Mother’s Day

Following the flowers: how they fly from the farm to you

My “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY this month is all about how some of the world’s most beautiful roses get from a farm in Bogota, Colombia, to and through airports, and to you.

Here’s a slightly shortened version of that column:

Mother’s Day is around the corner and, according the National Retail Federation, this year American consumers will honor their moms with gifts of special outings, spa visits, meals, jewelry, electronics, greeting cards and $2.6 billion worth of flowers.

Many of the carnations, roses and bouquets moms receive will hail from farms around Bogota, Colombia. The high altitude, temperate region ranks as one of the world’s largest exporters of cut flowers and each day there’s a tightly choreographed race to get millions of freshly harvested flowers to the airport and onto planes for delivery to customers around the world.

Last week I joined a team from United Airlines to see how roses make their way from one farm near Bogota to Houston and, possibly, to you.

At Jaroma Roses, 79 acres of greenhouses produce more than 30 million roses each year in colors ranging from white and pink to green and red with dozens of shades in between and with names such as Moody Blues, High & Twinkle, Freedom, Lemonade, Showgirl and Hot Merengue.

“There are more than 2000 different kinds of roses,” company president and owner Jaime Rodriguez told me at the start of a several-hour farm tour, “Here we produce about 50 different kinds. The bestsellers are always the red ones, but breeders are always creating new combinations and unusual colors that are also very good sellers.”

This week is peak shipping time for Mother’s Day and teams of Jaroma Roses’ more than 600 workers are in the greenhouses everyday cutting flowers by 6 a.m.

From the greenhouses, freshly cut roses are gathered by color and taken by cart, or by the farm’s new ski lift-like conveyor system, to workers along long tables in a large cooled room. There, the flowers are measured, cut, graded and bundled into corrugated paper sleeves. The sleeves then move chilled storerooms where the temperature is set between 37 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit in order to keep them as fresh as possible before they’re boxes loaded onto refrigerated trucks that head out for Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport, over and hour away.

 

Like other farms, Jaroma Roses sells its flowers F.O.B. Bogota, which stands for ‘free on board’ (or ‘freight on board’) and means the buyer is responsible for arranging and paying the costs of shipment once the boxed flowers are delivered to the airport.

“The customer chooses the freight company,” said Rodriguez, “If we have a new customer who has not imported before, we recommend a company, but the customers deal directly with the cargo agency.”

The agencies, in turn, choose which airline they’ll use to ship the flowers onward to their final destinations in the U.S., Asia, Europe, Russia and other countries and, from Bogota and many other cities, there are multiple choice of carriers.

United Airlines, which a major freight agency has been using to ship Jaroma Roses to Houston and on to Japan, has room in the cargo holds of three commercial flights from Bogota each day: two 737s (one heading to Houston; the other to Newark) that can accommodate less than 1 ton of cargo and a 757 to Houston that could have room for up to 3 tons of cargo.

“Our competitors can offer similar or more capacity and there are a lot of freighters going from here to Miami daily,” said Andres Torres, International Cargo Sales manager for United in Bogota. “But we work hard to compete favorably in terms of transit time and quality of service. We check everything along the way and even the final customers in Japan have our cell numbers in case anything goes wrong.”

Torres says on some carriers flowers flying from Bogota may take five days to reach their destinations in Asia and Europe. “We offer three days,” said Torres “And if the United cargo holds from here are full we try to offer customers alternative routes using interline partnerships, most often DHL Aviation, to move the cargo to another city for connecting to another United flight.”

 In United’s cargo area at Bogota airport, the temperatures were cool as the flowers I saw headed for Houston were moved from the refrigerated trucks to and through machines that scan and weigh each box. The boxes were then loaded onto pallets, weighed again, and then sent into the cargo the hold on the plane, where temperatures for the flowers were set at a cool 50 degrees during the flight.

Promising to keep the flowers cool throughout their journey is important to help maintain freshness and secure business of course, but Torres says most companies shipping flowers these day also put sensors (thermographs) in the boxes that can record the temperature along the way.

“Every country has different rules for working with customs, security and the product,” said Kristian Scayola, United’s senior manager for cargo operation in the Americas, “But we need to project the flowers as part of the trust chain between the farm, the shipping agency, the airline and the customer.”

In Houston, United works closely with the perishable cargo handler dnata USA Cargo to transfer the flowers between flights or to local customers.

“Customs sometimes meets and inspects the flowers right when they come off the plane,” said Tom Hood, general manager of dnata cargo in Houston, “Other times they inspect a shipment once we have it here inside.” Agents from the US Department of Agriculture also come by for spot checks, he said.

Once off the plane, the pallets of flowers get moved to dnata’s cooled storage warehouse and then, as quickly as possible, into an even colder ‘pre-cooling’ room. There the small round flaps I had noticed cut into each end of the boxes in Bogota were opened and any warm air that may had built up inside the box during the flight is essentially sucked out and replaced by the much colder air in the room.

