Fort Wayne International Airport

Airport amenity of the week: free cookie kiosk

The first time I flew into Fort Wayne International Airport I thought my fellow passengers were kidding me when they said: “Make sure you get a free cookie when you get off the plane.”

 

But they weren’t joking: as I entered the terminal there was indeed someone standing there greeting everyone getting off the plane and handing out free cookies from a little wicker basket.

Turns out they’ve been doing this for more than 10 years. And, so far, volunteers at the airport have handed out more than a million complimentary, locally-baked cookies.

Those volunteers need some off. So most days there’s been no one on duty handing out cookies after 8:30 pm.

Until now.

Airport officials were getting complaints from cookie-loving passengers who arrived at the airport too late to get a snack. So to make sure no one leaves the airport hungry and disappointed, the airport now has a self-serve cookie kiosk.

Are airports ready for the new 3-hour rule? Are you?

(photo courtesy Daniel Incandela)

My column on USATODAY.com this month, Are airports ready for the 3-hour rule?, takes a look at how airports are gearing up for the April 29th roll-out of the new Department of Transportation (DOT) rule to upgrade protections for airline passengers.

We’ve been hearing a lot from airlines – they’re not happy – but I was curious about what the fall-out might be for airports if (when?) more planes end up turning around and coming back to the terminal and if (when?) more people end up stuck at the airport.

I was imagining I’d hear worry, maybe even hysteria, from airport officials.  That’s not what I got. In fact, the responses I got down the line were more along the lines of “We’re ready. Bring it on.”

You can read the complete column – and the very intriguing comments readers have been posting – on USATODAY.com.  Here’s some of what airport officials told me:

Airports at the ready

Long before the DOT announced enhanced protections for airline passengers, airports were holding meetings to work on creating tool kits and best practices that could be used during excessive flight delays. At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, for example, executive vice president for operations Jim Crites says that in 2007 the airport began purchasing extra equipment to help deplane passengers quickly. DFW also started beefing up communications with airlines, with regional airports that might get diverted flights and with airport concessionaires that might need to stay open later than usual during irregular operations. “The customer expects everyone to be on the same page. So instead of doing business in isolation, you began to see more coordination, more teaming up and partnering across entities.”

It’s the same story at many small and medium-sized airports. “After that incident when people were stuck on a JetBlue plane in New York for nine hours we agreed as a management team that we would not let that happen here,” says Russell Widmar, the aviation director at California’s Fresno Yosemite International Airport, “So we’ve had our own passengers’ bill of rights in place for almost a year and a half now.”

The plan that the team worked out was successfully put to the test in January 2008, when severe weather on the California coast brought 14 diverted planes to Fresno Airport. “It really isn’t any problem dealing with extra flights,” says Widmar, “The only difficulty is that these passengers don’t want to be in Fresno. They want to be San Francisco or wherever they were headed. But if they end up here, no matter when they drop in, we have services available for them. No one needs to be stuck on the airplane.”

Widmar believes that by now pretty much every airport is ready to deal with this type of activity. That includes the many small airports not currently covered by the DOT contingency plan rule, such as Indiana’s Fort Wayne International Airport, which often get diverted flights from Chicago and Detroit. FWA executive director Tory Richardson says “The DOT rule is silent on how the coordination plans are to be handled at small airports, even though there are a few hundred of us. But we will step up … Nobody wants the black eye that happened in Rochester.”

More fun freebies at airports

Free is good. And these days many small and mid-size airports are trying to build loyalty by offering travelers free amenities.

In my At the Airport column this month on USAToday.com, I write (again) about the free cookies they hand out at Indiana’s Fort Wayne International Airport as well as some of the fun freebies offered at other airports.

Florida’s  Jacksonville International Airport distributes free flowers to passengers each year on Valentine’s Day and on Mother’s Day.

The Reno-Tahoe International Airport offers free local phone calls year-round.

