airport amenities

You still can get your shoes shined at the airport

 My “At the Airport” column for USATODAY this month is all about the incredibly hard-working people who work at shoeshine stands at airports around the country.

I’d spotted shoeshine stands occasionally at airports, but didn’t realize what an ‘out of time’ and endangered service this can be.

Bottom line: wear some nice shoes to the airport, get them shined and be a generous tipper.

Courtesy El Paso International Airport


“People used to spend time getting ready to travel,” said Hector Diaz, who has managed the five-locations of the Shoe Hospital at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for 10 years, “Now they just get up and put on gym shoes, sandals or whatever. Some mornings customers are still wearing pajama bottoms when they come in to have their shoes shined. It gets confusing.”

With travel attire so informal, shoeshine services at airports may seem, like payphones, to be on the way out. But in the most recent passenger amenities survey conducted by Airports Council International –North America, the number of airports with shoeshine stands (about 50) exceeds those with business centers and TSA PreCheck enrollment stations.

Time-crunched business travelers are helping to keep most airport shoe shine stands in business, but in many airports it’s a long-held tradition of fast, friendly, inexpensive and, in some cases, complimentary services, that keeps customers coming back.

Wayne Kendrick at work at Louis Armstron New Orleans Int’l Airport – courtesy of the airport

At Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, the two Like New Shoe Shine stands have been run by Wayne Kendrick’s family for about 40 years. Kendrick, who began helping his dad at the airport 33 years ago, now operates the stands at MSY with his brother, charging $7 for a shine, up just $2 from the $5 his dad charged years ago.

“He’s been called ‘the Mayor of the Airport’ on more than one occasion,” said MSY spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut, “Some people drop off their shoes before traveling and pick them up on their return. Wayne has also been known to walk out to the curb to pick up a bag of shoes from customers that are not traveling but need a shine.”

Javier Anchondo has been operating the Los Amigos Shoe Shine at El Paso International Airport for a dozen years, and has been charging $4 for a full shine for shoes or boots since 2005. Anchondo used to have special prices for armed forces members, employees, first responders and others, but that got too complicated so he decided to simplify things by offering the $4 deal to all.

Courtesy Chicago Dept of Aviation

At Chicago O’Hare International Airport the Shoe Hospital not only shines shoes ($6) and boots ($8), it also offers repair services for shoes, luggage, purses, bags, jackets and other leather items and sells accessories such as shoe laces, arch supports and shoe cushions, often to pilots and flights attendants. Passengers can drop off items in need of repair and pick up them up on their return trip or have repaired items mailed home.

“Shining shoes is a dying art,” says Denise Pullen, owner of the Classic Shine Company, “But I’m trying to keep that art in the forefront and bring it to venues – like airports – where it’s a convenience.”

Classic Shine operates at 5 airports, including Dallas/Fort International, Kentucky’s Louisville International; McGhee Tyson, near Knoxville; Northwest Arkansas Region Airport; Greenville- Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina; and, soon, San Diego International Airport.

The company charges $8 across the board for its service.

“We perform the same steps whether we do shoes or boots, so we’re not going to charge more for one than the other,” said Pullen, “Plus, boot customers are some of our best customers – and our best tippers.”

Photo by Sandy Stevens at Austin-Bergstrom Int’l Airport

In keeping with the “Keep Austin Weird” mantra, passengers at Austin Bergstrom International Airport have asked the staff at the Love Shines shoe shine stand to shine everything from fancy boots to casual Keens.

“I’ve heard a band give them a shout out from the airport music stage,” said AUS airport spokesman Jim Halbrook, “The singer had gotten his shoes shined there and was very happy with the quality.”

Another singer happy with the way his shoes and boots look after visiting an airport shoe shine stand is Lyle Lovett, who penned an essay for the Houston Chronicle about his deep appreciation for the shoe shine stand in Terminal C at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Although he says he’s capable of caring for his own footwear, “Even on days I wish I didn’t have to fly, I look forward to getting to the airport early enough to get a shine. There’s just something extra-good about a professional shine, something important,” Lovett writes.

