Las Vegas McCarran International Airport

Top airports share their secrets to success

What ‘secret weapons’ do airports use to make passengers happy? For my most recent “At the Airport” column on USA TODAY, I asked some of the ‘winners’ in the most recent JD Power suvey to share what they think makes their airports stand out against others.

Airports around the country are dealing wiht record high passenger volumes and a wave of major terminal construction projects. Yet, U.S. airports are doing a bang-up job of pleasing passengers.

That’s the major take-away from the 2018 North America Airport Satisfaction Study recently released by J.D. Power, which ranks everything from airlines and airports to electronics and cars.

The study says travelers’ overall satisfaction with airports is at a record high, based on factors such as terminal facilities; airport accessibility; security check; baggage claim; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail.

Of course, some airports rank higher in the study than others. And when we quizzed ‘winners’ about the secrets to their success, “a commitment to customer service” emerged as a universal theme. But so too did did a keen, good-hearted sense of competition.

The ‘mega’ airports

 

Among ‘mega’ airports – those serving more than 32.5 million annual passengers – Orlando International Airport (the 2017 category winner) and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas tied for first place.

Orlando International (MCO), Florida’s busiest airport, credits its return win to “a seamless arrival and departure experience that exceeds the needs of the traveler and instills a memorable imprint of the culture and environment of the region.”

The airport is meeting milestones in its $4.27 billion Capital Improvement Plan and has completed a variety of ‘passenger-pleasing’ projects ranging from improved Wi-Fi and baggage systems to a people mover system that transports passengers over waterways and landscape that evoke the Florida sense of place.

When McCarran International Airport (LAS) landed in the number 3 slot in J.D. Power’s ‘mega’ category last year, Rosemary Vassiliadis, Director of Aviation for Clark County, Nevada,  gathered her team together to strategize how to move up to first place.

“It’s personal for us,” said Vassiliadis, “Las Vegas is a destination city and our airport offers the first and last look for almost 50% of the people who visit. We want to let them know how much their visit means to us.”

To gain its first-place tie this year, LAS teams focused on upgrading terminal spaces, smoothing out checkpoint experiences and perfecting the “You’re in Vegas” vibe that includes slot machines, a neon “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, and a curated “Voices of Vegas” taped music program highlighting iconic Vegas acts and songs that name check the city.

At Detroit Metropolitan Airport (ranked third in this category this year) logo welcome mats have replaced industrial black runners. DTW officials also credit high passenger satisfaction ratings to amenities such as new nursing rooms, water bottle refill stations and light fixtures that can be programmed with seasonal and sport-team colors.

At Denver International Airport, which placed fourth in the ‘mega’ category this year, the secret to success is always looking for ways to “surprise and delight passengers,” said airport spokeswoman Emily Williams.

DEN offers everything from a Canine Airport Therapy Squad (that includes a cat) to airport events in an outdoor plaza that have featured a beer garden and an ice-skating rink.

And during its current terminal renovation project, DEN is having success delighting passengers with a series of “Pardon our dust” messages that embrace the conspiracy theories and rumors of alien inhabitants that date back to 1995, when the airport opened.

The best ‘large’ airports

Among ‘large’ airports serving 10 million to 32.4 million passengers California’s John Wayne Airport, in Orange County, ranked highest this year; Dallas Love Field ranked second and Oregon’s Portland International Airport ranked third.

John Wayne Airport 2006

With a departure curfew, passenger and flights caps and just 505 acres, “We’re a postage stamp of an airport, but passengers like our airport’s convenience.” said Deanne Thompson, spokeswoman for John Wayne Airport (SNA), which is located about an hour from LAX.

At SNA, passengers also appreciate ‘extras’ such as water bottle refill stations, pet relief areas, the vibrant art program and the nursing mothers lounge with adjustable lighting, said Thompson, “All amenities that make travel easy.”

Dallas Love Field Airport, which must contend with a gate cap, credits its customer satisfaction success to “personal touch and high-quality customer service.”

The airport offers a live weekday lunchtime music performance program, permanent and changing art exhibitions, a public piano, a children’s play area and information booths that are staffed from 5 a.m. until the last flight.

And at Oregon’s Portland International Airport, passengers enjoy the wide selection of local and regional shops and restaurants, true street pricing and a suite of amenities that includes a free movie theater, said PDX spokeswoman Kama Simonds.

“The secret sauce? The folks who work at PDX, who have an awesome sense of pride in the work they do and the travelers they interact with,” said Simonds, “And as we all know from when we’re travelers, that makes the whole experience that much better.”

