood hot dog stand, has also opened a branch in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

At Outagamie County Regional Airport (ATW) in Appleton, Wisconsin, they’re still lining up to get candy from the giant purple machine with flashing lights.

Candy-dispening machine at Outagamie Airport

Willy Wonka candy machine dispenses mixed candy treats

Located pre-security, the Willy Wonka candy machine is one of 25 such machines in the country (there’s one at the Mall of America) and is currently the only one at an airport.

Passengers had so much fun during the special events held at Vancouver International Airport during the 2010 Winter Olympics games that the airport decided to host Take-off Fridays festivals all summer, complete with face painting, DJs spinning music, prize drawings, meal specials and frees samples from a variety of airport shops.

And San Francisco International Airport is presenting You are Hear concerts again this summer. Performances take place every Friday through August 28th between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at three different stages in the airport. This week the line-up includes Quinteto Latino in the International Terminal, Lavay Smith & The Red Hot Skillet Lickers in the United hub and, in Terminal 1, Threeocracy. See the SFO website for the full season schedule.