And it’s not just the excellent shoe shine that Lovett likes. As the shine men and women are improving his boots, Lovett says he enjoys their stories and always benefits “from the pride they take in their work.”

Free shines; tips accepted

Over the past twenty years Marvin Earle and his team have shined shoes for hundreds of celebrities at shoe shine stands located in many of the terminals at Los Angeles International Airport. But whether or not the person in his chair is a celebrity, “I try to build a relationship with my customers. I talk, I listen, and I stay away from politics,” said Earle, “It’s about showing class and providing 100 percent customer service.”

As his company name “Marvin’s Complimentary Shoe Shine,” implies, Earle’s team does not charge a set price for shoe shine services, for shoe laces, for glued-back-on heels, or for the reconditioning magic they perform on purses, belts and bags. Instead, they make their money from tips. And while Earle said sometimes people distracted by their cell phones don’t leave a tip, most customers tip an average of $7.

Rick Evans has owned the Shine on the Go shoe shine stand at Missouri’s Kansas City International Airport for eight years and is especially proud of his shoe shine chair, which was made for him by the wood shop teacher from a local high school.

Evans adopted a “no set price,” policy about two years ago and declares it a positive move for his customers and for the bottom line of his business. “The policy creates repeat customers,” said Evans, “They like the idea that they get to set their price and most people are very fair.”

Courtesy Denver Int’l Airport

The shoe shiners at Executive Shine staff stands in all three concourses at Denver International Airport work on an average of 400 to 600 pairs of shoes, boots, and occasional sneakers – as well as belts and bags – every day. Here too, customers get to decide what they’ll pay for the work performed and “It’s not uncommon to see a small line of passengers waiting for a shoe shine,” according to Denver airport spokeswoman Daria Serna.

“Passengers today are just as likely as they were 40 years ago to want to look their best when they arrive at their destination,” said Serna “As long as this service continues to be in demand, we expect the airport shoe shine to continue to thrive.”

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Fliers love Orlando Int’l Airport – and other new rankings

This year Orlando International Airport (MCO) gets top ranking for satisfaction among the “mega” airports in J.D. Power’s 2017 North America Airport Satisfaction Study.

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) came in second and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas ranked third, with scores of 778, 767 and 765,  respectively, out of a possible score of 1000.

Among large airports, John Wayne Airport in Orange County topped the list with a score of 796, followed by Tampa International Airport (795) and Dallas Love Field (790).

Sacramento International Airport got the highest marks among the medium airports (810), followed by Indianapolis International Airport (807), and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (806).

The study, one of several ‘biggies’ that come out each year, ranks traveler satisfaction with mega, large, and medium North American airports by weighin six factors (in order of importance): terminal facilities; airport accessibility; security check; baggage claim; check-in/baggage check; food, beverage and retail.

J.D. Power notes that ratings are up 18 points overall compared to last year’s all-time high, due to a 25-point increase in satisfaction with security checks (thanks to a drop in TSA staffing issues) and more satisfaction with check-in/baggage check (+19 points) and food, beverage, and retail (+15 points).  Self-service bag-check kiosks and other bag-tagging technologies got credit for raising satisfaction with the baggage check process.

Here are the Top 10 airports in each category:

“Mega” airports:

  1. Orlando International Airport
  2. Detroit Metroplitan International Airport
  3. McCarran International Airport
  4. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
  5. Denver International Airport
  6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport
  7. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
  8. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport
  9. San Francisco Internaitonal Airport
  10. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Large Airports

  1. John Wayne Airport
  2. Tampa International Airport
  3. Dallas Love Field
  4. Nashville International Airport
  5. Portland International Airport
  6. Willliam P. Hobby Airport (Houston)
  7. San Diego International Airport
  8. Reagan National Airport
  9. Salt Lake City International Airport
  10. Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport

Medium Airports

  1. Sacramento International Airport
  2. Indianpolis International Airport
  3. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport
  4. Jacksonville International Airport
  5. Palm Beach International Airport
  6. Southwest Florida International Airport
  7. Pittsburgh International Airport
  8. Raleigh-Durham International Airport
  9. Buffalo Niagara International Airport
  10. Ontario International Airport

You can see the full lists and the scoring here.

