Airport Terminals

World’s Best Airport? Changi clinches it again

For the sixth year in a row, Singapore’s Changi Airport has been named the World’s Best Airport by Skytrax, which tallied 13.73 million surveys covering passenger experiences in 550 airports worldwide for the 2018 World Airport Awards.

Changi Airport also topped the list for the World Best Airport Leisure Amenities and the Crown Plaza Changi once again took top spot in the World’s Best Airport Hotel category.

Vancouver International was named the Best Airport in North America and the Fairmont Vancouver Airport the Best Airport Hotel in North America.

Denver International Airport came in first for Best Regional Airport in North America.

The surveys ask travelers to evaluate airports in almost 40 categories, covering everything from check-in, shopping and dining to cleanliness, staff courtesy, entertainment, signage and WiFi service.

Here are the winners in just some of the many categories in this year’s awards:

The World’s Top 10 Airports

Changi Airport – Terminal 4

Singapore Changi
Tokyo Haneda
Hong Kong
Doha Hamad
Chubu Centrair Nagoya
London Heathrow

Best Airports in North America

Toronto Pearson
San Francisco
Dallas/Fort Worth

Best Regional Airport: North America

Minneapolis-St. Paul
Houston – Hobby
Toronto City

The World’s Cleanest Airports

Tokyo Haneda
Centrair Nagoya
Taiwan Taoyuan
Singapore Changi
Tokyo Narita
Hong Kong
Doha Hamad

The World’s Best Airport Hotels

Crowne Plaza Changi
Pullman Guangzhou Airport
Hilton Munich Airport
Fairmont Vancouver Airport
Sofitel London Heathrow
Hong Kong Sky City Marriott
Langham Place Beijing
Regal Airport Hong Kong
Sheraton Amsterdam Airport
Hilton Frankfurt Airport

Pot amnesty boxes land at McCarran Int’l Airport in Las Vegas

Courtesy McCarran Int’l Airport

While it is not legal to purchase recreational marijuana in Nevada, don’t bring any leftover pot wity you to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

A county ordinance forbids the possession – or advertising – of marijuana on any Clark County airport property, so in addition to notices on the airport’s website, there are now amensy boxes installed at key locations at McCarran, including at the airport’s consolidated car rental facility.

And don’t try messing with the boxes to get the pot someone else has discarded.

The bins are bolted to the ground and have a one-way drawer that drops deposits into the bin.

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.


Old airports get fresh new uses

My “At the Airport” column for USATODAY this month is all about some cool, new uses for old, unused airports.

A while back I visited Quito, Ecuador with JetBlue and learned that when the modern Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, Ecuador opened for business in 2013, on land 11 miles east of city, the old in-city airport (which once held a spot on the list of “World’s Most Dangerous Airports”) was transformed into Bicentennial Park.

Terminal buildings now host office space, a convention center is being built onsite, former runways are used for bicycle riding and racing, and large concerts and events, including a July 2015 mass led by Pope Francis, are held in the fields.

Denver’s Stapleton International Airport, less than 10 miles from downtown Denver, was replaced in February, 1995 by the much larger Denver International Airport, which was built 25 miles from the city center. The 7.5 square miles that once housed Stapleton’s runways and terminals is now a mixed-use community that John Karsada, author of “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next,” considers “The most successful repurposing of a former major commercial airport I have observed anywhere in the world.”

Most all the original structures from the former Stapleton airfield were demolished, but the control tower and its building remained. And this month, after sitting vacant for more than 20 years, the tower building reopened as a 32,000 square-foot “eatertainment” concept with six bowling lanes, shuffle board, bocce courts, karaoke rooms, a sports bar and a wide variety of other indoor and outdoor dining, drinking and social gaming opportunities.

“Dozens of ideas for re-use of the tower were presented over the years, including demolition, but there was a desire in the community to preserve the tower in order to visually convey the history of the land as the former Denver airport,” said Robert Thompson, found and CEO of Punch Bowl Social, the company that turned the control tower building into a fun zone.

It would have been easier for Punch Bowl Social to demolish the old building and create something from scratch. Instead they were able to preserve the historic structure, re-using some of the original pre-cast panels that adorned the building exterior. Inside, there are plenty of nods to the golden age of flight.

“The hostess stand is made from a vintage steamer trunk. Reclaimed airplane dials are mounted on the walls, vintage luggage is stacked in shelving around the bowling cage and we have signage from the original Stapleton International Airport throughout,” said Thompson.

And while the interior walls are covered with what appears to be polka dot paper, the pattern is actually made from an aerial view of Stapleton from 30,000 feet up.

“The air traffic control tower is the most visible and iconic representation of the history of this area,” said Denver City Councilman Christopher Herndon, whose district includes Stapleton, “The Punch Bowl Social project embodies the spirit of re-imagination and reactivation Denver embraced when we envisioned a vibrant neighborhood filling the footprint of the former Stapleton airport.”

Creative airport re-use in Austin, Berlin, New York and Hong Kong


The 700-acre Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, which sat just three miles from downtown Austin, Texas was replaced in 1999 by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, about 10 miles from the city center.

Today, the former Mueller airport site, like Stapleton, is a mixed used community with homes, retail and office space, parks and public art. A farmer’s market is held in the historic 1943 Browning Hangar, the former aviation administration building houses a visitor/welcome center for the community, and Mueller’s historic airport blue-hued control tower remains as well.

In New York, Floyd Bennett Field (Named for Floyd Bennett, the first person to fly over the North Pole, and the site of the city’s first municipal airport) is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area on Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn. And historic Hangar B, on the east side of the field, now serves as a restoration and exhibition space for vintage aircraft.

After Berlin-Tempelhof Airport closed in 2008, much of the land was slated for housing and commercial development, but today the giant terminal and hangars remain in use as grand event and concert venues and homes for small businesses. And the vast open spaces are being used by the community for cycling, jogging, running, dog-walking, kite flying, gardening and more.

Flying to cruising

One of the most creative airport re-use projects has been the upcycling of Hong Kong’s in-city airport, Kai Tak, into a cruise terminal.

Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport, known for the quick-turn flight approach into the city that inspired both nail-biting and awe, closed in 1998 and was replaced by a far larger Hong Kong International Airport on Chek Lap Kok Island.

Hong Kong’s cruise ship market was growing, so the government decided to turn the former airport into a cruise terminal.

British architectural design and engineering firm Foster + Partners won the international competition to design the project and the first cruise ship berthed at what has now become a landmark site in the city in June 2013.

And because cruise terminals have plenty of downtime, the building was designed as a column free space to accommodate other uses such as car shows, exhibition, concerts and other events.

There’s even a public garden on the roof.

And what will become of other airports that become unused or superfluous in the future?

Already, “Airports often figure in zombie movies as places of last stands or lethal transmission,” notes Christopher Schaberg, author of “Airportness” and an associate professor of English and Environmental Studies at Loyola University New Orleans.

And while there have been some successful attempts to rethink the airport as a different sort of space, Schaberg says “Airports are sites to watch closely as humans continue to run into new limits and challenges in the coming years.”