Cell Phones

Airports add pet potties & play areas; dump pay phones, banks

Modern-day airports no longer concentrate solely on being gateways to help passengers get from here to there.

That’s still their key role, of course. But today the focus is also on making the airport experience efficient and enjoyable for travelers – and profitable for the airports – through an ever-improving mix of dining and shopping options and an evolving mix of amenities.

“Whether engaging with passengers through an animal therapy program to instill a sense of calm in a busy terminal or providing ample electrical charging stations for mobile devices, airports are committed to not only meeting passengers’ expectations but exceeding them.” said Kevin Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International – North America.

A recent survey by the airport membership organization identified the top 10 airport amenities in North America, the top amenities airports are adding and several amenities many airports say they will likely be eliminating in the next few years.

According to ACI-NA’s Passenger Amenities Survey, the top 10 most commonly offered airport amenities and services are:

  1. ATM Services
  2. Gift Shops / News Stands
  3. Airport Websites
  4. Electrical Charging Stations
  5. Restaurants and Bars
  6. Lost and Found
  7. Parking / Taxi and Limousine Services
  8. Free Wi-Fi
  9. Pre-Security Pet Relief Facilities
  10. Food and Beverage Vending Machines

No surprises there, but among the amenities on the rise are some designed to make traveling with kids – and pets – a bit easier:

  1. Nursing mothers’ rooms and pods
  2. Post-security pet relief facilities
  3. Children’s play areas
  4. Airfield observation areas
  5. Adult changing and washroom facilities.

In part to make way for these new amenities, airports say that over the next three to five years they’ll be phasing out and, in some cases, eliminating a few other amenities.

So get ready to say goodbye to smoking rooms, payphones and bank branches at airports.

ATMs are plentiful at many airports, but staffed bank branches are already quite rare.

One holdout is Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where there is a branch of Wings Financial.

“The local bank has a built-in customer base, as they began as a credit union for airline and airport employees,” said airport spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski, “So we don’t expect to eliminate that service.”

Smoking lounges still exist at just a handful of major U.S. airports, including Washington Dulles International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but in 2016, Salt Lake City International Airport closed all its smoking rooms and by the end 2018 the last remaining smoking lounge at Denver International Airport will end its contract.

And those once ubiquitous banks of pay phones at airports are being replaced with charging stations or making way for other services.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport removed the last of its payphones in 2016.

With the rise of cell phones, “Folks simply don’t use pay phones,” said SEA spokesman Brian DeRoy, “And there are hardly any companies now that want to have the financial burden of taking on a pay phone contract for a very limited number of users.”

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has also ditched all its payphones, but provides a courtesy phone for free local calls next to the information desk on the baggage claim level.

“Our information desk staff can also make calls for passengers when needed, such as when cell phones batteries are dead,” said AUS spokesman Derick Hackett.

The number of payphones is being steadily reduced, but not yet eliminated, at airports in Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis and Chicago, where there are now 503 payphones at O’Hare International (down from 650 five years ago) and 174 payphones at Midway International (down from 180).

“The payphones taken off line were removed because of low usage, requests from the airlines due to construction in their gate areas and repurposing of space for revenue producing ventures,” said Gregg Cunningham of the Chicago Department of Aviation, but some will remain “because they are still a necessary means of communication for some customers.”

At Reno-Tahoe International Airport, free local or toll free calls can be made from any courtesy phone in the airport.

“In 2008, AT&T ended their payphone contract at the airport, at same time they pulled out of shopping malls and other public buildings due to decreases in revenue,” said RNO airport spokeswoman Heidi Jared, “But the airport authority knew an option was needed to fill that void since not all travelers have a cell phone.”

And, totally bucking the no-payphone trend, thanks to a deal dating back to 2012, Denver International Airport still has about 200 payphones in the terminal and on the concourses that provide unlimited free national domestic calls and international calls that are free for the first 10 minutes.

(A slightly different of this story about airport amenities appeared on CNBC)

Airport amenities coming – and going – soon


Airports – good ones –  do their best to offer service and amenities that will make your time in the terminal bearable and, increasingly, enjoyable.

What amenities are offered most?

What amenities are airports poised to add?

And what amenities are disappearing from airports?


The folks at Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) did a survey of their members to find out and are sharing the results today of the 2017 ACI-NA Guest Experience Management and Passenger Amenities Survey.

The top 10 most commonly offered airport amenities and services in 2017 are:

  1. ATM Services
  2. Gift Shops / News Stands
  3. Airport Websites
  4. Electrical Charging Stations
  5. Restaurants and Bars
  6. Lost and Found
  7. Parking / Taxi and Limousine Services
  8. Free Wi-Fi
  9. Pre-Security Pet Relief Facilities
  10. Food and Beverage Vending Machines

No big surprises there, but ACI-NA found out that over the next three to five years, passengers can expect new and expanded airport amenities and services such as:

  1. Nursing mothers’ rooms and pods
  2. Post-security pet relief facilities
  3. Children’s play areas
  4. Airfield observation areas
  5. Adult changing and washroom facilities.

And, as passenger needs change, ACI-NA notes, airports are beginning to phase out unnecessary or redundant amenities and services.

So, get ready to say bye-bye over the next three to five years to: payphones, banking services, and smoking rooms at airports.

Why no more pay phones?

“Pay phones take up a lot of valuable real estate considering their low usage now in the smart phone age,” said ACI-NA spokesman Scott Elmore, “They are being replaced with electrical charging stations and free Wi-Fi to keep people connected.”

But what about kids or people who don’t have cell phones. Or have cell phones that are out of power?