Free movies & games at Frankfurt Airport


If you have to get to the airport really early – or wait around for a few hours during a layover – why not take in a movie?

You could watch it on your computer or tablet of course, but an increasing number of airports are showing movies – for free – in their own movie theaters.

The latest to add this cinematic amenity is the Germany’s Frankfurt Airport, which has set up two “Movie World’s” in Terminal 1, on Piers A and Z, to show full-length movies, documentaries and some popular series.

The screening areas don’t have rows of seats, but are set up in a living-room style, with carpeting, couches and small niche seating areas, with TV screens. Each theater can accommodate 22 people in eight separate viewing niches and, like airplane entertainment systems, travelers can choose what language to watch a film in and when to start it.

There are a handful of other airports that offer movie theaters for travelers,  including Portland International Airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Sinagpore’s Changi Airport, Hong Kong International Airport and some others. I’ve wrote about airport movie theaters in one of my “At the Airport” columns on USA TODAY.

No movies? How about gaming?

For those who would rather play computer games than watch a movie on a layover, Frankfurt Airport has also opened a second Gaming World offering free, controller-based, interactive games such as FIFA, NBA and racing and a variety of others. “Scientists have shown that playing video games helps overcome jet lag,” says Frankfort Airport operator, Fraport, and these games “have the extra benefit of reactivating tired limbs after hours of sitting still in the plane.”

Not sure if that’s true, but free games – and movies – are certainly welcome airport amenities.

Look for Movie World at Frankfurt Airport in Terminal by Gate A58 and Gate Z58 and find the Gaming World areas in Terminal one by Gate A52 and Gate Z54.


Don’t just sit there: learn CPR at these airports

Hands-only CPR training unit at Chicago O’Hare Airport

As helpful airport amenities go, Hands-Only CPR training kiosks can be lifesavers.

The American Heart Association already has these machines at six airports:

  • O’Hare International Airport (ORD): Terminal 2 by Gates E1, E2 and E3
  • Indianapolis International Airport (IND): Terminal A, Gate 8
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): Concourse A between Gates A11 and A15
  • Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI): Concourse B, Gate B7
  • Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW): Terminal E between E21 and E31
  • Harrisburg International Airport (MDT): Concourse B

Now three more machines are coming online:

  • Cleveland Hopkins International: behind the Central Checkpoint – starting July 24
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International: Concourse A, Gates A6-A22 – starting Aug 1
  • Orlando International Airport: entrance to the Main Food Court.

The machines offer a five-minute course in the Hands-Only CPR technique and can really help save lives: more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside the hospital each year and about 20 percent occur in public places such as airports. Performing CPR right away can double or triple a victim’s chance of surviving.

Each kiosk has a touch screen with a short video that provides an overview of Hands-Only CPR, followed by a practice session on a rubber torso and a 30-second test.  The kiosk gives feedback on hand placement and the depth and rate of  compresssions.

Not sure this works? In 2016 Matt Lickebrock spent 5 minutes learning the CPR technique on a machine at DFW International Airport in 2015 and few days later learned his new skill to save the life of his buddy, Sean Ferguson after he was struck by lightning in a parking lot at the University of Dayton. That’s Ferguson in the pic below learning the technique too.

Photos courtesy American Heart Association


Finally! Apps to deliver food & merchandise to the gate

My “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY this month is about an airport amenity many travelers have been wishing for:

An app-powered service debuting this week at Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) — and a similar one set to roll out at San Diego International Airport (SAN) in August — allows passengers to order food, drinks and products that are for sale anywhere inside the airport and have the items delivered to them at the gate.

If gate delivery catches on, it could be a game-changer for the passenger experience and a big boost for the bottom line at airports.

Solving the ‘gate hugger’ problem

The developers of Airport Sherpa (now at BWI) and At Your Gate (soon at SAN) have research showing that American fliers are verified “gate huggers”: Once through the airport security checkpoint, a majority of travelers head straight for their gate, grab a seat in the hold area or nearby and stay put.

It doesn’t matter if their flight is leaving in an hour — or three.