The best ‘Medium’ airports

Among medium sized airports – those serving between 3 million and 9.9 million passengers – this year Buffalo Niagara International Airport ranks the highest, followed by Indianapolis International Airport and Fort Myers/Southwest Florida International.

 

In addition to focusing on customer service, “We also do things that go above and beyond,” said Kimberley Minkel, executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which operates the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The airport has a branch of the Anchor Bar where Buffalo chicken wings were invented and the second largest ‘Paws of Love’ therapy dog program in the country. Thanks in large part to BUF’s award winning snow removal team, the airport never closes.

Among its ‘secret weapons,’ Indianapolis International Airport cites its bright, wide-open spaces and amenities such as human-powered charging kiosks and an extensive permanent and rotating art exhibition program. Events at the airport often mirror what’s happening in town: i.e. during Indianapolis 500 season, IND hosts a panel with drivers sharing stories of their racing experiences.

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And a Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, “Our secret to success is the sense of place at our facilities,” said RSW spokeswoman Victoria Moreland, “In the terminal you can look out huge windows at the busy ramp and runway areas while sitting at a table under a palm tree.”

Do you agree with these rankings? And have you noticed these ‘secret weapons’ employed?

Get your marriage license at the Las Vegas airport

 

You can play slot machines, smoke and get bottles of liquor to-go at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

And this year, from February 9 to 17, you’ll also be able to pick up a marriage license at a pop-up clerk’s office in the airport’s Terminal 1 baggage claim.

Getting married in Las Vegas is popular year-round, but the Clark County Clerk’s office reports that their downtown Las Vegas office gets a bit overwhelmed with couples seeking marriage licenses around Valentine’s Day and the Presidents’ Day Weekend.

This year the Chinese New Year (a lucky day to tie the knot) falls in the Valentine’s Day window (February 16) so the clerk’s office decided to open the pop-up office at the airport to make getting a marriage license faster and easier.

The shop will be open in the airport’s Terminal 1 baggage claim area 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Feb. 9 through Feb. 17 to issue marriage licenses only. Credit cards will be accepted for the $77 license fee.

Getting a marriage license doesn’t mean you’ll be married; but you’ll need that license if you want to make sure whatever sort of wedding ceremony you have in town is legally binding.

To ensure your Vegas marriage plans go smoothly, the clerk’s office encourages couples to go online before heading to Las Vegas to fill out a marriage license pre-application at the County website. (Select “Get a Marriage License” under “Popular Services” on the left side of the webpage.)

Once that pre-application is completed, a reference number will get issued.

Bring that to the temporary office at the airport, along with $77 and proper identification such as a driver’s license, passport, of one of the other forms of  identification listed on the Clerk’s Office web page, and you’re good to go.

Lovebirds that skip the airport marriage license shop can still show up at the Marriage License Bureau main office at 201 E. Clark St. in downtown Las Vegas. The office is on the south side of the Regional Justice Center, just three blocks south of the Fremont Street Experience and is open from 8 a.m. to midnight every day, including holidays.

Besides the novelty of getting your marriage license at the airport, here’s another reason to fill out the pre-application and get that paperwork taken care of before you head into town: you’ll save time.

In Las Vegas the Marriage License Bureau, a division of the Clerk’s Office, issues about 80,000 marriage licenses annually and regularly issues more than 1,500 marriage licenses during the days leading up to and including Valentine’s Day.

 

Travel Tidbits: mariachi, dirndls & free cheeseburgers

Some fun Friday travel tidbits for you today…

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First – Sunday, September 18 is National Cheeseburger Day and Delta Air Lines will be celebrating with Shake Shack and giving customers flying Delta One on select flights from JFK to LAX a complimentary ShackBurger.

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But wait, there are more cheeseburgers: all customers flying from JFK to LAX on Sept. 18 will receive a voucher for a complimentary ShackBurger at the LA West Hollywood Shake Shack.

Not up for cheeseburgers? How about some mariachi music at the airport?

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Mariachi music welcomed travelers to McCarran International Airport last year at this time as well. Photo: Mark Damon/Las Vegas News Bureau.

McCarran International Airport is kicking off the busy Mexican Independence Day holiday weekend by welcoming passengers to Las Vegas with a special performance in the Terminal 3 international arrivals lobby on Friday morning by Mariachi Oro Del Rancho – a 19-member student band from Rancho High School.

Mexico is an important market for McCarran: from Thursday through Sunday, 41 commercial flights fly directly from Mexico to McCarran International Airport, including ten charter flights added specifically for this holiday weekend.

 

And Lufthansa is celebrating Oktoberfest season..

