airport amenities

Robots, cool art for basketfall fans at San Antonio Int’l Airport

San Antonio International Airport (SAT) is geared up to welcome an estimated 93,000 visitors to the city for NCAA Final Four.

Arriving passengers will be greeted by SAT Ambassadors, NCAA Final Four volunteer greeters and art installations by local artist Cruz Ortiz,

Ortiz’s large-scale “Come as Rivals, Leave as Friends” artwork is in Terminals A and B and features flag-waving basketball fans, clasped hands and #Friends4Ever in Ortiz’s iconic style.

“This project at the San Antonio International Airport was super cool because it gave me the chance to present work on a large scale,” Ortiz said in a statement, “This special opportunity allowed me to show people getting off planes from all over the world what the soul of San Antonio is about.”

There are also robots helping travelers find food and other amenities at the airport:

New tech makes airports friendlier for blind travelers

Courtesy AIRA

My ‘At the Airport’ column on USA TODAY this month is about Aira, a new service that makes airports more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Here’s a slightly edited version of that column. 

Airports around the country are beginning to offer travelers an augmented reality service that uses Google glass-style technology or a smartphone app to offer greater mobility and independence to blind passengers and those with low vision.

And, for now, airports offering the service are doing so for free.

How it works: off-site eyes

San Diego-based Aira offers a paid subscription service that provides blind and low vision customers smart glasses and smartphone software that connectsto remote live agents who use the cameras on the glasses or the smartphone to see what’s around the user and offer guidance.

Subscribers (Aira calls them ‘explorers’) can call on a remote agent to have them help with anything from tasks in the home, grocery shopping or traveling around the world.

“I’ve had help identifying receipts and papers on my desk, identifying the colors of things in my wardrobe and reading labels on spices if I’ve been smelling too many spices and my nose is tired, ” said Christine Ha, an Aira advisory board member.

Ha has also used the Aira service at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental which, along with Houston Hobby, Memphis International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Spokane International and (soon) others, picks up the per-minute costs associated with using the Aira app or subscription service in the terminals.

“Many, but not all, airport employees are well trained to help people with vision impairments,” said Ha “But I like to be independent and find that Aira agents can pull up airport maps and serve as a virtual concierge, talking in my ear and describing what’s around,” including shops and restaurants, restrooms, gate hold areas and art.

The Aira service was not specifically designed for use in airports, but users been telling the company how their experience at airports has been transformed.

“We learned that at airports, visually impaired travelers often have to call ahead for assistance and might be met at the curb by someone who puts them in a wheelchair and just delivers them to their gate,” said Kevin Phelan, Aira’s Aviation Lead and head of Sales. “This service allows users to be independent and enjoy the airport like everyone else. So, we’ve been meeting with airports to let them know this service exists.”

Airports adopt Aira

Airports offering the Aira service for free see it as a customer service.

The Houston Airport System, which operates Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental, chose to participate as part of its goal “To be a role-model of accessibility for all travelers and to make the airport experience as memorable as possible,” said Tim Joniec, the airports’ Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator.

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, spokesman Patrick Hogan said providing the Aira service for free at the airport was a “no brainer,” because “It’s a great way to ensure people with little or no vision can enjoy the same airport experiences that sighted people do.”

Memphis International Airport, the first to adopt Aira, is pleased other airports are following its lead in offering the service to passengers. “This shows a collective commitment in the airport industry to ensure greater accessibility and convenience for all passengers,” said MEM spokesman Glen Thomas.

While some airports have found out about AIRA by word of mouth, others are learning about this and other useful services through a matchmaker-type program for airports and start-ups.

“We recognize airport leaders are very busy and don’t have the wherewithal to scout the startup community for solutions,” said Chris Runde, director of the Airport Innovation Accelerator at the American Association of Airport Executives, “We try to bridge the gap by finding out what airports need and then finding what’s out in the marketplace.”

