Airport guides

Airport symbols & signs: how do they happen?

My “At the Airport” column this month on USA TODAY is all about how some symbols or ‘pictograms’ were developed for airport amenities.  Here’s the story, plus a bonus video of flipping signs at Newark  Liberty International Airport.

 

It wasn’t that long ago that airports across the country were struggling with how to regulate ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft that were providing taxi-like pick-up and drop-off rides at terminals but, unlike taxis, were operating without permits.

Some airports imposed all-out bans; others sued the ride-hailing companies, issued cease and desist orders, or issued tickets with large fines to app-hailed drivers venturing onto airport property.

Today, most airports have deals in place with one or more ride-hailing companies. However, in the race to begin working relationships, airports across the country adopted different terms and a wide variety of signs and icons to point passengers to their app-hailed rides. That causes confusion for both travelers and drivers and adds to the curbside congestion at many airports.

 

 

A new airport ride-hailing icon recently adopted by Los Angeles International and, soon, by many other airports, should help solve the problem.

The term is “Ride App Pickup.” And the icon, or pictogram, is a smartphone symbol containing a mapping pin and car with two riders.

Many signs and symbols at airports are standardized and federally-mandated. But like the symbol for pet-relief areas now familiar at many airports, the symbol for ride-app gathering areas is not.

“After a long trip, the last thing a traveler needs is confusion as to where they need to go to catch a ride or meet their Uber or Lyft driver,” said Keith Wilschetz, Deputy Executive Director for Operations and Emergency Management at Los Angeles World Airports.

To gain some industry consensus about at the airport ride hailing locations, the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) put together a working group of more than a dozen U.S. airports and several ride-hailing service providers. “Symbol guru” Mies Hora, founder and president of Ultimate Symbol, was then hired to help create a well-designed, common ride-hailing sign for airports to use.

“Needs like this are arising at airports all the time, but there hasn’t been a central way to develop the best symbol,” said Hora, “This was done the right way: they hired me – an expert in symbols –  and I was able to create both the nomenclature and the symbol sign that will now be used to create consistency for this service across the U.S. and in other countries.”

If widely adopted as expected, “That standardization of terms and icons for ride app services promises to more seamlessly connect passengers and drivers at LAX and other airports across the country,” said Jared Pierce, Director of AAAE Services.

Meditating on an icon for airport yoga rooms

 

When San Francisco International Airport introduced the first yoga room in an airport, it called on the team at Gensler, the architecture firm that reimagined and redesigned much of SFO and other airports, to come up with an icon to let passengers know the new space was there.

 

“We started with SFO’s existing symbol system and brainstormed ideas that would be simple, elegant and easily recognizable,” said Tom Horton, a Gensler senior associate on the team that works with SFO, “There are lots of symbols giving you a warning or telling you things you can’t do; we wanted to create a symbol that is calming and welcoming.”

The pictogram SFO settled on depicts a familiar yoga pose and guides passengers to the airport’s two yoga rooms. And while Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports have so far adopted different signs and symbols to lead passengers to their yoga rooms, SFO’s yoga room pictogram is likely to become the standard for this much-appreciated airport amenity.

 

In progress: an icon for all-gender restrooms

 

Family and all-gender, single-stall restrooms, with corresponding signs, are becoming standard at many airports. But the Gensler team is now developing a symbol for the all-gender, multi-stall restrooms that will become standard, by law, at SFO and other public buildings in the City and County of San Francisco.

The traditional ‘men’ and ‘women’ icons on restroom signs are easily recognizable. But for ‘all-gender’ restrooms, which will have community sink areas and multiple stalls with floor to ceiling partitions, a gendered symbol won’t be appropriate.

Gensler’s icon, still in the testing phases at SFO, is “straightforward, and speaks to exactly what you’ll find in the restroom – a toilet,” said Gensler’s Tom Horton. “The rational was to take any type of cultural contention out of the symbol, strip it back, and make it just about the fixtures in the room.”

 Fun with signs 

 

 

Of course, there’s are lots of other reasons – and ways – to use signs and symbols at airports. Some of those can not only provide information, they can also be fun.

In OTG’s United Terminal at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, the new Yume restaurant featuring a ramen bar, sushi exhibition kitchen, Asian bakery and Asian biergarten is ‘signed’ with hundreds of red lanterns and 84 waving maneki-neko “lucky cats.”

This cuts through the visual ‘noise’ at the airport and signals that something different is happening here,” said Eric Brinker, OTG’s Vice President of Experience.

And at OTG’s Global Bazaar areas in Newark Liberty International Airport, several food stands are equipped with signs that flip and change at 11 a.m. each morning.

“The idea of having ribs or burgers at 5 A.M. is not really appealing,” said Brinker, so OTG worked with architecture and design firm Rockwell Group to create spaces that house one restaurant in the morning and another later in the day.

“For example, Eggy Weggy becomes Custom Burger at the switch-over,” said Brinker, “The back of the house is the same but the front of the house transforms, like a Broadway set, with flipping signs that are not only efficient but very Instagram-worthy.”

 

 

Are there some airport signs you love – or hate?  Share you comments –  and pictures, if you have them, in the comments section.

Top airports? Las Vegas, Orlando, John Wayne, Buffalo, says J.D. Power

Despite record passenger volumes and lots of construction projects,  travelers are more satisfied with the North America airports than ever before. That’s according to this year’s J.D. Power Satisfaction Study, which was released today.

The study breaks down airports by “mega,”  large and medium and evaluates for five factors (in order of importance): check-in; food, beverage and retail; accessibility; terminal facilities; and baggage claim.

