family travel

IAD: 5 Things We Love about Washington Dulles International Airport

Our “5 Things We Love About…” series celebrates features and amenities at airports around the country and the world.

Today, we are landing at Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).

We know that right now some of the features we mention might be temporarily unavailable due to health concerns. But we are confident they will be back.

Did we miss your favorite amenity at Dulles International Airport (IAD)? Let us know in the comments section below.

Have an airport you’d like to see featured in the “5 Things We Love About…” series? Make your nomination in the comments section as well.

5 Thing We Love About Dulles International Airport

1. The IAD Main Terminal Building

Opened in 1962 as the country’s first ‘jet-age’ airport, Dulles International Airport is perhaps best-known for architect Eero Saarinen’s iconic curved-roof design for the main terminal.

2. The mobile lounges at IAD

These days, many passengers at IAD move between concourses on the underground AeroTrain, a 3.78-mile underground people mover system.

But IAD’s historic mobile lounges are in still in use.

IAD’s mobile lounges transport international arriving passengers from their arrival gate to the International Arrivals Building. The mobile lounges shuttle passengers between the main terminal and the concourses, and between concourse. And when airplanes are parked on a remote hardstand, the mobile lounges ferry passengers to the main terminal.

3. The historic FAA air traffic control tower at IAD

The original Airport Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) at Dulles International Airport dates to the airport’s opening in 1962 and remains on-site because of its historical significance to the airport’s design.

A new tower was dedicated in 2007 and is about one mile from the original tower.

4. Kids play area at IAD

What can we say? Sometimes kids have all the fun at the airport.

5. Only airport with Chipotle breakfast

Want a breakfast burrito made by Chipotle? The only place you will find that on the Chipotle menu is at Dulles International Airport.

Bonus: Pat Nixon christens 1st 747

Back on January 15, 1970 then-First Lady Pat Nixon christened the first commercial Boeing 747 during a ceremony at Dulles International Airport.

She also got to sit inside the plane’s cockpit.

White House Photo
White House photo

Take a look at some of the other airports in the “5 Things We Love About...” series.

HOU: 5 Things We Love About Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport

Our “5 Things We Love About…” series celebrating features and amenities at airports around the country and the world continues today with 5 Things We Love About Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport (HOU).

Keep in mind that some amenities may be temporarily unavailable due to health concerns. We are confident they’ll be back.

If we missed one of your favorite things about Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport, please leave a note in the comments section below.

And take a look at the other airports we’ve included the 5 Things We Love About… series so far.

HOU: 5 Things We Love About Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport

1. The Art At HOU

Houston’s Airport System has one of the largest collections of public art in the state of Texas and William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) gets to show off quite a bit of that art.

2. The music at HOU

HOU’s Harmony in the Air program presents live music performances in the Central Concourse Rotunda.

Concerts are scheduled Monday through Saturday and include everything from classical, jazz and pop to international music.

3. Amenities for families at HOU

HOU has a 450-square-foot space-themed play area near Gate A4 with a rocket slide, comet climbing structure, and an interactive light board.

The airport also has two nursing rooms. Each room has AC and USB power outlets, a changing table and nursing glider chairs. Locations: near Gates 4 and 46.

4. NASA exhibit at HOU

Houston is “Space City,” so travelers passing through HOU airport are treated to space-themed exhibits.

5. Souvenirs at HOU

The souvenir shopping at HOU ranges from space-themed items to more traditional Texas-wear.

Did we miss one of your favorite amenities at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport (HOU)? Add your note in the comments section below.

Cities strive to out-sanitize each other in a bid for tourist dollars

(This is an ever so slightly different version of my story that posted on NBC News).

Would a “clean city” pledge get you to plan a trip?

We’re into what by all rights should be a busy summer travel season. But many states are hitting the breaks on reopening plans due to record spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Yet in many parts of the country, beaches and bars are filling up, hotel occupancy rates are rising and attractions such as zoos, aquariums and museums are welcoming back visitors.

Disney World Resort’s phased opening plans in Florida are on track, even though Disneyland’s plans in California are delayed.  

