Airports

Travel Tidbits from an airport near you

SFO Airport consolidates international flights to a single concourse

So many international flights have been temporarily canceled that some airports are closing down parts of concourses and terminals.

Courtesy SFO Airport

One example: San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Because the schedule for international flights from SFO will be reduced by 52% by April 1, the airport will temporarily close one part of the International Terminal.

On April 1, and through at least through the end of May, SFO will close Boarding Area A (Gates A1 to A15) in the International Terminal and consolidate all international flight departures to Boarding Area G, which houses Gates G1-G14.

The SFO Medical Clinic (in the Int’l Terminal Main Hall, by the A Gates); the Grand Hyatt at SFO and the Int’l Parking Garage A will still be open, but this will allow SFO to close a security checkpoint and consolidate Custom & Border Protection staff.

Consolidation is going on at other airports as well. So if you are traveling, be sure to check the airport and airline websites.

TSA’s COVID-19 Count Keeps Increasing

Over the weekend, TSA updated its map and its list showing which states and which airports have TSA screening officers who have tested positive for COVID-19.

On Saturday, March 28, TSA reported that over the past two weeks 55 TSA screening officers have tested positive for COVID-19.

TSA says 19 others who had “relatively limited interaction with the traveling public” tested positive as well.

We hope those officers recover quickly, of course. But if you’ve traveled through an airport in one of the blue states on the map during the past few weeks, be sure to check this list to see which airports are affected.

The list includes the last date the officers worked, the checkpoints they were stationed at and their shift hours.

If you think you may have passed through the checkpoints where these officers were stationed, please be sure to check with your doctor about what steps to take next.

Airports with award-winning customer service

Considering the current coronavirus concerns, you may not be spending much time hanging out in airports for a while.

But when you do venture out, let’s hope it is to, from or through one of the airports that got top honors this week in the Airport Service Quality Awards given out by Airports Council International (ACI), an organization representing airports around the world.

The awards are based on passenger surveys that rate each airport in 34 categories, including facility access, check-in, security screening, stores, restaurants and restrooms.

Here are the airports in North American that will take home some of the 140 awards given:

Best Airports by Size – North America:

Under 2 million passengers

Capital Region International Airport – LAN (Lansing, Michigan)

Jean-Lesage International Airport – YQB (Quebec, Canada)

Between 2 and 5 million passengers – North America

Courtesy El Paso International Airport

El Paso International Airport – ELP (El Paso, Texas)

Portland International Jetport – PWM (Portland, Maine)

Between 5 and 15 million passengers – North America

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) – Cincinnati, Ohio

Indianapolis International Airport (IND) – Indianapolis, Indiana

Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) – Jacksonville, Florida.

Between 15 and 25 million passengers – North America

Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL) – Dallas, Texas

Tampa International Airport (TPA) – Tampa, Florida

Between 25 and 40 million passengers – North America

MSP’s award-winning restroom

Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport (MSP) – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Over 40 million passengers – North America

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) – DFW Airport, Texas

Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) – Toronto, Canada

Milestone for charming Paine Field in Everett, WA

The passenger terminal at Paine Field (PAE), located 30 miles north of Seattle in Everett, WA, opened just about a year ago.

The first fight took off on March 4, 2019.

A private partnership between Propeller Airports and Snohomish County, the 2-gate terminal feels more like a swanky airport lounge than a small regional airport.

The $40 million terminal was designed by Denver-based Fentress Architects. In the lobby, there’s a concierge desk and Solari flight display board programmed to emit the retro flip-board “flapping.”

Post-security, passengers find two fireplaces, plenty of armchairs, display cases filled with Paine Field-related memorabilia, and two glass-walled jet bridges.

And the views! Paine Field Airport passenger terminal sits on the same airfield as the Boeing widebody assembly plant, so interesting and unusual aircraft can usually be spotted out the windows.

As it approaches its first anniversary, Paine Field took a moment to celebrate its millionth passenger.

The lucky passenger, Aristotle Roberts of Lynnwood, WA, was presented with a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, two round trip tickets to any of Paine Field’s 12 nonstop destinations and, oddly, one million days of free valet parking at the terminal.

From Paine Field Airport (PAE), travelers can fly to Spokane, Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Las Vegas, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Palm Springs, Orange County, Phoenix and, soon, Boise, ID.

My ‘staycation’ at SEA Airport

It’s not crazy to hang out at the airport if you’re not flying.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is my home base airport and I’m happy to spend extra time there before, and sometimes after, a flight.

SEA recently joined the list of airports offering visitor passes to non-flying visitors. And so I signed up to find out what it is like to spend a day at the airport just hanging out with no flight to catch.

Signing up was easy: SEA’s Visitor Pass page walks applicants through the process. And once I got my email notice of approval, I had no trouble using my pass, with my ID, to get through the airport checkpoint.

First on my agenda was taking a quick tour of some of my favorite works of art at SEA airport.

There’s art throughout the airport – even in some bathrooms. And SEA’s art collection includes work by noted local, regional and national artists including Trimpin, Frank Stella, Louise Nevelson and Robert Rauschenberg.

On travel days, there’s not much time to stop and appreciate the art. But the visitor pass gave me time to look around.

Detail from Trimpin”s “On Matter, Monkeys and the King” kinetic artwork

Detail from Robert Rauschenberg’s “Star Quarters”

After the art tour, I did some shopping. I didn’t have to worry about squeezing my purchases into my carry-on and that made it easier – maybe too easy – to make purchases.