The pre-cooling process helps perk up and reanimate the flowers and prepares them for the next step of their journey, which may be U.S. florists readying for the Mother’s Day onslaught or for a flight to Japan or Russia, where the premium roses like those I’d seen snipped, bundled and boxed for shipment a day earlier in Columbia might end up being sold for upwards of $50 a stem.

Read the full column on USA TODAY and see two dozen photos from my trip here.

Airports celebrate Mother’s Day

 

2_Jacksonsville Internatinal Airport offers travelers carnations on Mother's Day and Valentine's Day

 

Mother’s Day weekend is being celebrated at airports around the country, starting today.

At Los Angeles International Airport, traveling mothers can get complimentary makeovers, hand massages and fragrance consultations, sample Godiva chocolates and enter raffles for prizes in front of DFS, post-security at the Tom Bradley Terminal (TBIT) on Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Airport staff will also be handing out chocolate roses to moms.

(A ticket for a flight at any LAX terminal will get you past the security checkpoint at TBIT)

Friday through Sunday at Miami International Airport (from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. pre-security and from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. post-security) MIA Ambassadors will be presenting moms with chocolate roses.

Moms at MIA can also enter a raffle for a $200 American Express gift card if they take a picture with a chocolate rose or with an “I’m a Mom, what’s your super power?” t-shirt at an MIA concession and post it to a MIA social media platform with the “ShopsAtMIA” tag.

And, as they have every year since 2009, volunteers at Jacksonville International Airport will likely be on duty with 1000 red, white and pink carnations for moms.

Airports mark Mother’s Day with flowers, pods & more

MAMAVA ON SITE

Nursing moms flying to or from JFK International Airport on JetBlue get a welcome new amenity on Wednesday with the unveiling of a Mamava lactation suite in T5.

The nursing “pods” are already in use at Vermont’s Burlington International Airport and Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport and there’s a growing list of airports that are doing their part to be truly “breastfeeding friendly.”

JetBlue’s nursing station is being installed at JFK T5 just in time for Mother’s Day and right now is scheduled to stay there for just six months, but the airline is hoping to make it permanent.

Mother’s Day is being celebrated at other airports as well.

Jacksonville Airport

Continuing a tradition, volunteer ambassadors at Florida’s Jacksonville International Airport will be handing out 1,000 carnations to passengers on Sunday, May 10.

And through May 10, passengers traveling through LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B and Philadelphia International Airport can take advantage of a sparkly Free Gift with Purchase offer.

Spend $100 in one or more shops and (while supplies last…) you can redeem the receipts for a multi-strand crystal and pearl bracelet. There’s also a Twitter contest to give away five of those bracelets (valued at $45) at each airport.

Details on both offers here and here.

elvis

And if you happen to be passing through Frankfurt International Airport on Mother’s Day, look for Elvis.

In addition to performances by a champion Elvis impersonator, there will be a rockabilly band, an acoustic trio singing Elvis songs and a exhibit of photos and souvenirs related to Elvis’s stint as a soldier.

There will also be a vintage car show in front of Terminal 1, contests and – for anyone who shows ups wearing an Elvis costume or a 1950s outfit, free entry to the airports’ observation deck, known as the Visitors’ Terrace.

 

Airports marking Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 12, and some airports around the country are doing their part to make moms happy.

JAX FLOWERS FOR MOM

“We are looking forward to the smiles – and a few tears – we experience each
year when our JAX Volunteer Ambassadors give out over 1,000 flowers at our
Mother’s Day Carnation Presentation,” said Bryan Long, Customer Service Manager for Florida’s Jacksonville International Airport.

At Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway International Airports moms will receive a complimentary flower seed pack at participating concessionaires. Look for the signs Friday, May 10 through Sunday, May 12.

SEED PACKET ORD

And at Miami International Airport, they will celebrating Mother’s Day from Friday, May 10 through Sunday, May 12 with a wide variety of fun free events, including a craft table for making Mother’s Day cards, foil-wrapped chocolate roses for moms, a ‘pick a pearl’ event with real pears in oysters, photo ops and more. Details, times, locations here.

Buying mom a gift?

At Philadelphia Int’l Airport, the shops in the Philadelphia Marketplace are offering a free gift with purchase through May 12. Spend $100 (pre-tax) at any retail store or combination of retail stores (food purchases excluded) and you’ll receive a free LOVE tote bag (while supplies last). All receipts must be from the same day. (Exchange receipts for a tote bag at either Heritage Books B/C Connector or Stellar Books D/E Connector. Limit one bag per customer.)

Louis C. Tiffany Dragonfly Embroidered Zip-Around Case

In New York, the Food & Shops at LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B will be offering a gift with purchase through May 12th as well. Travelers spending $100 or more at any retail store, or combination of retail stores, will receive a free dragonfly embroidered bag from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store. (Redeem receipts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store, located near Gates D, before security.)