The push to reopen is being fueled in part by businesses starving for customers and cash flow. But also by a cooped up public cautiously optimistic about making travel plans and hoping for a slowdown in the spread of COVID-19.

Communities that for months have been asking guests to stay away are now scrambling for ways to get business and leisure travelers to come back.

Campaigns to get tourists back

Now, branded campaigns declaring a destination clean, safe, and sanitized are trending.

“Tourism has taken a serious blow and destinations are doing whatever they can to restore consumer confidence,” says Misty Belles, a managing director with the Virtuoso travel agency network. “We know that concerns over contracting the virus are one of the key barriers to getting people comfortable with traveling again, so cities across the country are touting their enhanced cleaning protocols to quell those fears,” she adds.

In Ohio, window decals and website badges in Columbus are a sign that businesses have signed the “Live Forward” pledge to make the health and safety of patrons a priority.

“To meet this obligation, we’ve established additional protection measures and trained our team in enhanced best practices for safety and sanitation,” says David Miller, President and CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants.

Cleveland’s Clean Committed campaign provides participating businesses with safety kits, guidelines, and materials to help make sure the city is ready for the return of visitors.

In Rochester, Minnesota (home of the Mayo Clinic), businesses in the Rochester Ready program are also implementing protocols in physical distancing, masking, cleaning, sanitizing and building ventilation.

Nashville’s Good to Go program is one of many with searchable databases of businesses that have vowed to adhere to coronavirus guidelines.

States are getting into the act as well. For example, Indiana has a Hoosier Hospitality Promise and the Count on Me NC public health initiative program stretches across North Carolina.

The list of vacation spots with clean campaigns is long and getting longer.

It is not only because cities are taking the health concerns of citizens and visitors seriously. Lodging industry consultant Bjorn Hanson says it also because “no destination manager or government entity wants to be viewed as doing less than others to attract and protect travelers.”

Will travelers trust a city’s seal of cleanliness?

Megan Tenney, whose family of six has been traveling full time since September 2018, now monitors COVID requirements and the health news in places the family is considering visiting.

“We’re focusing on places that seem to be doing better or were less affected to begin with,” said Tenney, “And I think a ‘clean campaign’ would give us the confidence to travel to a location.”

But while Brian DeRoy of Charleston, South Carolina feels that “whoever can market best in the game of being clean is going to have an advantage,” Seattle-based frequent traveler Rob Grabarek would not feel reassured by a city’s program alone.

“I’d have to examine the extent of a local government’s policies to see if I felt there were sufficient,” said Grabarek, “And while I applaud the idea of identifying businesses that are in compliance, I wouldn’t feel safe unless the entire community were adhering to the same stringent practices.”

Given that there is no single organization or government entity to oversee and assure that all these cleaning campaigns are effective, the emphasis on cleanliness as a destination marketing tool may not last long.

“Our travel advisors tell us there are really two traveler mindsets right now,” said Virtuoso’s Belles, “Those who want to pull back the curtain and know how everything they potentially come in contact with is being sterilized and those who just want to trust that it’s happening. Too much focus on cleanliness may actually backfire on those looking for the escapism in their vacation.”

What do you think? Would a city’s pledge of cleanliness be reassuring enough to get you to plan a trip?

5 Things We Love About: San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

5 Things We Love About San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Today Stuck at the Airport kicks off a new feature of short airport profiles celebrating some of the services, amenities and features we love about airports around the world.  

We could go on and on (as we often do) about some our favorites, of course.

But to keep things moving along, we are keeping the list for this series to just five things we love about each airport.

Our goal is to add at least one “Five things we love about…” feature each week. But, honestly, we’re just hanging around waiting for the time we can once again step foot into some of these airports, so during the next few weeks we’ll likely be posting a few of these features each week.

If you want to add a note about a feature or amenity you love about an airport that we don’t mention, we encourage you to add it in the comments section below.

Keep in mind: some amenities may be temporarily unavailable due to COVID-19 concerns.