Using a 1,000 point scale, the overall passengers satisfaction for airports overall was 761. That’s 12 points higher than last year’s study.

There was a tie for first place for  ‘mega’ airports category: Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and Orlando International Airport, with a score of 781.

“We are so proud of our No. 1 ranking in the mega airport category,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, McCarran International Airport’s director of aviation, “This honor validates the hard work and collaboration among our airport partners as we have embraced a commitment to improving the passenger travel experience through shared customer service values. At McCarran, we know we are the first and last impression of Las Vegas, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

The team at Orlando International is equally proud:

“We remain dedicated to our core goal of providing travelers and guests with an outstanding
experience, ‘The Orlando Experience’, as they travel through the airport,” said Frank
Kruppenbacher, Chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. “We are gratified that
the efforts of the Board, staff and our airport partners to provide the traveling public with the
finest airport experience continue to be recognized.”

In the mega airport category, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (775) ranks third and Denver International Airport (771) ranks fourth.

Among large airports, John Wayne Airport, Orange County ranks first, with a score of 815. Dallas Love
Field (810) ranks second and Portland (Ore.) International Airport (804) ranks third.

“Not only did John Wayne Airport receive the highest score of any airport in the study, scoring 815 points on a 1,000-point scale, we also received the highest score in four of the six study categories, said Airport Director Barry Rondinella.  “John Wayne Airport has earned this distinction due to our team’s commitment to providing a superior guest experience. Every guest, every day, receives a superior level of care and attention.”

In the medium airport category, Buffalo Niagara International Airport ranks highest with a score of
814. Indianapolis International Airport (811) ranks second and Fort Myers/Southwest Florida
International (810) ranks third.

Of course, here at StuckatTheAirport.com, we love all airports equally, but here are the full rankings from the report. If you can’t read them on this post, you can find them here.

              “Mega” Airports

                                              Large Airports 

                                   Medium Airports

 

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.

 

Greetings from Missouri’s Springfield-Branson National Airport

I’m visiting Springfield, Missouri this week to join the festivities for the opening of the Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium and had a while to explore the public areas of the Springfield-Branson National Airport on arrival while waiting for a ride into town.

In the soaring lobby/baggage claim area, there’s a replica of the Wright Brothers 1903 Flyer and  a 3/4 scale  Curtis Jenny, the first mass produced American aircraft. After World War I, stunt pilots used this type of plane in airshows and signage at the airport tells us  that in May 1918 the US Postal Service began using Jennys for the first scheduled U.S. Air Mail Service.

EZ-1, the first fire rescue vehicle used by the Springfield Municipal Airport, is also on display.

SGF airport has an art gallery with mulitple display areas in the pre and post-security areas.  The current exhibit  – Come Fly with Me – is up through mid-November.

artwork by Christine Riutzel

And in the newstand I found a great cow-tipping t-shirt.  Is that really a thing?

 

 

 

Pleasant perks at Portland International Airport

 

2_PDX_Foot-forward selfies with the PDX carpet are very popular at Portland Int'l Airport

 

Disclosure: this story was sponsored by National Car Rental

As the author of this blog, a monthly USA TODAY column and various features about how to make the most of your time stuck at just about any airport, I’m often asked which airport is my favorite.

The short answer is always, “The airport where I board the plane that takes me to a new adventure, and the one where I board the plane that takes me home.”

But when pressed, I admit there are a few airports I’ll actually build a trip around.

Oregon’s Portland International Airport is one of them.

Its perks are plentiful and, like the city, PDX airport is super environmentally-conscious and kind of quirky.

For example, an assembly/repair station and a tool check-out where cyclists can borrow a pedal wrench or air pump encourage biking to the airport. And the recently-replaced but hipster-embraced terminal carpet lives on in everything from coasters and caps to dog leashes and luggage tags made from remnants of the old rug.

Shopping for these and other unique-to-the-region items at PDX is a pleasure, in part because Oregon has no sales tax and the more than 60 stores and restaurants must offer their goods and services at prices no higher than what would be charged at off-airport locations.

And there are plenty of Oregon-based venues where you’ll want to spend your money, including the pre-security branches of Oregon-based Pendleton, Nike, Columbia Sportswear and Powell’s Books, the selection of Portland’s favorite food trucks, and at the post-security outlet of House Spirits Distillery, where the makers of Aviation American gin and a variety of other regionally-themed, small-batch spirits offer samples.

PDX also has a pop-up Farm-to-Table stand offering Oregon produce, wine and cheese; a spa; a barber shop; a great art collection; and an extensive schedule of vendor events and live entertainment that extends through the weekend. And, later this summer, Portland’s non-profit Hollywood Theater will open an 800-square foot in-airport mini-movie theater that will run short films telling Oregon stories.

While spending time inside PDX airport is a delight, you’ll eventually want to head outside and explore.

The MAX light rail line makes the trip to downtown in 38 minutes for $2.50, but renting a car is almost as easy and allows visitors the freedom to explore everything the Portland area has to offer.

On-airport rental car companies are on the ground floor of parking garage P1, across from baggage claim, and the National Car Rental location here has an Emerald Aisle. That means Emerald Club members can bypass the counter, choose their own car and be immediately on their way to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area just 20 miles away, Mount Hood, an easy 60 miles away, or the Oregon beaches, which are less than 100 miles from the airport.

Or you might not want to drive very far: the Cascade Station shopping center, home to restaurants and shops, including an IKEA, is located just outside the airport grounds.