Airport food

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.

AUS: 5 Things We Love About Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Our “5 Things We Love About...” series celebrating features and amenities at airports around the country and the world makes an overdue landing at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS).

The airport’s main terminal is named for Barbara Jordan (pictured above on the airport’s trading card. Jordan was the first Black woman elected to the Texas state senate and the first Black Texan in Congress.

If we miss something you love at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), please leave a note in the comments section below. And keep in mind that some of the amenities we mention may currently be unavailable due to health concerns. We’re confident they’ll be back.

And be sure to take a look at the other airports we’ve featured so far in the “5 Things We Love About...” series.

5 Things We Love About Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)

1. The Live Music at AUS Airport

Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and that includes live music at the airport.

AUS’s Live Music in the Air series presents 31 (yes 31!) live music events a week in 7 airport venues.

During the annual SXSW festival there are bonus concerts at the airport. Once a year, there’s a Kid Band Week. There’s overhead music running all the time, courtesy of listener-support radio station KUTX (give a listen). And there’s an AUS Spotify playlist you can listen to as well.

The Live Music in the Air series is abbreviated for now, but we’re told when the full series comes back it will offer even more live music than before.

The only downside of all that live music at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)? You might have so much fun you’ll miss your plane.

2. The Art at AUS airport

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) offers travelers the opportunity to view a both permanent public art and changing exhibitions.

Austin Downtown Cruiser (Night) by Young-Min Kang

We love all the art we’ve seen at AUS airport. But we especially enjoy Jill Bedgood’s “big hair” etchings found in some women’s restrooms at AUS. In some men’s rooms, you’ll find etchings of a variety of big hats.

Feel free to try them on. Everyone does.

3. Coffee Robots at AUS Airport

There are lots of places to get really great coffee at AUS airport.

But even before social-distancing was a thing, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport understood that sometimes it’s just fine if a robot, not a live person, hands you your coffee. In fact, it can be more fun.

Austin-based Briggo specialty coffee company has two robotic Coffee Haus units at AUS Airport, by Gate 12 and Gate 17.

Order on the app or at the machine and pick up your drink after you get a text from the coffee-making robot. The robots are on duty 24/7.

4. Great stuff to eat at AUS airport

Last year travelers ate 1,603,602 tacos at AUS airport.

The airport does a brisk business in brisket sandwiches and ice-cream as well.

Where to eat?

Some options at AUS include Amy’s Ice-Creams, Hut’s Hamburgers, Berry Austin, ippies and Hops, Earl Campbell’s Taco Truck, Salt Lick Barbecue and Tacodeli.

Brisket sandwich available at Austin-Bergstrom Int’l Airport

5. Outdoor patios at AUS

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) has outdoor patios at both the Barbara Jordan and South Terminals.

The 5,770-square-foot patio in the Barbara Jordan Terminal is on the mezzanine level between Gates 1-2 and, as a nice bonus, there’s an air-conditioned area.

Did we miss one of your favorite amenities at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport?

If so, leave a note in the comments section below and we’ll try to add it.

And be sure to take a look at some of the airports we’ve already featured in our “5 Things We Love About...” series. We’re adding more all the time.

Travel Tidbits from an airport near you

Here’s some of the airport news that caught our attention today.

May I help you, virtually?

Our first encounter with a video help desk was at the massive Istanbul Airport in October 2019.

It seemed odd but, then, efficient to step up to what seemed like an unstaffed information desk and then have a live video chat with someone located offsite.

But now video chats are the socially distanced way to get questions answered in an airport.

As of May 2020, volunteer Airport Ambassadors staff the Virtual Information Booth at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF).

And now Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is running a Virtual Assistance pilot program in Terminal 2.

Travelers can have real-time video conversations with a customer services specialist over a touch-free tablet system installed at the information booth.

As health safety and social distancing concerns continue, we expect to see more airports offering some sort of virtual help desk.

San Jose International Airport shows off its ingenuity

Like most airports now, Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) is implementing new health and safety measures in its terminal.

We like the no-nonsense social distancing signage and floor decals.

And we are impressed that instead of waiting months for out-of-stock hand-sanitizing stations and plexiglass barriers, the Facilities and Engineering team at SJC is making its own.

At Your Gate + Grab = Service

Grab, the time-saving app that lets you order from an airport restaurant and then go straight to the pick-up line to get your meal is partnering with AtYourGate, the service that lets you order airport food via an app and have it delivered to you wherever you are in the terminal.

The partnership makes sense on many levels but is perfectly timed for these ‘no-touch’ times.

Grab already operates in over 50 airports in 4 countries. AtYourGate serves 10 airports now, with 40 more to be served in short order.

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.

EVV: 5 THINGS WE LOVE ABOUT EVANSVILLE REGIONAL AIRPORT

Stuck at The Airport continues its “5 Things We Love About…” series today with “5 Things We Love About Evansville Regional Airport (EVV)” in Indiana.

If we have missed a feature or amenity at EVV that you love, please be sure to add in the comments section below.

And keep in mind that some of the features we mention may be temporarily unavailable due to health concerns.  

Before we get started, here’s a link to all the other airports we’ve featured so far in the 5 Things We Love About… series. Feel free to nominate an airport for the series. If you want to sponsor one of the episodes, get in touch.

5 Things We Love About Evansville Regional Airport (EVV)

1. EVV’s business lounge

EVV’s free-to-use post-security business lounge has privacy booths, couch seating, privacy shielded tables and “fishbowl” offices.

Bonus “get things done” extras include free Wi-Fi and seats with charging outlets in the terminal.

2. EVV’s Second Saturday Stories

Here is a great way to make an airport a key part of the community.

EVV’s “Second Saturday Stories” is a storytelling program in partnership with the local library system that takes place at the airport on, you guessed it, the second Saturday of each month.

Children and their family members gather at the airport to listen to stories, sing songs, create art about airplanes and aviation, and just have fun.

We also love the play area for kids at EVV

3. EVV’s Iron Compass café

EVV’s Iron Compass Café and bar – the airport’s only restaurant – is a bit different than other regional airport restaurants. The menu includes more than 70 brands of bourbon, from regional Kentucky bourbons to nips of the precious Pappy Van Winkle.

4. EVV’s solar parking canopies

Fewer than 10 airports around the country have solar covered canopies and, at 1.3 megawatts, EVV’s will be the largest solar parking canopy installation in the U.S.

When at full operation the canopies will supply 50 percent of the terminal’s power.

5. Shopping at EVV

Evansville Regional Airport (EVV) has one small gift shop, but it stocks some unusual items.

On the shelves, passengers will find a local line of soap and shampoo for dogs, Evansville-themed “e is for everyone” swag and, for some reason, giant spoons that are more than 3 feet long.

Did we miss a feature or amenity at Evansville Regional Airport that you love? Please add a note in the comments section below.

Have an airport to nominate for the series? Let us know which one and, of course, 5 reasons why you love that airport.