Airport Terminals

First look at Jewel Changi Airport attraction in Singapore

With a butterfly garden, pool, free movie theaters and much, much more, Singapore’s Changi Airport is all about the wow.

With the opening of the Jewel Changi Airport attraction, this award-winning airport is even more wow.

Located right in front of Terminal 1, on space formerly occupied by a parking lot, the Jewel is a large dome-shaped structure with a lush “Forest Valley,” a Rain Vortex that’s now the tallest indoor waterfall in the world, a 130-cabin YotelAIR hotel and 280 shops and restaurants.

I was on-site today for the opening-day preview events. Here are some snaps from the day.

More details about the attraction to come.

Pittsburgh Airport getting a swank makeover

Pittsburgh International Airport is getting a $1.1 billion makeover that includes a new terminal with 51-gates, a modern check-in concourse and a new bag-claim system.

The pictures look so appealing that when the new terminal opens in 2023, they may have to seriously consider trading in the PIT airport code for something, well, prettier.

The new airport terminal will be built next to PIT’s current airside facility, between Concourses C and D, and is designed by award-winning architect Luis Vidal, who designed Heathrow Airport’s T2, and by San Francisco-based Gensler.

While some things may change as the project gets underway, airport officials say the new terminal building will have an emphasis on sustainability, with both indoor and outdoor green plazas and gathering spaces.

The new terminal brings together check-in, ticketing, security and baggage operations into one facility, with a separate level for departing and arriving passengers. There will also be an expanded TSA checkpoint, shorter walking distances and additional space for artwork, concessions and other amenities.

“This new terminal, inspired by the beauty, tech renaissance and people of our region will integrate seamlessly into the great design of the existing Airside Terminal,” said Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis. “In considering this design, we looked at function first, then form, to construct a building that will be both iconic, practical and affordable and that can be easily adapted as the technology and transportation needs of our community change.”

Let’s just hope PIT keeps the dinosaur, the Calder mobile, the shrine to Mister Rogers and the other amenities that make PIT a bit quirky and endearing.

(All photos courtesy of Pittsburgh International Airport)

Testing, testing: Does this airport terminal work?

Earlier this month, more than 200 ‘fake’ passengers showed up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.  

They weren’t working a scam. And they weren’t there to protest anything.

Instead, they were there volunteering to help Sea-Tac airport test the operational readiness of a satellite terminal undergoing its first major expansion and modernization in 45 years.

Happy to be spending their Saturday morning at the airport, 3-year-old Ari Weinstein and his 6-year-old brother, Micah, were toting tiny rolling suitcases for the day’s pretend flight.

“We thought it would be fun to check-out the new airport addition and see how easy it was for kids,” said the boys’ dad, Ben Weinstein, a Boeing engineer, “I’m also curious to see how the latest airport design works with new airplanes.”

72-year-old Vicki Lockwood and her 93-year-old mom, Ruby Griffin, had signed up to be testers too.   

“I wanted to see what was happening so I can tell my friends at the senior center what it’s all about,” said Griffin.

Travel agent Rufo Calvo volunteered as a tester so he could get an early look at the new terminal area and tell his clients what to expect. And Toffee Coleman, who travels four or times a month for her job in marketing and sales, was curious to find out what the expanded terminal would offer for business travelers. “I hope it measures up to the central terminal in terms of ease of use, amenities and accessibility,” she said.  

Opening day for the first phase of Sea-Tac airport’s expanded North Satellite was less than two weeks away. The bathrooms, drinking fountains, food concessions and visual paging systems weren’t quite ready, but this “passenger-flow simulation” was testing the journey between the main terminal and the expanded satellite as well as the process of boarding and deplaning a flight at one of the new gates.

“We’ll also be asking the volunteers if the temperature in the terminal is comfortable and if they can hear the overhead announcements clearly,” said Charles Goedken, Sea-Tac’s senior manager for Operational Readiness, Activation and Transition, or ORAT, which is the system of best practices many airports use from the design stage forward to make sure a new airport or new terminal is ready for opening day.

