airport amenities

What are the best new airport amenities of 2020?

Despite challenges, airports landed welcome new amenities this year

[This is a slightly different version of the story we prepared for USA TODAY]

Despite the challenges set out by COVID-19 this year, airports pressed forward and introduced new features, new art, new technologies, and new amenities for passengers.

For example, in January 2020, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), went smoke-free, one of the last major U.S. airports to do so. And in February, Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) introduced a coat-check service. It is still the only U.S. airport offering this service.

Courtesy MKE

Here are some other new amenities airports introduced in 2020. Keep in mind that some may be temporarily unavailable due to health concerns.

New art, attractions, and a new terminal

Courtesy LaGuardia Gateway Parnters

As part of the much acclaimed rebuild of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, in November a 25-foot-tall water feature turned on in Terminal B, In addition to displaying various patterns and shapes, the water falling from the towers’ nozzles serves as a backdrop for projected laser shows.

During November, Denver International Airport (DEN) celebrated the arrival of the 27-foot-tall ‘Luminous Wind’ sculpture at the light rail station stop right before the airport.

Courtesy Denver International Airport

And in September and October, Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) debuted its new Terminal B. This is the first phase of the first new hub airport built in the U.S. in the 21st century.

Courtesy Salt Lake City International Airport

New Observation Decks and a record-breaking sky bridge

In February San Francisco International Airport (SFO) opened the SkyTerrace. The pre-security deck in Terminal 2 is open to the public and offers 180-degree views of the busiest section of SFO, where all four runways intersect.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) claimed a spot in the record books in February with the installation of a 780-foot long pedestrian bridge that is now the world’s longest structure over an active taxiway.

Courtesy Port of Seattle

And as part of its Gate Expansion Program, in November, Denver International Airport (DEN) unveiled an outdoor deck on the west side of Concourse B. In addition to outdoor seating, the deck has a pet relief area and fire pits.

Courtesy Denver International Airport

Entertainment

While most airports had to put their in-terminal music and performance programs on hold, airports continued to offer entertainment.

Almost two dozen airports banded together in August and again in May for JetStream music festivals. The free, multi-hour livestream events featured musicians from the entertainment line-up offered by the participating airports.

Over the summer, California’s Ontario International Airport (ONT), which has served as movie set for some popular films, set up movie screens and drive-in movie nights. In October, Akron-Canton Airport (CAK) and Nebraska’s Lincoln Airport (LNK) had drive-in movie nights for Halloween-season movies.

Courtesy ONT Airport

And Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) debuted an entertaining Coca-Cola themed lounge in Terminal D complete with charging stations, seating, activities, and memorabilia-filled exhibits.

Courtesy DFW Airport

Fresh Services for health and safety

Of course, in response to the COVID-19 health pandemic, airports have been focusing time, energy, creativity and, of course, money on making sure the terminals are clean and safe for travelers.

Since March, airports throughout the country have sprouted hand-sanitizing stations, PPE vending machines, and temperature-check programs. They have developed contactless systems for bag check, check-in, security screening, and boarding. And both Grab and At Your Gate have expanded their offerings for in-airport food ordering and delivery.

Cleaning and sanitizing robots have joined the permanent staff at airports in Pittsburgh, San Antonio and many other cities.

Courtesy PIT Airport

In May, Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF) introduced a virtual information booth. Los Angeles International Airport, Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI), and Denver International Airport (DEN) now offer similar services. And as the holiday season kicks off, COVID-19 testing stations, many in partnership with airlines, are quickly proliferating at airports across the nation.

Courtesy SDF Airport

Did we miss a new airport amenity you spotted in 2020? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Souvenir Sunday: Free Cookies at Fort Wayne Int’l Airport (FWA)

Since 2000, volunteer hosts at Fort Wayne International Airport in Indiana has been welcoming arriving passengers with free individually wrapped cookies.

The cookies are made fresh by the nearby Ellison Bakery. And when the volunteers are off-duty, cookies are still available from a self-serve cookie kiosk at the security exit.

Over the years, FWA Airport has given out a lot of those free cookies.

Millions, in fact.

And on Friday, June 26 the airport had a party for the 3-millionth free cookie.

The guests of honor? An unsuspecting family arriving on a flight from Tampa. In addition to the free milestone cookie, their prizes include a basket of gifts from the airport, a free roundtrip ticket for 2 on Allegiant Air, and lots more cookies from Ellison Bakery. Nice!

Despite a drop in air traffic that is no doubt taking a bite out of its budget, the free cookie program at Fort Wayne International Airport is not crumbling.

In fact, FWA and Ellison Bakery announced that arriving passengers will now get a free package of 7 small assorted cookies instead of just one.

Read more about the welcome cookie program at Fort Wayne International Airport in my story on the Runway Girl Network.

Cool Drive-Through Airport Amenity

You can enjoy this airport amenity even if you’re not flying anywhere.

Like the rest of us, the community served by Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) in Madison, Wisconsin could use some distractions during the stress and strains surround the current health crisis.

So the airport decided to move up the planned opening date of a cool attraction it was planning to this week and welcome are residents to come by for the first “Flight of Lights” drive-through, social distancing-friendly light display.

The free attraction is open daily from 7:30 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. through May 10, 2020. And the featured lighted displays honor health care workers and first responders, Wisconsin sports, animals and nature and non-stop destinations served from MSN Airport.

There’s even a UFO thrown in as a bonus.

Here are some snaps from the drive-through, courtesy of the airport.

MSP airport’s newest cocktail bar

Heading to or through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport soon?

Here at Stuck at the Airport, we are all about cool amenities and shops and restaurants that reflect the local community.

