Airport Terminals

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 share their secrets to success

What ‘secret weapons’ do airports use to make passengers happy? For my most recent “At the Airport” column on USA TODAY, I asked some of the ‘winners’ in the most recent JD Power suvey to share what they think makes their airports stand out against others.

Airports around the country are dealing wiht record high passenger volumes and a wave of major terminal construction projects. Yet, U.S. airports are doing a bang-up job of pleasing passengers.

That’s the major take-away from the 2018 North America Airport Satisfaction Study recently released by J.D. Power, which ranks everything from airlines and airports to electronics and cars.

The study says travelers’ overall satisfaction with airports is at a record high, based on factors such as terminal facilities; airport accessibility; security check; baggage claim; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail.

Of course, some airports rank higher in the study than others. And when we quizzed ‘winners’ about the secrets to their success, “a commitment to customer service” emerged as a universal theme. But so too did did a keen, good-hearted sense of competition.

The ‘mega’ airports

 

Among ‘mega’ airports – those serving more than 32.5 million annual passengers – Orlando International Airport (the 2017 category winner) and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas tied for first place.

Orlando International (MCO), Florida’s busiest airport, credits its return win to “a seamless arrival and departure experience that exceeds the needs of the traveler and instills a memorable imprint of the culture and environment of the region.”

The airport is meeting milestones in its $4.27 billion Capital Improvement Plan and has completed a variety of ‘passenger-pleasing’ projects ranging from improved Wi-Fi and baggage systems to a people mover system that transports passengers over waterways and landscape that evoke the Florida sense of place.

When McCarran International Airport (LAS) landed in the number 3 slot in J.D. Power’s ‘mega’ category last year, Rosemary Vassiliadis, Director of Aviation for Clark County, Nevada,  gathered her team together to strategize how to move up to first place.

“It’s personal for us,” said Vassiliadis, “Las Vegas is a destination city and our airport offers the first and last look for almost 50% of the people who visit. We want to let them know how much their visit means to us.”

To gain its first-place tie this year, LAS teams focused on upgrading terminal spaces, smoothing out checkpoint experiences and perfecting the “You’re in Vegas” vibe that includes slot machines, a neon “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, and a curated “Voices of Vegas” taped music program highlighting iconic Vegas acts and songs that name check the city.

At Detroit Metropolitan Airport (ranked third in this category this year) logo welcome mats have replaced industrial black runners. DTW officials also credit high passenger satisfaction ratings to amenities such as new nursing rooms, water bottle refill stations and light fixtures that can be programmed with seasonal and sport-team colors.

At Denver International Airport, which placed fourth in the ‘mega’ category this year, the secret to success is always looking for ways to “surprise and delight passengers,” said airport spokeswoman Emily Williams.

DEN offers everything from a Canine Airport Therapy Squad (that includes a cat) to airport events in an outdoor plaza that have featured a beer garden and an ice-skating rink.

And during its current terminal renovation project, DEN is having success delighting passengers with a series of “Pardon our dust” messages that embrace the conspiracy theories and rumors of alien inhabitants that date back to 1995, when the airport opened.

The best ‘large’ airports

Among ‘large’ airports serving 10 million to 32.4 million passengers California’s John Wayne Airport, in Orange County, ranked highest this year; Dallas Love Field ranked second and Oregon’s Portland International Airport ranked third.

John Wayne Airport 2006

With a departure curfew, passenger and flights caps and just 505 acres, “We’re a postage stamp of an airport, but passengers like our airport’s convenience.” said Deanne Thompson, spokeswoman for John Wayne Airport (SNA), which is located about an hour from LAX.

At SNA, passengers also appreciate ‘extras’ such as water bottle refill stations, pet relief areas, the vibrant art program and the nursing mothers lounge with adjustable lighting, said Thompson, “All amenities that make travel easy.”

Dallas Love Field Airport, which must contend with a gate cap, credits its customer satisfaction success to “personal touch and high-quality customer service.”

The airport offers a live weekday lunchtime music performance program, permanent and changing art exhibitions, a public piano, a children’s play area and information booths that are staffed from 5 a.m. until the last flight.

And at Oregon’s Portland International Airport, passengers enjoy the wide selection of local and regional shops and restaurants, true street pricing and a suite of amenities that includes a free movie theater, said PDX spokeswoman Kama Simonds.

