Amenities coming to your airport – maybe.



A major role of commercial airports is, of course, to provide the facilities where passengers can get on and off the airplanes that zip around the world.

But airports are also increasingly where travelers spend time (sometimes a very long time) eating, shopping, playing, socializing, getting pampered, sleeping, working out and taking care of personal and official business.

Even if you take just a few flights a year, you’ve surely noticed that airports large and small have been seriously upping their game, making terminals prettier and easier to maneuver and filling corridors with a wide range of welcome dining, retail and other conveniences.

The good news is that this push to upgrade continues. Airlines and airports are pouring millions of dollars into terminal improvements, and at a conference hosted by Airport Revenue News earlier this month, the talk was of strategies for making terminals even more customer-friendly. Here are some of the amenities and services spotted in the exhibition hall that may make their way to airports worldwide.

More self-serve shops

Thanks to Zoomsystems and other vending machine-style automated retailers, it’s no longer a novelty to purchase electronics or classy, travel-sized personal items from a kiosk at an airport.

Benefit Cosmetic kiosk_photo Harriet Baskas

In addition to Best Buy Express, Straight Talk Wireless and 3 FLOZ brands, Zoomsystems has been rolling out a fleet of Benefit Cosmetics kiosks for airports designed to look like pink, vintage buses. And an Amazon-branded kiosk now dispenses Kindles and Kindle-accessories at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Houston (IAH), Oakland and San Francisco. A Kindle kiosk should appear at the Atlanta airport by mid-April, said Melissa Jones of Zoomsystems.

And for travelers who wear glasses, Opticwash is hoping airports will install its automated kiosks that use ultraviolet light to wash and clean eyeglasses or sunglasses in about a minute for a suggested price of one dollar.

Opticwash kiosk for cleaning eyeglasses and sunglasses_photo Harriet Baskas

Catering to ‘gate huggers’

Because so many travelers like to get through security and make a beeline for their gates, airport hold rooms are getting makeovers.

With iPads and delivery service, OTG transformed hold rooms at airports in New York, Minneapolis, Toronto and several other cities into marketing zones. Now Paradies, which has shops in dozens of airports, has an “At Your Service” cart stocked with soft drinks, snacks, magazines, neck pillows and other newsstand bestsellers that can be easily rolled into busy hold areas before a flight.

“The cart service lets us serve the ‘gate huggers’ and is made possible by new technology and need,” said Justin Marlett, senior marketing manager for Paradies.

John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., got the first, pushcart-style, version of the Paradies “At Your Service” cart and Florida’s Palm Beach International Airport is home to the first full-sized unit.

Expanding spas

Travel can be stressful no matter how customer friendly an airport appears to be, so spas offering everything from neck and foot massages to manicures, haircuts and facials continue to expand their presence in the nation’s terminals.

XpresSpa now has more than 50 locations, while Paris-based Be Relax, which currently has U.S. branches at Baltimore-Washington, Boston Logan, Detroit Metropolitan and San Diego, will be opening its full-service branch – with barbers and hair styling services – at the end of April at JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK International Airport.

More to eat

Dining options at most airports have definitely been expanding and improving. And while many popular new “concepts” in airports are joint ventures between established concession management companies and local or national restaurateurs, a wide range of companies — from SONIC (known for its drive-ins) to Camille’s Hand-Dipped Ice Cream Bars and Luvo, whose healthy wraps and snacks are currently offered on some Delta Air Lines’ flights — are trying to break into the club.

“Being in an airport would give us a great platform for getting our brand into markets where we currently have little or no penetration,” said Greg Delks, vice president for franchise development for Firehouse Subs, which has almost 750 street-side branches but is hoping to get its first airport location.

Firehouse Subs hoping to move into airports_photo Harriet Baskas

“There’s a ceiling to how much some of these brands can grow on the street side,” said Ramon Lo, editorial director of Airport Revenue News, “so they’re trying to get ahead of the curve, diversify and find different avenues of growth.”


Another new amenity to begin looking for in domestic airports is the HappyOrNot customer feedback device already in use in at least 40 airports outside the United States.

HappyOrNotKiosk being tested at Greenville-Spartanburg Int'l Airport t_photo courtesy GSP Airport

The units have four, brightly-colored smiley face-based buttons that make it easy for passengers to give immediate feedback on the service they’ve received at checkpoints, gates, transfer desks and other spots. In some airports, travelers can use a similar device to rate the cleanliness and condition of the restrooms.

The first U.S. airport to install HappyOrNot machines is Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina, which currently has a few test units in the baggage claim area.

“We strive to improve the customer experience … and look for ways to measure the effectiveness of all these efforts,” said Rosylin Weston, GSP spokesperson. The HappyOrNot units are not only an effective overall measurement tool, said Weston, “but they can analyze data on a weekly, daily or even hourly basis.”

(My story about fresh airport amenities first appeared on my “At the Airport” column on

Spas at O’Hare & free ice-cream for Virgin America passengers

Good news for anyone who finds themselves stuck at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

There are now full-service spas in the domestic terminals.