“What you try to do is to start working early with the planning and construction team so that when the airport or the facility is open everyone knows what to do,” said Lance Lyttle, the managing director of Sea-Tac Airport, “You don’t want to find issues on opening day; you want to find them before opening day.”

Lyttle was with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport when each opened new terminals and says no airport wants to relive the opening glitches experienced by Heathrow and Denver airports.  

In the early 1990s, the high-profile failure of an expensive, computerized baggage-handling system delayed the opening of Denver International Airport by 16 months and increased the construction budget by millions of dollars.

After that, “DEN returned to manual baggage systems,” said Denver International Airport spokeswoman Alex Renteria.

In 2008, the grand opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport’s turned to mush thanks to a cascading series of staffing and baggage-handling problems that forced British Airways to suspend luggage check-in and cancel more than 200 flights over four days. Thousands of passengers missed their flights and more than 15,000 pieces of luggage were delayed.  

“If you have a failed opening of a facility it lives as part of your reputation forever,” said Sea-Tac Airport’s Lance Lyttle, “People use it as an example. And not in a good way. Heathrow underestimated the value of ORAT. But the next time [the opening of Terminal 2, in 2014] they went overboard and got it right.”

New terminals and terminal upgrade projects are underway at all three New York-area airports and at airports in Istanbul, Singapore, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and many other cities and testing is key to those projects.

At Turkey’s new international in Istanbul, which is expected to be fully open by March, 2019, the ORAT (Operational Readiness, Activation and Transition) team reported for duty more than 20 months ago.

“More than 60,000 airport community staff have gone thru a familiarization and training program,” said Stephan Schwolgin, Istanbul Airport’s ORAT project manager, “More than 175 trials have been conducted with nearly 10.000 fake passengers and 7 real aircraft.”

The experience of unbiased, fake passengers is valuable for gathering feedback on everything from wayfinding and flight information display systems to walking distances and the availability of power sockets, said Schwolgin.

On February 6 Finland’s Helsinki Airport will hold a test day with more than 200 fake passengers at the airport’s new central plaza, called Aukio, which will serve both departing and arriving passengers.

“We will test the functionality of services and passenger paths, especially the state-of-the-art security check with a full body scanner,” said Joni Sundelin, Helsinki Airport’s executive director, “The trial day includes testing not only of the passenger flow, signage, restaurants and bathroom facilities, but also services and processes for passengers with reduced mobility.”

During a previous test of a different part of the airport, “There was a funny issue with the toilets,” said Sundelin. “Test passengers were wearing brightly colored vest and when the testers entered the bathroom all the automatic water taps with motion sensors activated. Apparently the sensors were so sensitive they recognized the bright yellow and orange vests moving even from the distance,” said Sundelin.

When testing with fake passengers for San Francisco International Airport’s Boarding Area E, “We learned there was some signage too small or not universal enough,” said Kristi Hogan, Associate Vice President, Transportation for engineering firm AECOM, “No one could find the yoga room.”

For a passenger-flow simulation scheduled for June 6 in advance of the July opening of 9 new gates at SFO’s Terminal 1, volunteers of all ages and abilities will be asked to test the terminal signage; flush toilets and use faucets and automatic hand dryers in the bathrooms; locate flight display boards; test the Wi-Fi and make phone calls on their cell phones.

“We’ll have some fake passengers arrive on the BART train and have others get dropped off at the curb,” said Hogan, “And we’ll also ask them to become arriving passengers and make their way to baggage claim, to taxis or to BART.

Trials and simulations will also soon be underway in advance of the scheduled May 15 opening of the new terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)

“These simulations will test everything from parking, ticket counters, security checkpoints, flight monitors, restrooms, gates, concessions, emergency exits, lost and found, and ground transportation,” said MSY spokeswoman Erin Burns.

Emergency response systems, baggage systems, PA systems and everything on the facility maintenance side will also get tested, said Burns, including simultaneous toilet flushes & sink use, seating, power access and severe weather operations.