“The secret sauce? The folks who work at PDX, who have an awesome sense of pride in the work they do and the travelers they interact with,” said Simonds, “And as we all know from when we’re travelers, that makes the whole experience that much better.”

The best ‘Medium’ airports

Among medium sized airports – those serving between 3 million and 9.9 million passengers – this year Buffalo Niagara International Airport ranks the highest, followed by Indianapolis International Airport and Fort Myers/Southwest Florida International.

 

In addition to focusing on customer service, “We also do things that go above and beyond,” said Kimberley Minkel, executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which operates the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The airport has a branch of the Anchor Bar where Buffalo chicken wings were invented and the second largest ‘Paws of Love’ therapy dog program in the country. Thanks in large part to BUF’s award winning snow removal team, the airport never closes.

Among its ‘secret weapons,’ Indianapolis International Airport cites its bright, wide-open spaces and amenities such as human-powered charging kiosks and an extensive permanent and rotating art exhibition program. Events at the airport often mirror what’s happening in town: i.e. during Indianapolis 500 season, IND hosts a panel with drivers sharing stories of their racing experiences.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0084.JPG

And a Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, “Our secret to success is the sense of place at our facilities,” said RSW spokeswoman Victoria Moreland, “In the terminal you can look out huge windows at the busy ramp and runway areas while sitting at a table under a palm tree.”

Do you agree with these rankings? And have you noticed these ‘secret weapons’ employed?

Atlanta International Airport shows off lighted canopy

Hatsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport recently tested the lighting on the first three sections of its North Terminal canopy.

ATL Airport - green canopy

This canopy is one of a half dozen major construction projects under way at ATL as part of a major 20-year long development program, dubbed ATL Next, that the airport says is designed to boost capacity, renew and replace existing facilities and “enhance ATL’s aesthetic appeal.”

There will be canopies in front of the North and South passenger terminals and the full length of each canopy will be covered in a plastic material that will be able to be illuminated in different colors and patterns by thousands of embedded LED lights.

Work on the ATL’s North Canopy should be done by the fall. The South canopy is expected to be completed in Fall 2019.

The airport did a test run on the lights on part of the North Canopy last week. Neutral white light is expected to be the default color but on special occasions the canopies will be illuminated to mark specific events such as red, white and blue to honor Independence Day.

Other options already under consideration: red and black to celebrate a Falcons Super Bowl victory, or green to mark Earth Day.

Of course, ATL isn’t the first to get a cool lighted architectural feature.

Chicago’s O’Hare Airport has the “Sky’s the Limit” underground neon walkway.

OHARE NEON TUNNEL courtesy ORD

Detroit Metropolitan Airport has a lighted tunnel.

 

And Los Angeles International Airport has lighted pylons at it entrance that are often lit up in different color patterns to honor a holiday or special event.

What other cool lighted architectural features at airports should we add to this list?

Portland tops T+L list of 10 Best Domestic Airports – again

For the sixth year running, Portland International Airport, with it free movie theater, cool shops, celebrity carpet and long list of other amenties, has come out on top of the  Travel + Leisure’s list of Best Domestic Airports for 2018.

And, as you might imagine, the folks there are awfully pleased.

“The credit for this accomplishment goes to our Portland International Airport team—the more than 10,000 who always deliver the best travel experience you’ll find anywhere,” Curtis Robinhold, Port of Portland executive director said in a statement. “The caring spirit of our PDX team, served up with local restaurants and shops, gives PDX its much-loved heart and character, reflecting the very best our region offers.”

Here are all 10 airports airports that made this year’s list

1. Portland International Airport

2. Indianapolis International Airport

3. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

4. Tampa International Airport

5. Pittsburgh International Airport

6. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

7. Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport

8. John Wayne Airport, Orange County, CA

9. Palm Beach International Airport

10. Dallas Love Field

Travel + Leisure has been inviting readers to rate airports since 2013 on categories such as access, check-in and security, restaurants/bars, shopping and design.

Do you agree with the list? Which airports would you add?

LAX adds electronic info booths – that take selfies

Need information – or a selfie – at Los Angeles International Airport?

You’re in luck.  LAX  has installed self-service assistance kiosks in Terminal 2 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal that offer it all on a 36-inch touch screens.

Check the kiosk screen for terminal maps, concession and retail information, emergency information, transportation options, and traffic conditions. As a bonus, the screens allow passengers to take email-able selfies and offer the option to get information from a live person via a real-time video chat.