“Airports are very cognizant of the need to remain accessible,” said Elmore, “So we expect to see the deployment of more courtesy phones with free local and international calling or calling cards for passengers in need.”

Gadget glitch at ORD Airport? The Geek Squad is there.

geek squad at ORD

Pretty much everyone travels with an electronic gadget -or three – these days, and sometimes those gadgets get finicky.

If that’s what’s happening when you’re at Chicago O’Hare International Airport from now through December 23rd, there’s free help at the ready.

Best Buy Geek Squad Agents are stationed in O’Hare’s Concourse H from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST daily offering free tech tips and gadget advice, complimentary service on handheld devices, charging stations and tablets and desktop workstations for surfing the web, playing games or shopping for last-minute gifts.

geek squad

Not near Concourse H? Don’t fret. The Geek Squad is sending agents out into the terminals will backpack charging stations and advice.

Got a gadget glitch at the ORD Shoe Hospital, the airport’s aeroponic garden or while waiting for your meal at Tortas Frontera? Tweet to @GeekSquad with #MissionORD in the message and they’ll come to you.

24/7 donuts at Denver Airport’s new cell-phone lot

Construction is underway at Denver International Airport to replace the old cell phone lot with a service oasis called “Final Approach.”


Rendering of Denver International Airport’s new cell-phone waiting lot and amenity oasis.


According to airport spokesman Heath Montgomery, the new waiting lot will be across from the original lot and have 269 parking spaces as well as free Wi-Fi, a kid’s play area, indoor seating complete with iPads built into tables, indoor restrooms and flight info boards in the parking lot and inside.

There will also be four new restaurants: a 24-hour drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts, a Subway, a Baja Fresh Mexican Grill and a ZPizza, which will have organic ingredients and gluten-free option on the menu.

Opening day is set for sometime in September.

Airports improve the pick-up experience. With cellphone lots.


When grandma is flying in for a special occasion, you’ll find a spot in the airport’s short-term parking garage, go into the terminal and wait where you’ll be sure to see her when she exits the secure area.

But if it’s “just” a friend coming in for the weekend or a spouse coming home from a quick business trip, these days you’re likely to wait in your car in the cellphone lot, have your friend or family member call you when they’ve landed and then drive over and make a quick pick-up at the curb.

Cellphone lots offering free, short-term parking near airports are now available at most large, medium and many small airports. But just ten years ago, none of these lots even existed. Their presence at airports is the result of two post-9/11 trends we now take for granted: heightened concerns about security outside the terminals and the growing number of people using cellphones.

After 9/11, motorists waiting for passengers to arrive were no longer allowed to clog up roadways outside airport terminals by idling for a long time at the curb, or leaving a car parked outside baggage claim and running inside to greet a passenger. It’s hard to believe now, but in the “old days,” many airports would let you do that.

To cut down on congestion caused by drivers who instead began circling terminal lanes over and over, in 2004 airports such as Los Angeles International and Seattle-Tacoma International came up with the idea of directing drivers to free, off-site parking lots where they could wait for an arriving passenger with a cellphone to call for a pick-up. At least a dozen airports had cellphone waiting lots by the end of 2004 and today it’s rare – and irritating – to find an airport without one.

“Security concerns and technology have definitely driven the rise of this airport amenity” said Debbie McElroy, spokesperson for ACI-NA, the organization that represents most North American airports.

But so has economics. In the past, many airports gave drivers a grace period in the parking garage, anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, to allow them to go into the terminal and meet a passenger. But most of these free parking sessions have been eliminated as airports try to maximize revenue generated from their parking garages. “Airports still want to provide good service to their communities,” said McElroy, “so when they cut free parking they’ll often add a cellphone waiting lot nearby.”

And while many cellphone lots are put on property an airport wasn’t using for anything else, the lots do have costs. “You have to establish them, maintain them and make sure you have periodic security checks,” McElroy said. “And in some airports, the lots are on land that could otherwise be put to use generating some sort of revenue.”

But cellphone lots are now so popular that many airports are now expanding theirs and adding amenities for waiting drivers such as free Wi-Fi, vending machines, restrooms (portable and permanent) and electronic reader boards displaying up-to-date flight arrival information.

At Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, community outreach coordinator Allan Siegel says the airport offers a flight-status screen as well as emergency services for vehicles with a flat tire or dead battery. And at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, there are flight information display monitors, restrooms and regular food truck service offering Mexican food, Panini sandwiches, salads, appetizers and drinks.


Tampa International Airport has vending machines, restrooms, real-time flight information, free Wi-Fi, and electric vehicle charging stations in its cellphone lot and, before the holidays it began a 30-day experiment with having food trucks on-site as well, a different one each day.

The experiment has been such a success that the trial period has been extended. The airport is even posting the food truck schedule on its Facebook page.

“Other airports are watching Tampa to see how successful they are in doing this,” said McElroy, “And I think there’s probably room for other airports to contract with vendors to offer more services and amenities at their cellphone lots as well.”

What others kinds of services and amenities might be added?

Tim O’Krongley, assistant aviation director for the San Antonio Airport System, said there’s been some discussion about adding food truck service at San Antonio International Airport. And when Seattle-Tacoma International Airport opens a new, larger permanent cellphone lot next spring, free Wi-Fi and some food options may be added as well.

But here are some other options that might make cellphone lots even more enticing: drive-through espresso stands, exercise stations, playgrounds, fresh flower stands and coin-operated car washes and vacuums to encourage drivers to clean up their cars before going in for the pick-up.

What amenities would you like to see at an airport cellphone waiting lot?

(Photos courtesy Tampa International Airport)

(My story: Airports improve the pick-up experience first appeared on USA TODAY)