In Milwaukee, home of Harley-Davidson Motor Company and the Harley-Davidson Museum, the General Mitchell International Airport offers free parking for any traveler who arrives on a motorcycle.

At Ohio’s Port Columbus International Airport, children are given free crayons and blank post-paid postcards and asked to please mail back a picture from their travels for display in an airport gallery. The airport has also purchased its own popcorn machine and hands out free bags of popcorn during quarterly customer appreciation days. “It’s a great way for us to say thanks,” says CMH communications manager Angie Tabor, “Plus, who doesn’t love the smell of popcorn?”

And in Wisconsin, the Outagamie County Regional Airport gives out free toothbrushes.

Airport marketing manager Kim Sippola says: “We noticed that many business travelers would get off the plane, go into the bathroom, and search through their bags for a toothbrush because they were going right from the airport to a meeting. So we thought we’d reduce some stress for our customers by providing them with toothbrushes.”

The airport partnered with a local dentist and now stocks post-security bathrooms with travel-sized oral hygiene kits that contain mouthwash, dental floss and a toothbrush with a single-serving of toothpaste.

Have you found a great airport freebie? Please let us know so we can tell other travelers about it.

Fun free stuff you’ll find at airports

Google’s “Free WiFi for the Holidays” program – the one that made wireless Internet access free at a boatload of airports – ends on January 15th.

But don’t fret. Too much.

Plenty of airports had free Wi-Fi before the promotion and continue to offer it.  And once the Google airport promotion ends, you’ll find a few airports that once offered fee-based Wi-Fi continuing to offer it for free.  Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is one of them.

I’m working on a list of others.

I’m all for free Wi-Fi at all airports. It will happen. In the meantime, I’m keeping tabs on some of the other airport freebies that are out there. I’ve included some of them – including free cookies at Fort Wayne International Airport(FWA) and free toothbrushes at Wisconsin’s Outagamie County Regional Airport (ATW)  – in a column that will post on USAToday.com tomorrow.

But here are few others I didn’t have room for.

For the past year, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL) has been giving away luggage tags. Thousands of ‘em.

At Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) they (still) hand out plastic wings (pins); mostly to kids.

Just about every terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) offers complimentary shoe shines (tips are encouraged).

And in at least one small airport in Minnesota, early risers get coffee for free.

“We fire up the coffee pots on our cafe counter in the terminal and give away free coffee to passengers for the first flight out (07:10) each day,” says Shaun Germolus, the Executive Director of the Range Regional Airport (HIB)in Hibbing, MN.  “We try to do the same thing whenever we are aware of flight delays as well.”

Have you found a great freebie at an airport? Let us know!

Souvenir Sunday at Indiana’s Fort Wayne International Airport

It’s Souvenir Sunday.  The day we unpack our bags and look at some of the fun, local , inexpensive stuff you can pick up when you’re stuck at the airport.

Today we’ve got a few items from Indiana’s Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA), which this past week handed one lucky arriving passenger the millionth complimentary “Welcome to Fort Wayne” cookie – along with 25,000 airline miles and some other prizes.

FWA - millionth cookie served

Even though FWA is a small airport, it’s surprisingly easy to find locally-made items that fit our under $10 category.

DeBrand Chocolates has a an airport shop where these shiny chocolate bars sell for $2.50 each

FWA - DeBrand Chocolate holiday bars

And for $10, you can get these cute Vera Bradley coin purses.

FWA - purse

I know – the company’s colorful handbags and luggage items are in a lot of airports. But since they’re headquartered in Fort Wayne, they definitely qualify as a Souvenir Sunday item.

Have you found a great souvenir while you were stuck at the airport? If it’s under $10, “of” the city or region and, ideally a bit offbeat, please take a photo and send it along. It may end up featured on a future edition of Souvenir Sunday.

Souvenir Sunday two

(Today’s Souvenir Sunday photos from the Fort Wayne Airport courtesy of  Dave Young)