In addition to helping the Aira team understand how airports work and making introductions for them in the airport community, AAAE’s accelerator program is also making airport connections for several other groups, including Elerts, which offers See Something Say Something mobile apps that can help improve airport safety, and Sleepbox, a micro-hotel company that just signed a contract to place 16 units at Dulles International Airport.

 

Stuck at Pittsburgh Int’l Airport? Paint something.

You’ve likey seen those do-it-yourself paint studios in your neighborhood and wondered why they always seem to be full.

Now, if you’ve got some time to hang out at Pittsburgh  International Airport, you can find out.

In the perfect match-up of opportunity and activity, Paint Monkey, a Pittsburgh do-it-yourself paint studio has opened up a pop-up paint kiosk on Concourse B.

If you’ve got some time to spend, you can sit a while and paint a masterpieces on pre-sketched canvases in a range of sizes designed to fit into carry-on baggage. Or you can have your creation shipped.

If you’ve got less time to spend, Paint Monkey offers spin art (remember that?) and pre-painted artwork featuring iconic Pittsburgh imagery.

Prices start at $10 and images range from cupcakes, robots and unicorns to Pittsburgh skylines and abstract art.

Office pods installed at New York LaGuardia Airport

For a while back in the late 1990s, when free Wi-Fi at airports didn’t exist and everyone didn’t have their own laptops, a company called Laptop Lane installed banks of small, rentable work spaces at airports with computers, printers, Internet access and, best of all, an enclosed space that offered privacy.

That company is long gone, but people at airports still seek quiet spaces to get things done.

So rentable work pods are back.

A startup called Jabbrrbox just installed eight workpods in Terminal B at New York’s LaGuardia Airport where travelers can buy increments of time (i.e. $15 for 30 minutes) and get access to an acoutically-sound work space with a desk, free and reliable Wi-Fi and a photobooth app. Additional tools for users include a camera for video conference callas and in-booth speakers.

Of course, you don’t need to use the booths for working. You can just as easily pop in for a nap.

 

Phoenix Sky Harbor Int’l will upgrade Terminal 3

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is going give its Terminal 3 a makeover, with lots of local dining options and fresh new shops. All should be open by 2010.

In addition to a branch of Shake Shack, locally-themed dining venues coming from both airport dining operators Host International and SSP American in the mix will include:

  • The Parlor– Wood oven pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, salads and more;
  • Mustache Pretzel – Gourmet pretzels, dips and drinks.
  • Postino – bruschetta boards, salads, sandwiches, beer, wine and more.
  • Joyride Taco House –  Tacos, burritos, craft cocktails and more.
  • Tru Burger Co. –Specialty burgers from a local favorite.
  • Original ChopShop – Salads, protein bowls, sandwiches, fresh juices and more.
  • Uberrito Fresh Mex –Burritos, tacos, and more are available at this fresh-Mexican eatery.
  • Phoenix Ale Brewery Central Kitchen – Locally-brewed beer makes,, pub fare, salads, craft beer and more.
  • Leoni’s Focaccia – Sandwiches made with cured Italian meats, focaccia bread, and a variety of cheeses.
  • Ajo Al’s Mexican Café – An Arizona original.
  • Crave Grounds – Fresh donuts with locally-roasted coffees and specialty teas.
  • The Tavern – From Phoenix Chef Mark Tarbell. Salads, sandwiches, burgers, and a variety of entrees.
  • Christopher’s Crush – From James Beard award winner Chef Gross, a local restaurant with a variety of pizzas, salads, entrees, meats and cheeses and more.

Some of the locally-themed retail concepts on the way include:

  • Discover Arizona– Arizona-themed gifts, souvenirs, books and more.
  • Indigenous/Mosaic – Combines two popular Sky Harbor stores. Ceramics, jewelry, artwork, collectibles.
  • Lolli and Pops – Candies, edible items and more.
  •  Travel Outfitters – Luggage and travel accessories from a local store that also has locations in Chandler and Scottsdale.

Some of these new outlets will open in late 2018/early 2019 as part of the Terminal’s new South Concourse. The rest should open when in 2020 when the north concourse renovation is finished. More details here.