Terminal Getaway Spa, which already has a branch at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), has opened two branches at O’Hare: one in Terminal 1 near Gate B14 and another in Terminal 3 near Gate H1.

A third branch is scheduled to open this spring in the H/K Corridor, near the American Airlines Admirals Club.

Services on the menu include manicures, pedicures, massages and more.

And, if you’re flying on Virgin America out of San Francisco between March 4- June 30, you can get free ice-cream – on the ground.

VIrgin America Ice cream

As part of a roll-out for the new menu for first-class passengers on the airline’s long-haul business flights between San Francisco and Los Angeles to Newark, New York, Boston and Washington National Airport, the airline is offering travelers in any cabin a free scoop of Humphry Slocombe’s ice cream.

The San Francisco-based ice-cream maker has whipped up three ice cream flavors for Virgin American – Butter By Moodlight, Red-Hot Banana and Coconut Blond Ambition – and Virgin America is inviting the public to vote via Twitter on which should be the airline’s signature flavor served on board.

Free tastings took place at San Francisco International Airport on Feb. 20, but from March 4 – June 30, anyone showing a Virgin America boarding pass at either of the Humphry Slocombe’s two San Francisco locations (The Ferry Building & Mission) can get a free scoop.

In addition to the new first-class menu, Virgin America is also updating its First Class service settings with hot towel and linen table service available on all flights.

Airports employ nibble fish and honeybees

Forget the backrub. There’s now a fish pedicure spa at London’s busy Stansted Airport.


In a new airport offering, travelers can put their bare feet into aquariums filled with Garra Rufa or ‘doctor fish’ and let the fish nibble away at the dead skin.


This is in the news because it’s the first fish spa at a London airport, but it’s not the first airport fish spa.

A branch of Refresh Bodyworks at Singapore’s Changi Airport also offers passengers the opportunity to have their feet “polished” by fish.


The nibbling fish aren’t the only animals being put to work at airports.

In Germany, bees will help monitor the air quality around the new Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BBI), which is being built on the grounds of Schoenefeld Airport.

According to a statement from the airport, honey, honeycombs and bees belonging to beekeepers in the region will be monitored for signs of pollution caused by air traffic.

This isn’t the first airport to enlist bees. According to a June, 2010 article in the NYT, there are also bees on duty at Dusseldorf International and seven other German airports.

And while we’re buzzing about bees:

More than a dozen Fairmont Hotels in Canada, the US and other countries also have bees on duty.

Most have rooftop hives, but the Fairmont Vancouver Airport has 24 colonies at McDonald Beach Park, five minutes from the airport. The hotels use the harvested honey in everything from cocktails and special restaurant dishes to soap and honey sticks.

In my neck of the woods, the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle is just now getting five rooftop hives and the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C. is getting 10.


More posh airport amenities

From my recent Bing Travel slide show, here are a few more posh airport amenities:


Offering travelers the world’s largest airport slide, a transit hotel with a roof-top pool and free foot massages, live entertainment, movie theaters and computer games, Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport consistently tops the posh chart. Posher yet: five fanatically-tended-to themed gardens displaying, respectively, ferns, orchids, cactus, sunflowers and more than 1,000 live butterflies.

Posh perusing is available at Taiwan Tayoun International Airport, which now has a library with 2000 paper books and 400 e-titles for passengers on layovers. The much larger Airport Library at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport opened last year. The “sitting area with added value” offers a multi-media collection of books, films and music about Dutch history, culture, art and literature.

Maintaining a posh state of mind in transit is easier if you look and feel great. Thankfully, spas offering manicures, haircuts, facials and back, neck and foot massages are becoming commonplace in many terminals. At Finland’s Helsinki Airport, relaxation goes a step further: a Finnair-branded spa offers a choice of spruce, stone, steam or a traditional Finnish sauna.

They say music hath charms to soothe the savage beast. So can music relax stressed-out travelers? We think so. Especially if you catch one of the regular concerts offered at airports in Austin, Nashville, San Diego or San Francisco. The poshest airport musical act may take place at Portland International Airport, where John English (“The Voice”) delivers Frank Sinatra tributes twice-weekly.

For more, see the full posh airport amenities slide show on Bing Travel – or check back here tomorrow.

Re-launched day spa at Newark Liberty International Airport

When it opened back in 2000, the d_parture spa, at what is now Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), was probably the first day spa at an airport.

A decade has gone by, airport businesses have come and gone, but d_parture spa is still here.  And CEO Gina Stern has re-launched the Newark branch as a total eco-friendly space with eco-friendly products, be-good-to-the-earth practices, and a menu of services that includes massages, manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing, and haircuts.

Even if you don’t have time to stop for a spa or salon service, stop by to see the products for sale. d_parture spa is featuring items from a retail program called “The Women’s Pagoda,” which will feature 200 products from more than 20 women-owned small businesses.

You’ll find the renewed d_parture spa at Newark Liberty International Airport Terminal C, by gate 92. There’s also a branch at Orlando International Airport (across from the Suncross Bank).