Airports

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!

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?