For travelers, gate-hugging can be a problem because passengers who don’t stray from their gates miss out on the upgraded dining and shopping options now offered at many airports. Gate-hugging also means airport food and retail outlets miss out on potential sales. And it is rents and fees generated from those sales that make up an increasing percentage of the operating budgets at airports.

Bringing mobile carts stocked with snacks, sodas, magazines and other items into gate areas is one solution HMSHost has tried in an effort to serve gate-huggers in airports in Honolulu, Maui, Chicago (O’Hare) and Memphis.

Another strategy, first introduced in 2009 at JetBlue’s JFK Terminal 5 and now available in almost a dozen OTG-managed airport terminals in North America, is iPad-enhanced seating areas in gate hold areas where passengers can order food, drinks and products from nearby restaurants and shops.

But in an age in which people use their mobile phones to get pretty much anything delivered to their doorstep, being able to order something from the other side of the terminal, or from a restaurant or shop in a completely different terminal, is a welcome “Why hasn’t this already happened?” next step.

Sit down. Order up.

Airport Sherpa has partnered with airport retail and food concession operator Airmall to introduce on-demand gate-delivery service at BWI this week. The company plans to expand the service to other airports around the country in short order.

The service “will enhance the passenger experience and give travelers access to hundreds of stores across terminals,” said Patrick DellaValle, CEO of Airport Sherpa.

For passengers, it will mean “even more choices, more convenience and more ways to experience the numerous local, regional and national offerings here at BWI Marshall,” said Brett Kelly, vice president of Airmall Maryland. “Now someone traveling out of the D Concourse at BWI can order sushi from the A Concourse, and someone on the B Concourse can get a burger from the D Concourse, whereas before they did not have access between those concourses to go get it themselves,” Kelly said.

Gate-delivery service not only expands the reach of the potential passenger spend for airport vendors, “It can save a sale that might not have otherwise happened,” Kelly added.

The cost of convenience

The Airport Sherpa app is free to download, but there is a gate-delivery fee of $3.99 to $7.99, depending on how far the delivery person, or Sherpa, has to go to make a delivery in the airport.

Deliveries made by At Your Gate, rolling out in August at San Diego International Airport, will initially have a flat $6.99 delivery fee.

Airport Sherpa reps say tipping the delivery person is currently “not expected or accepted,” but tipping may eventually be offered via the app “to ensure that all transactions are cashless.”

At Your Gate plans to have a tipping option built into its app.

Both services promise to keep delivery time to a minimum.

Airport Sherpa says it will calculate delivery time for each order based on preparation time from the store and the time it will take the Sherpa to walk from the store to the delivery location. “We also have controls in place to prevent a customer from placing an order that would arrive very close to or after boarding time has begun,” DellaValle said.

At Your Gate plans to give travelers a 10-minute delivery window.

Will travelers bite?

Convenience will outweigh worries about delivery fees for many business travelers.

“I have spent more than my share of time running around airports looking for things I need during a business trip. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t love that service,” said Joel Horn, former president of Pacific Coast Canola.

“On a tight connection I would like this service, especially for a high-test shot of caffeine or a book,” said Rich McClear, a media adviser based in Sitka, Alaska. “And if I could get a quirky souvenir gift that is emblematic of the area, that would be cool.”

But some travelers don’t see a need for the service.

“I like to get up and walk around the airport, since I’ll be sitting for an entire flight,” said Jen Billock Young, a journalist based in Trevor, Wis. “I’m too cheap,” said Adam Woog, a writer and teacher from Seattle.

Not just a win for passengers

For the San Diego International Airport gate-delivery service, At Your Gate is partnering with Grab, a mobile-ordering app that currently lets travelers preorder food for pickup at 150 concessions in 18 airports. The team plans to offer gate delivery in other airports as well.

The At Your Gate project has the seal of approval from SAN’s passenger experience-oriented Innovation Lab and “the hope is that the service will provide convenience to passengers, flight crews and employees working at the airport and extend the reach of the individual concession beyond their front door,” said Rick Beliotti, SAN’s director of innovation and small business development.

“Gate delivery is a logical extension of the on-the-demand economy that up to now just hasn’t existed in airports,” said David Henninger, At Your Gate president/COO/CMO. “Traveling is really hard. I want this to be the bright spot in the day.”