(SAN DIEGO, APRIL, 29, 2016: Members of the Fern Street Circus perform at the San Diego International Airport. Photo: Gary Payne)
We’re ending the year with a look back at some of the cool new amenities and events airports offered travelers during 2016.
During 2016, San Diego International Airport awarded its first performing arts residency to the Fern Street Circus, which spent several months at the airport creating, rehearsing and performing a new show about – what else – traveling – and just clowning around with passengers.
The train between Denver International Airport and downtown Denver finally started running.
And events on the plaza between DEN’s terminal and the Westin Denver International Airport got underway. Through January 1, there’s ice-skating on the plaza.
During 2016 airline and airport employees joined passengers at airports in Miami, Seattle, Denver, Charlotte, North Carolina and other airports to stand very still and be filmed for the latest viral internet trend known as the mannequin challenge.
This story I wrote for NBC News is getting lots of lookers; no doubt because the words “circus” and “TSA” appear close together. Staff at Denver Airport initially told me they were handing out “suckers” in addition to Peppermint Patties and Hershey’s Kisses, but clarified that “lollipops” was really what they meant. Because just imagine what the comments would look like if the terms “circus”, “TSA” and “suckers” were all in the same story….”
With mounting delays around the country being blamed on Transportation Security Administration cutbacks and increased passenger traffic, airports are turning to musical performers and free sweets to keep travelers’ tempers in check.
And some airports are getting a little more creative.
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is now inviting miniature therapy horses and their handlers from the non-profit Seven Oaks Farms Miniature Therapy Horses program in Hamilton, Ohio to visit the terminals several times a month.
“Animals help reduce stress and anxiety levels and put smiles on people’s faces,” said Mindy Kershner, a spokeswoman for the airport.
“Unlike service animals, who are working and should not be touched, therapy animals can be patted and hugged.”
And while many other airports have therapy dog programs in the terminals, “We figured this is Kentucky, after all, so we need horses,” Kershner said.
San Diego International Airport is bringing in the clowns.
As part of a performing arts residency program, Fern Street Circus will be offering performances, rehearsals and workshops in the airport over the next eight months.
“They are creating content inspired by the traveler experience, so they will constantly be visible, trying out new ideas and interacting with passengers,” said airport spokesman Jonathan Heller. “We certainly think they will be at the checkpoints often, as people waiting in line are a great audience for them!”
Sea-Tac Airport is expanding its popular post-security music program to the pre-security areas, and dipping into its coffers to hire extra staff workers to help TSA with some checkpoint duties, such as bin loading and unloading.
The airport in Atlanta is adding extra music performers in the areas before security, and bringing on more staff members to answers travelers’ questions.
During very busy checkpoint wait times, the team will also be handing out snacks and beverages to passengers in line.
“Passengers in the world’s most traveled airport should not be surprised if they find themselves welcomed, offered a bottled water and provided information by ATL’s general manager,” said airport spokesman Andy Gobeil.
At Denver International Airport, the customer service team now occasionally hands out water, Hershey’s Kisses, Peppermint Patties and lollipops to passengers waiting on long lines.
“We can’t participate in security-related procedures,” said DIA spokesman Heath Montgomery, “but we are talking with the TSA about how we can creatively use airport staff for things like bin management and other non-security tasks.”
The early morning visit came on the heels of a long Oktoberfest night and I was having a bit of hard time paying attention and understanding our guide’s heavily accented English.
But I perked right up when we crossed a huge indoor public space and the guide said the word “circus.”
Turns out that on first Sunday of every month Dusseldorf Airport turns its public hall into an event space for the community.
Free events have included a ski jump with real snow, dance festivals featuring celebrities from Germany’s version of “Dancing with the Stars,” a florist championship, sports previews for the summer Olympics and soccer championships, fashion shows and, yes – a circus.
Here’s a highlight they’ve made of some of the past events:
Well, here’s an airport moving in the right direction.
Washington’s Spokane International Airport, which serves about 3 million passengers a year, is now offering travelers free Wi-Fi (well, for 20 minutes..) inside the Terminal Building and, starting in September, will be providing baggage carts at no charge.
“In today’s climate, people are unhappy with the pricing models of air travel companies and are suffering from declines in customer service,” said airport director Lawrence Krauter.
“This is just the beginning of our commitment to explore new ways to provide greater customer satisfaction at Spokane International Airport.”
After all, this is the airport that serves as the gateway for the Spokane Fantasy Flight to the North Pole each December for 60 kids and their elf escorts – so you know they know how to have a good time.