And if you want to sponsor one of the “5 Things We Love About…” entries, get in touch.

5 Things We Love About: San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Courtesy SFO Airport

1. Museums at SFO Airport

Back in 1999, the SFO Museum was the first airport museum to be accredited by the Americal Alliance of Museums (AAM).

Today, the SFO Museum presents charming and educational exhibitions in more than twenty galleries through the airport terminals.

Courtesy SFO Museum

But that’s not all. SFO is also home to the San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Museum and Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum, which is home to a permanent collection dedicated to the history of commercial aviation.

2. SFO’s “Kids Spot” play areas

Kids will definitely enjoy many of the museum exhibitions at SFO Airport, but they’ll also enjoy the interactive Kids Spot areas around the airport, located in Terminals 1, 2 and 3.

3. The SkyTerrace outdoor observation deck

Outdoor observation decks at airports are rare amenities these days. SFO has two.

The Outdoor Terrace in International Terminal 5 is located post-security (near Gate G14) and wooden chairs, tables, chaise lounges, drought-tolerant landscaping, bronze sculptures and 180-degree views of the airfield.

 The SkyTerrace is an outdoor observation deck located pre-security in Terminal 2 that also offers great views of the airfield.

4. The Wag Brigade therapy animals

Like many airports, San Francisco International has a team of certified therapy animals that mingles with travelers to provide diversion and reduce stress.

SFO’s team is called the Wag Brigade and includes a charming assortment of dogs and a pig named Lilou.

5. Yoga Rooms

SFO created the first airport yoga room back in 2012. Now there are yoga rooms in Terminal 2 and Terminal 3. And a handful of other airports, include Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, have yoga rooms as well.

This “Things We Love About Airports” segment is made possible by Reel Women Productions, creator of books, radio documentaries, news and feature articles, and the StuckatTheAirport.com blog.

If you’d like to sponsor an upcoming “Things we love about airports” installment, get in touch.

Testing, testing: Does this airport terminal work?

Earlier this month, more than 200 ‘fake’ passengers showed up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.  

They weren’t working a scam. And they weren’t there to protest anything.

Instead, they were there volunteering to help Sea-Tac airport test the operational readiness of a satellite terminal undergoing its first major expansion and modernization in 45 years.

Happy to be spending their Saturday morning at the airport, 3-year-old Ari Weinstein and his 6-year-old brother, Micah, were toting tiny rolling suitcases for the day’s pretend flight.

“We thought it would be fun to check-out the new airport addition and see how easy it was for kids,” said the boys’ dad, Ben Weinstein, a Boeing engineer, “I’m also curious to see how the latest airport design works with new airplanes.”

72-year-old Vicki Lockwood and her 93-year-old mom, Ruby Griffin, had signed up to be testers too.   

“I wanted to see what was happening so I can tell my friends at the senior center what it’s all about,” said Griffin.

Travel agent Rufo Calvo volunteered as a tester so he could get an early look at the new terminal area and tell his clients what to expect. And Toffee Coleman, who travels four or times a month for her job in marketing and sales, was curious to find out what the expanded terminal would offer for business travelers. “I hope it measures up to the central terminal in terms of ease of use, amenities and accessibility,” she said.  

Opening day for the first phase of Sea-Tac airport’s expanded North Satellite was less than two weeks away. The bathrooms, drinking fountains, food concessions and visual paging systems weren’t quite ready, but this “passenger-flow simulation” was testing the journey between the main terminal and the expanded satellite as well as the process of boarding and deplaning a flight at one of the new gates.

“We’ll also be asking the volunteers if the temperature in the terminal is comfortable and if they can hear the overhead announcements clearly,” said Charles Goedken, Sea-Tac’s senior manager for Operational Readiness, Activation and Transition, or ORAT, which is the system of best practices many airports use from the design stage forward to make sure a new airport or new terminal is ready for opening day.

“What you try to do is to start working early with the planning and construction team so that when the airport or the facility is open everyone knows what to do,” said Lance Lyttle, the managing director of Sea-Tac Airport, “You don’t want to find issues on opening day; you want to find them before opening day.”

