entertainment at airports

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


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.

Music returns to Pittsburgh International Airport


Thursday afternoons are now a great to time to be stuck at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Starting today, the airport brings backs its Thursday afternoon Performing Arts Series, which will feature local musicians and “artists of all genres,” for shows in the Baggage Claim and in other areas of the airport terminal.

The series began in 2016 with a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and last year featured about 35 artists – pianists, harpists, guitarists, duos, trios, and soloists.

The performance schedule for 2017 is posted here, but the 2017 line-up looks like this so far:

3/30/2017            1-4 pm  Dan Bubien

4/6/2017              1-4pm   The New Mingle

4/13/2017            2-4pm   JuliAnne Wright

4/20/2017            1-4pm   The Squirrel Hillbillies

4/27/2017            1-4pm   Dan Sty

5/4/2017              1-4pm   Samantha Sears

While  you’re at PIT airport, don’t forget to look for the art , which includes work by Andy Warhol from Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum, a giant robotic figure (Arch) by Jackie Ferrara, Toby Fraley’s Robot Repair installation, Alexander Calder’s Pittsburgh mobile and more.





Holiday discounts & diversions at US airports

Here’s my ‘bonus’ At the Airport column on USAToday.com this week: a round-up of some of the holiday entertainment and special offers at airports this holiday season.

Even if everything goes according to schedule, getting to and through the airport can be a real headache during the hectic holiday travel season.To ease the stress and help keep passengers in good spirits, many airports offer holiday entertainment, promotions and contests as well as discount offers at shops and restaurants throughout the terminals.

Here’s a taste of what’s on tap for this holiday season.

The LAX TSA choir - really!


For more, keep your smartphone handy when you travel: Many performances and special offers are still rolling out on airport websites and some events are being posted exclusively on airport Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

Prizes and promotions

This year it may pay to save some cash – and room in your carry-on – for last-minute holiday shopping at the airport.

San Antonio International Airport’s (SAT) coupon campaign is available online and will be printed on boarding passes. Those with smartphones need only show the coupon on their phones to a participating vendor to use the offer. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is also offering discounts to travelers who use their smartphones to scan barcodes on signs throughout the airport.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s Holiday edition of the Eat, Shop, Relax guide runs through December 31 and includes more than 80 coupons for some of MSP’s most popular restaurants, shops and services.

At New York’s LaGuardia Airport, travelers can print out or download a coupon good through January 2, 2012 for 20% off an item in a participating store or restaurant in the Central Terminal Food & Shops program.

And, as part of one of the holiday promotions taking place at Boston Logan International Airport this season, travelers are invited to write and submit a letter to Santa in the St. Nick Send Me to St. Thomas contest, which has as first prize a trip for four to St. Thomas.

Decorations, music and more

Most airports have holiday decorations strung up, but Fresno Yosemite International Airport is once again hosting a display of eleven uniquely decorated Christmas trees. This year’s theme is “An Airport Christmas…non-stop adventure” and each tree will be decorated to highlight one of the airport’s non-stop destinations.

At the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, “the holiday decorations are up and the children will be singing and dancing,” reports airport spokesperson Allan Siegel. The airport is getting ready to host its 23nd Annual Winter Festival of Music. From December 12 through December 16th, more than 1,200 children from various Broward County elementary, middle and high schools will be performing throughout the airport terminals.

The seasonal Choral Concert Program is already underway at Pittsburgh International Airport. Performances take place on the pre-security ticketing level of the Landside Terminal and feature choirs and orchestras from local schools and community groups and runs through December 22nd. A series of early morning (6:30 am to 8:30 am) piano concerts continues through December 30th.

TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez confirms that at Los Angeles International Airport, the LAX TSA choir is scheduled to perform December 20th at Terminal 4 and December 22nd in the public area of the international terminal.

Appearances by Santa are expected at a several airports, including Philadelphia International Airport, where Santa will be strolling through the airport and stopping to pose for pictures through Christmas Eve. PHL also promises passengers Victorian carolers, visits from Philadelphia’s famous Mummers, music performances, dance troupes and other entertainment.

Karaoke at the Houston Airport

Nashville International Airport will fill five stages with holiday-themed performances by the Cremona Strings Ensemble, the Pattie Cossentino Jazz Quartet, The Nashtones, Freeplay, The Billie Gaines Band and others through December 22nd and, each Wednesday and Friday through December 23rd, San Francisco International Airport’s ‘You are Hear’ program will be offering holiday-entertainment at stages located post-security in Terminals 2 and 3 and pre-security in the International Terminal. On Friday, December 23rd, the Golden Gate Bell Ringers return for a performance in the International Terminal.

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a storybook-costumed character will read to children at the Red Balloon Bookshop (near Gate C12) December 22-23 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., on the hour and half-hour.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which offers 15 live music performances each week throughout the year, has a holiday festival line-up (December 19 through 22) that includes Bishop Sterling Lands, the Judy Lee Dancers (tap-dancers 60 and older), the Austin Jazz Workshop and the Austin Square & Round Dancers.

Passengers (and some airport employees) will help provide the entertainment this year at two airports: Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport opens the mikes for airport karaoke on December 19th and Detroit Metro Airport’s karaoke event takes place December 19-22. “It’s been a big hit in past years, and we look forward to another great week of filling the concourse with the talent of travelers and airport team members while also collecting contributions for a great cause! [the Salvation Army],” said airport spokesperson Scott Wintner.

And, beginning at 6 am on December 23rd, travelers will be serenaded by the Full Measure Carolers and the Rockin’ Cranberries at the San Diego International Airport.