Employees and fake passengers will performed many of these tests but, with perhaps the Denver and Heathrow terminal debacles in mind, Burns said data on how MSY passengers might experience the facility will also be gathered during sneak peaks events held in the terminal right up to the official opening.

Best airport amenities 2018

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If you travel you’re going to end up spending a lot of time in airports.

And if you spend a lot of time in airports, you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting around.

And once you’re done with that, you’ll hopefully start taking a look around at the shops, the restaurants, the views out the window and the often truly creative amenities designed to make your dwell time more enjoyable – or at least a bit less unbearable.

For my USA TODAY column, called “At the Airport“, I do a round-up of the best amenities rolled out by airports each year.

For 2017, celebrated perks included the 24-hour ‘microcinema’ at Portland International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport’s introduction of “MyPITpass,” which allows the non-flying public to visit the secure side of the airport, and the opening of ROAM Fitness, an in-airport gym at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The 2018 list of “Best Airport Amenities” is full of fresh new amenities and creative bonus activities.

Here are some of the best. Drop a note if I missed one of your favorites:

Go with the glow

Airport restroom lines get long when users can’t tell which stalls are empty.

To solve that problem, in April, Los Angeles International Airport debuted a pilot program in one set of Terminal 4 restrooms using Tooshlights’ smart latches on stall doors. When a door is closed, a light over the stall turns red; when the latch is open, the light turns green. The latches are paired with the Infax smart restroom technology, which tracks usage and real-time feedback to improve restroom cleaning schedules. 

In July, a set of restrooms at ATL got smart technology in a set of loos too.

See ya’ later alligator

The list of airports welcoming therapy dogs into the terminals keeps expanding. In 2017 Denver International Airport for upping the ante by adding Xeli the cat to its Canine Airport Therapy Squad known as CATS. This year Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport raised the bar by scheduling weekly visits with baby alligators. What’s next?

Start the vacation at the airport

Airports say they’re the front doors to their cities. Louisville International Airport takes that to heart with HMSHost’s new Book & Bourbon Southern Kitchen, which features more than 85 bourbons and qualifies as an official stop on Kentucky’s Urban Bourbon Trail.

Travelers can pick up a trail passport and get their first stamp before they leave the airport or top off their stamps on the way home.

This year HMSHost also opened the Whiskey River restaurant and bar at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, offering music six days a week, a wall covered in belt buckles and a selfie-friendly stationary bull.  

New ways to work & play at DFW Airport

In July, two Gameway video game entertainment lounges opened at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, by Gates B42 and E16. Each of the 36 gaming stations is equipped with a leather chair, an Xbox One loaded with 19 games, a 43” TV, noise cancelling headphones, charging ports and space to store luggage.

For those who need to get work instead of play, Varidesk just launched a free, staffed co-working space at DFW (by Gate C12) with a conference table for meetings and 24 workstations outfitted with power hubs and adjustable standing desks.

Hungry gate huggers have more options

This year OTG expanded the gate areas where passengers use iPads to order food and drinks and At Your Gate joined Airport Sherpa in offering food delivery to passengers anywhere in the airports they serve. Airport Sherpa is still only at BWI Airport, but during 2018 At Your Gate began running food and drink orders to gates at both San Diego International and Newark Liberty International Airports.

Early bag drop service at Denver International Airport

Self-service bag check offers convenience at the check-in counter, but in May remote bag drop off service was introduced at the car rental center at Tampa International Airport.

Denver International Airport introduced the service in November and now allows travelers to drop their bags off at shuttle parking lots and the airport transit center. The drop off service is free, but airline bag fees still apply.

Free drop off service is available to DEN passengers arriving at least 90 minutes before their flights and traveling domestically on Southwest, United, Delta and American Airlines. At DEN’s Pikes Peak and Mt. Ebert shuttle parking lots, personnel greet arriving cars, remove luggage from the car, check in passengers and print out boarding passes. Then passengers park and jump on the shuttle to the terminal.