Lyttle was with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport when each opened new terminals and says no airport wants to relive the opening glitches experienced by Heathrow and Denver airports.  

In the early 1990s, the high-profile failure of an expensive, computerized baggage-handling system delayed the opening of Denver International Airport by 16 months and increased the construction budget by millions of dollars.

After that, “DEN returned to manual baggage systems,” said Denver International Airport spokeswoman Alex Renteria.

In 2008, the grand opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport’s turned to mush thanks to a cascading series of staffing and baggage-handling problems that forced British Airways to suspend luggage check-in and cancel more than 200 flights over four days. Thousands of passengers missed their flights and more than 15,000 pieces of luggage were delayed.  

“If you have a failed opening of a facility it lives as part of your reputation forever,” said Sea-Tac Airport’s Lance Lyttle, “People use it as an example. And not in a good way. Heathrow underestimated the value of ORAT. But the next time [the opening of Terminal 2, in 2014] they went overboard and got it right.”

New terminals and terminal upgrade projects are underway at all three New York-area airports and at airports in Istanbul, Singapore, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and many other cities and testing is key to those projects.

At Turkey’s new international in Istanbul, which is expected to be fully open by March, 2019, the ORAT (Operational Readiness, Activation and Transition) team reported for duty more than 20 months ago.

“More than 60,000 airport community staff have gone thru a familiarization and training program,” said Stephan Schwolgin, Istanbul Airport’s ORAT project manager, “More than 175 trials have been conducted with nearly 10.000 fake passengers and 7 real aircraft.”

The experience of unbiased, fake passengers is valuable for gathering feedback on everything from wayfinding and flight information display systems to walking distances and the availability of power sockets, said Schwolgin.

On February 6 Finland’s Helsinki Airport will hold a test day with more than 200 fake passengers at the airport’s new central plaza, called Aukio, which will serve both departing and arriving passengers.

“We will test the functionality of services and passenger paths, especially the state-of-the-art security check with a full body scanner,” said Joni Sundelin, Helsinki Airport’s executive director, “The trial day includes testing not only of the passenger flow, signage, restaurants and bathroom facilities, but also services and processes for passengers with reduced mobility.”

During a previous test of a different part of the airport, “There was a funny issue with the toilets,” said Sundelin. “Test passengers were wearing brightly colored vest and when the testers entered the bathroom all the automatic water taps with motion sensors activated. Apparently the sensors were so sensitive they recognized the bright yellow and orange vests moving even from the distance,” said Sundelin.

When testing with fake passengers for San Francisco International Airport’s Boarding Area E, “We learned there was some signage too small or not universal enough,” said Kristi Hogan, Associate Vice President, Transportation for engineering firm AECOM, “No one could find the yoga room.”

For a passenger-flow simulation scheduled for June 6 in advance of the July opening of 9 new gates at SFO’s Terminal 1, volunteers of all ages and abilities will be asked to test the terminal signage; flush toilets and use faucets and automatic hand dryers in the bathrooms; locate flight display boards; test the Wi-Fi and make phone calls on their cell phones.

“We’ll have some fake passengers arrive on the BART train and have others get dropped off at the curb,” said Hogan, “And we’ll also ask them to become arriving passengers and make their way to baggage claim, to taxis or to BART.

Trials and simulations will also soon be underway in advance of the scheduled May 15 opening of the new terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)

“These simulations will test everything from parking, ticket counters, security checkpoints, flight monitors, restrooms, gates, concessions, emergency exits, lost and found, and ground transportation,” said MSY spokeswoman Erin Burns.

Emergency response systems, baggage systems, PA systems and everything on the facility maintenance side will also get tested, said Burns, including simultaneous toilet flushes & sink use, seating, power access and severe weather operations.

Employees and fake passengers will performed many of these tests but, with perhaps the Denver and Heathrow terminal debacles in mind, Burns said data on how MSY passengers might experience the facility will also be gathered during sneak peaks events held in the terminal right up to the official opening.