Then it was time for lunch

Lots of fresh dining options are opening at SEA airport and it was nice to be able to look around and try someplace new.

Learning a new skill at the airport

SEA recently installed a Hands-Only CPR training kiosk in the Central Terminal. And so I used the final part of my visit to get trained in a skill that might someday help me save a life.

Randy Krause, the Fire Chief for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, was nice enough to come by and supervise my session. But the kiosk is designed as a do-it-yourself experience.

The machine gives instructions; users practice on a dummy torso, and the machine lets you know how you did.

I need some practice, and I need to be stronger. So next time I go to the airport I won’t be shy about trying it again.

Bottom line: applying for a SEA Visitor Pass and voluntarily spending much of a day hanging around the airport was a totally fun – and educational – way to spend a rainy day.

And SEA isn’t the only airport to offer this program. Pittsburgh International Airport, Tampa International Airport, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and Detroit Metropolitan Airport now do it too.

Airports going off the grid

Should airports go off the grid? Pittsburgh Int’l Airport – and others – think so.

Aerial view of Pittsburgh International Airport. Courtesy PIT Airport

Remember that 11-hour power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in December 2017?

The blackout canceled hundreds of flights, stranded thousands of passengers and cost Delta Airlines alone an estimated $50 million in lost business?

Since then power outages linked to everything from equipment failures, faulty wires and an explosion at an electric power station have disrupted operations at numerous airports.

The list includes Washington’s Reagan National Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, New York’s LaGuardia Airport, John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA, Philadelphia International Airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

And just last Saturday, power at the New Orleans International Airport went out – twice – due to high winds associated with Tropical Storm Olga.

In addition to flight cancelations and delays, a celebratory open house for the new $1 billion terminal opening November 6 had to be postponed by a few hours.

Microgrids to the rescue?

During power outages at airports, generators and other forms of back-up power usually kick-in to power essential emergency lighting. But boarding, deplaning, airfield activity and the business of the airport often come to a standstill.

That’s just one reason Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) recently declared its intention to become the first major U.S. airport to create a self-sufficient energy system – or microgrid – using only energy sources (solar and natural gas) from its own property.

“After watching what happened in Atlanta and Los Angeles, I think every airport CEO across the country, and probably around the world, wondered if they were ready and prepared,” said PIT Airport CEO Christina Cassotis.

“Here the answer is yes, but we’d like to make sure we can continue to operate in any circumstance,” she said,

To that end, Pittsburgh International Airport plans to have its microgrid in place by 2021 to power the entire airport, including the airfield, the on-site Hyatt hotel, and a Sunoco station.

Power for PIT’s microgrid will be generated through the airport’s onsite natural gas wells and almost 8000 solar panels covering eight acres of the airport land. A connection to the traditional electrical grid will remain, but only as an option for emergency or backup power when needed.

“It has everything to do with resiliency and redundancy,” said Cassotis, “We wanted to make sure we could do everything with the assets we have to enhance the safety of the traveling public and ensure continued operations. As a bonus, we get to lower the cost of energy.”

Many military facilities, college campuses, hospital complexes, industrial parks, and other large institutions already have some sort of microgrid in place to ensure uninterrupted power.

In general, these systems are connected to existing grids but can disconnect and operate on their own with power from batteries, diesel-powered generators or, ideally, solar or another source of renewable power, said Craig Schiller, a Manager specializing in aviation at the global energy non-profit Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).

Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) already has a microgrid in place. Airports in Los Angeles, Denver, San Diego, Boston, Orange County, CA and elsewhere are now exploring and creating microgrids as well.

To help move the process along, early next year RMI will publish an airport microgrid toolkit funded by a $450,000 grant from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Transportation Research Board.

Microgrids can give airports greater control over the energy they need and use and, in many cases, save airports money on energy costs, said RMI’s Schiller, “But the bottom line is maximizing an airport’s ability to meet its function.”

TWA Hotel is a microgrid island


Most microgrids are designed to connect to existing power grids.

But the 512-room TWA Hotel and conference center opened in May 2019 in the landmark Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport’s Terminal 5 is an “islanded microgrid” operating independently of New York City’s electric grid.

The hotel has its own 9,000-square-foot microgrid/cogeneration power plant on the roof, fueled by natural gas.

The plant generates all the electricity for the hotel campus and harvests waste heat from engines for hot water and other uses. A battery storage system helps with peak loads and backup.

“Think of it as a Tesla on the hotel’s roof,” said Tyler Morse, chief executive of MCR/Morse Development.


“The entire city and the airport could be down, but the hotel would still be operating, with people having cocktails at the bar,” said Mike Byrnes, Senior Vice President for Veolia North America, which has operators on duty 24/7 to operate and maintain the hotel’s microgrid.

Beyond ensuring that cocktails can continue to be served during a blackout, the TWA Hotel’s power plant will also contribute to the business’s bottom line.

Hotel developer Morse said the Con Edison electric bills would have cost $5 million per year. “The $15 million we spent to build the plant will be paid back in three years,” said Morse, “And we’ll be saving $4 million annually.”

Which should be enough to buy everyone a round of drinks, or three, in the lobby bars in the next New York City blackout.

(My story about Airport Microgrids first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version.)