Airports

11 gates open at New York’s LaGuardia Airport Terminal B

New York’s LaGuardia Airport is in the midst of an $8 billion makeover and the first 11 gates are now open in the state-of-the-art Terminal B.

Airlines operating out of this new concourse include Air Canada, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. They’ll be joined by United Airlines in 2019.

The space includes soaring ceilings, a colorful children’s play area, charging stations throughout the seating areas and a nursing room.

The kids’ area has a 16-foot interactive display that allows users to design their own aircraft on a tablet and watch it come to life on a giant digital wall. Next to the kids area is an indoor green space with greenery, benches and plenty of natural light.

A slection of New York-inspired food, beverage and retail offerings include a branch of toy store FAO Schwarz and dining options such as Shake Shack, La ChulaBar & Taqueria (Mexican taqueria), Osteria Fusco (Italian), Kingside Bar & Restaurant, Irving Fam Coffee Roasters and Five Boroughs Market.

In-airport food and retail delivery service ‘At Your Gate’ is up and running in LGA Terminal B as well.

The terminal also has an Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, with a United Club scheduled to open in 2019.

Other retail offerings include independent bookseller McNally Jackson, Hudson, LaGuardia Dufry Duty Free Shops, Spa Here, M∙A∙C,  and District Market, with specialty Made in Queens products.

“You’re going to love the new LaGuardia Airport,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo said in a tweet.

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.

Best U.S. airports. Another celebratory list.

When it comes to travel, there are plenty of lists that claim to rank the best (and worst) airports, airlines, hotels, loyalty programs, etc.

Some are created by experts in the field. Others are the results of surveys (some scientific, some not). And still other are created (somehow) by companies hoping to get their names mentioned in a story.

Conde Nast surveys it well-traveled readers to put together its long list of travel bests each year.

Here’s their Top Ten list of airports for 2018:

  1. Indianapolis International Airport
  2. Portland Oregon International Airport (PDX)
  3. Bradley International Airport (BDL)
  4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
  5. Tampa International Airport (TPA)
  6. Detroit Metro Airport (DTW)
  7. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  8. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  9. George  Bush International Airport (IAH)
  10. Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI)

Any of your favorites on this list? Or any airports you think were robbed of a spot?

Airports of the future

What will the airport of the (near) future look like? I’ve got a story in the current issue of AFAR that lays out that scenario.  Here are some of the highlights.

Photo -by Harriet Baskas

Your face is your ticket

Get ready for single-token travel. A facial scan and an initial look at your passport is already all you need at some airports.

Smart(er) security lanes

Time-saving, stress-busting security checkpoints will soon be universal. Improved technology speeds up the bin-loading process and allows TSA officers to scan carry-ons quicker and find bags containing prohibited items in a flash

In-airport delivery

Food and merchandise comes to you, wherever you are in the airport. OTG’s tablet-centered ordering and grocery-style self-checkout lanes are expanding, as are app-powered mobile delivery services such as Airport Sherpa and At Your Gate, already on-duty at the Baltimore, San Diego and Newark airports.

 Where’s my bag?

Lost luggage is a bummer. But more bags arrive as promised thanks to airports that employ tools such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and monitoring apps to track bags from the time they’re accepted at the airport to delivery at the bag claim.

Find your car – and an open restroom stall

High-tech lighting systems guide travelers to open spaces in giant airport parking garages and direct home-bound passengers to lost cars. Airport restrooms are high-tech too, with occupied/unoccupied signals over the stalls and technology that alerts maintenance teams to lavs that need cleaning.

Count on cryptocurrency.

Australia’s Brisbane International led the way by letting travelers pay for purchases with cryptocurrency. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport followed with kiosks that exchange leftover cash for Bitcoin. Count on airports, the first and last city stop for international visitors, to embrace digital currency as its popularity rises.

A nap or a night at the airport

Short-stay cocoon sleeping pods and microhotels from the likes of Minute SuitesSleepbox Hotel, and Yotel offer weary passengers recharging rests inside terminals. For longer stays, look for more full-size airport-adjacent hotels, such as the InterContinental at Minneapolis−St. Paul Airport, opened in July, and the TWA Hotel at JFK International, due in 2019.

Airport cities offer milk, medical facilities and more

No longer ‘just’ transportation nodes, airports are branching out with full-service grocery stores, medical facilities, movie theaters and entertainment centers. The observation deck at Incheon Airport’s new Terminal 2 offers virtual reality experiences, while Singapore’s Changi Airport 10-story Jewel complex (opening 2019) promises the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

Go to Miami – or Mars

 

As space travel and space tourism moves closer to reality, some airports plan to double as spaceports, so travelers can set out across an ocean – or out of this world.

What features are you hoping pop up at the airport of the future?

 

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?