So, we’re curious to check out the newest addition at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport: The Cocktail Room at 18th and Central in Terminal 1 Concourse A.

A collaboration between HMSHost Tattersall Distilling, The Cocktail Room at 18th and Central shows off the craft distilling movement in Minnesota and beyond.

The new bar gets its name from Tattersall Distilling’s location in Northeast Minneapolis, and one of its most popular drinks.

Tattersall Distilling is a nationally acclaimed Minneapolis-based craft distiller, which makes organic vodka, straight rye whiskey, apple brandy, aquavit, gin and an extensive portfolio of liqueurs, all with an emphasis on using local ingredients and sustainable practices.

In addition to the unique drink options and specialty cocktails on the menu created for the MSP venue, many of the bar bites and plates are made from locally sourced ingredients.

Signature items menu items include smoked salmon, lemon pepper wings, house-made onion dip, and chicken bacon flatbread. 

There’s also house popcorn, so we’re totally there.

Fresh airport amenities to take the hassle out of travel

Airport amenities that might make summer travel fun. Or less of a hassle

Summer may be half over but many of the hassles of summer travel never end.

Which is why we’re always on the lookout for airport amenities that can take the hassle out of travel.

Here’s a list I put together for USA TODAY Travel.  

Cruise to SEA airport luggage-free

More than a million cruise passengers pass through Seattle on their way to and from Alaska each summer and they bring a lot of luggage with them through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

To keep out all those bags out of the airport check-in halls, the Port of Seattle offers Port Valet. The complimentary service allows passengers to check in for their flights and check in their bags on board their cruise ships and then explore the city luggage-free before heading to their flights. The luggage transfer is free; but regular checked bag fees apply.

Learn how to save a life while waiting for a flight

Los Angeles International is the latest airport to get a Hands-Only CPR Training Kiosk from the American Heart Association.

More than a dozen other airports have these kiosks as well and just five minutes – the time it takes scroll through your Instagram feed again – you can watch a short instruction video (in English or Spanish), practice on a rubber manikin, get feedback on your technique and learn how to save a life.

 Get coffee made by a robot

In two locations at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and one brand new one in Terminal 3 at San Francisco International Airport, travelers can order coffee drinks prepared and delivered by a robotic barista in a Briggo automated Coffee Haus kiosk. 

Orders can be sent ahead via the app, no pre-caffeine chit-chat is required, local coffee blends are features, and there’s a robot on duty 24 hours a day.

Food and sundries delivered to you at your gate

You found an empty seat by a working power plug near your gate and now you’re hungry.

Lucky for you gate delivery services are available in an increasing number of airports. The fast-expanding, app-powered airport order and delivery service At Your Gate rolled out this month in Terminal A at Boston Logan International Airport with plans to expand to Terminal C by the end of summer.

The service is also available in all or parts of Newark (EWR), JFK, LGA, MSP, PDX and San Diego International Airports (SAN) with more on the way.

Tour Tampa International Airport without a ticket

Go to the airport – and through the TSA checkpoint- if you don’t have to?

You might say yes if you wanted to greet or say goodbye to a friend or family member at the gate. Or if you wanted to check out the art, shopping, and the bars and restaurants inside the airport.

Since May, the All Access program at Tampa International Airport has been giving passes to 100 non-ticketed visitors each Saturday (25 per airside terminal). Pittsburgh International Airport’s MyPIT Pass program issues passes for post-security access on weekdays.

Free do-it-yourself piano concerts

Many airports provide live music in the terminals during busy holiday periods and year-round.

Some also provide pianos and invite passengers to make their own music before or after a flight.

St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) recently installed a “Play Me” piano in Terminal 1. And Los Angeles International Airport recently debuted to new Kawai G-40EP manual and self-playing baby grand pianos; one in the Terminal 4 connector and one on the Upper Level of Terminal 7. 

Just Plane Fun at Philadelphia International Airport

It’s like a summer camp at the airport.

The summer-long Just Plane Fun program at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) offers travelers an eclectic schedule of free activities that includes live music, magic shows, artist demonstrations and workshops, beauty demos, local celebrity appearances, and, our favorite, free sips and food samples.

Check the PHL website for scheduled events or pick up a flyer at an airport information counter.

Airport trading cards – collect them all

They’re cool. They’re collectible. They’re free. And they can be a challenge to find.

Over the past few years, more than 70 airports have created trading cards as part of the North American Airport Collectors Series trading card program. The 2019 series is scheduled to debut in September.

There doesn’t seem to be a master list of participating airports, nor a formal way to acquire the cards. But to start your collection we suggest stopping by an information desk in any airport you happen to be traveling to or through this summer.

Let’s all go to the movies – at the airports

The 17-seat free Hollywood Theatre micro cinema at Portland International Airport (PDX) has a fresh reel of short films by Oregon filmmakers, including Rob Tyler’s “The Way We Melt,” starring brightly-colored, rapidly thawing frozen confections.

Summer travelers may also watch free films at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) courtesy of the SFO Museum’s Video Arts Program, at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) in the See 18 Film Screening Room on Concourse C, near Gate C18.

Sensory-friendly Space with real airplane seating

Going to the airport and getting on a plane can be stressful for anyone, but kids or adults with autism or other special needs may need extra help acclimating and adjusting.

To help out, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) just opened Presley’s Place, a 15,000 square-foot sensory-friendly space in Concourse A, by Gate 9. In addition to a calming transition foyer, family room, soundproof adult area, and restroom with adult changing table and adjustable sink, Presley’s Place is the first airport sensory room to also have the walls and floor of a real jet way and a seating section from a realistic airplane cabin, courtesy American Airlines.

Have a favorite airport amenity? Let us know; maybe it will be featured here on Stuck at The Airport.