Phoenix Sky Harbor began offering a similar early bag drop service back in 2013, eventually extending it to the rental car center, but discontinued the program last year.

Getting to the gate without a ticket

In what we hope may signify a trend, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport ran a pilot program to allow the non-flying public to go beyond the security checkpoints.

The SEA Visitor Pass pilot program worked much like the year-round, TSA-sanctioned “myPITpass” program that Pittsburgh International Airport debuted last year. At SEA, access hours were limited and visitors had to apply for a pass and go through the security checkpoint just like regular passengers. But once “in” the pass holders could shop, dine, check out the art and entertainment, accompany a loved one to the gate, or be there waiting when they get home.

Can’t miss airport art

The new Concourse A expansion at Charlotte Douglas International Airport is home to “Interconnected,” a giant digital artwork made up of three hi-definition LED media walls measuring over 2,000 square feet. The largest public artwork of its kind in the country, the media walls display constantly changing abstract images derived from airport operations data, including flight arrivals and departures, baggage handling and ground transportation.

Bonus activities and great ideas

Once again, our list of special events, pop-ups and cool ideas is long.

In February, just in time for Valentine’s Day, a pop-up license bureau opened in the baggage claim at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas to help lovebirds streamline the process of getting married in Sin City. Couples couldn’t get married at the airport but picking up the license at the airport meant they could skip stopping at longer line at the clerk’s office in town.

This year New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Pittsburgh International Airport each welcomed their first artists-in-residence. PIT airport also introduced a 6-month pop-up of the do-it-yourself paint studio called Paint Monkey. And in March, to mark what would have been Fred Rogers’ 90th birthday and the issuing of a Mister Rogers Forever stamp, PIT Airport held an event that included red cardigan-wearing employees, complimentary red shoelaces and “You’re special, too” buttons, and a ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ memory board.

Also in March, San Antonio International Airport marked Dr. Seuss Day with an event that included airport and airline employees and passengers reading Dr. Seuss books to children.

On April 1, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport raised eyebrows, and dashed some travelers’ hopes, with the April Fool’s Day announcement of an aircraft viewing area with an outdoor pool.

In August, Philadelphia International Airport installed a short story dispenser in the airport’s Virtual Library in the D/E Connector. Kiosks users press a button to request a print-out (on eco-friendly paper) of a fiction story that can be read in one, three or five minutes.

And we’re happy to report that Denver International Airport continues to make good use of the outdoor plaza between the terminal and the Westin hotel. A pop-up park, complete with native Colorado trees and plants, showed up in July, the “Beer Flights” beer garden returned in September (to coincide with worldwide Oktoberfest celebrations) and a free ice-skating rink, with free skate rentals, is open now through January 6, 2019.

Here’s to a great 2019 filled with even more cool airport amenities!

Nashville Airport’s carpet

The carpet at Nashville International Airport (BNA) is following in the steps of the celebrity carpet at Portland International Airport.

The BNA carpet dates back to 2010. It has its own Instgram account with about 7000 followers and lots of photos featuring feet, people, pets and babies on the carpet.

View this post on Instagram

Same. #mood #vibes #nashville

A post shared by BNA Carpet (@bnacarpet) on

Like the PDX carpet, travelers can even buy products featuring the pattern of the BNA carpet. 

In addition to shoes with the BNA carpet pattern, the list of carpet-themed goodies includes hoodies, leggings, socks, luggage covers and hoodies.

If you love the pattern and want a photo of your feet on carpet, though, start thinking about making a trip to Nasvhille International Airport.

According to a local news report, as part of renovations and upgrades at the airport the BNA carpet is scheduled to begin being replaced starting in summer 2020. The carpet will totally be replaced by terrazzo or by a carpet with a new pattern by 2023.

If you do go to Nasvhille International Airport to check out the carpet, be sure to look very closely: airport officials say there are guitar images hidden in the pattern.

Do you have a favorite airport carpet?