Trachten 2016, Trachtencrew

Keep an eye out for Lufthansa crew members dressed in special anniversary in traditional attire at many  passenger service stations in Munich and on some flights, including Munich to Shanghai September 20, Munich to Denver October 2 and Munich to Boston October 3 and, at the end of the Munich Oktoberfest, to European destinations  Belgrade, Birmingham, Cluj, Nice, Olbia and Sylt.

This is a Lufthansa tradition and over the past ten years the carrier has had different fashion houses design the yellow, blue and white dirndls.

This year’s costume is once again designed and tailored by the Angermaier fashion house, based in Munich.

 

(Dirndl descriptions: Outside and in the center: current anniversary costume. Other costumes from left: Traditional blue print dirndl from 2006, costume from 2009, dirndl from 2012 and the traditional dirndl from the 50s (2015 costume). Courtesy: Lufthansa/Stefan König)

Make the best of America’s busiest airports – part 2

Here’s part 2 of the recent slide show I put together for Bing Travel highlighting some of the best amenities at the country’s busiest airports. (Part 1, which includes the airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth can be found here.)

No. 5: Denver International Airport
Some travelers are still smarting from Christmas 2006, when a blizzard closed Denver International Airport for 22 hours, stranding more than 3,000 passengers. The airport’s snow-removal skills have vastly improved, but weather-related delays can still happen. Wait those out with free Wi-Fi or a self-guided tour of the art collection (brochures are available at any information booth).

Defeat the delay:
If any planes are moving, watch them on the active taxiway that runs beneath the glass and steel pedestrian bridge linking the A gates to the main terminal. (That bridge also leads to security checkpoint lines reliably shorter than those in the main terminal.)

No. 6: John F. Kennedy International Airport

When winter weather hits, all of the always-busy New York-area airports — LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International and John F. Kennedy International — quickly become zoos. At JFK, seven separate terminals mean delayed travelers must make do with services at hand. That’s not a problem in JetBlue’s amenity-rich T5, which offers free Wi-Fi throughout the terminal and more than 40 shops and restaurants, including Deep Blue Sushi — all after you go through security. Elsewhere, it’s a post-security challenge. Your best bet is Terminal 4, which has the most pre-security options, including public art by Alexander Calder and a retail hall with shops and restaurants, such as the Palm Bar and Grill.

Defeat the delay: When planes are grounded, the AirTrain from JFK to the New York City subways usually keeps running. The trip to the city might take an hour, but will cost less than $10 and can be its own adventure.

No. 7: George Bush Intercontinental Airport
At Houston’s Bush Intercontinental, delayed passengers can view space-related exhibits on loan from NASA and shop for their own space-themed souvenirs at a branch of NASA’s Space Trader store. There’s also a revolving steakhouse restaurant, CK’s, at the Houston Airport Marriott located in the center of the terminal complex, and an interterminal train below the terminals designed in 1981 by the Walt Disney Co.

Defeat the delay:
It may be an airport, but you can still get a taste of Texas. Three Stelzig Ranch shops offer boots, hats and other Texas-style accessories, while Texas Trail Boss Jerky sells beef, pork, turkey and bison jerky.

No. 8: Las Vegas McCarran International Airport
In addition to free Wi-Fi and complimentary recharge work stations, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas offers delayed travelers entertainment in the form of the Howard Cannon Aviation Museum, art exhibits, an aviation-themed kid’s play area, an interactive Dance Heads video booth and bars serving oxygen cocktails.

Defeat the delay: McCarran also has approximately 1,200 slot machines. And, as the saying goes, you can’t win if you don’t play.

Part 3 tomorrow…

Airports want you to go away

File this under: you can’t win if you don’t play.

Several airports around the country are holding contests and drawings that include free airplane tickets as the prizes.

Indianapolis airport art

The deadline is Wednesday, Dec 1, 2010 to enter Indianapolis International Airport’s “Show us your favorite things @ IND” You Tube contest.

To enter: make a short video (three minutes or less) showing what you like best about that airport.

The airport will choose five finalists and post those videos on the airport’s YouTube channel for public voting.

The grand prize is a free trip to Orlando or Tampa. Two runners-up will receive flip camcorders.  Entries must be uploaded by midnight on December 1.  Official contest rules are posted at www.indcontest.com.

Las Vegas International Airport’s Korean Air ticket giveaway ends Dec. 8th, 2010 around noon Pacific time, so you still have about a week to enter your name for a chance to win one of two pair of round-trip tickets between Las Vegas and Seoul.

Portland International Airport is giving away a pair of tickets from Portland to Toronto as part of its Holidays Take Flight celebration.  Deadline entry is January 2, 2011.

Airplane with christmas bow

And Kansas City International Airport is giving away a pair of tickets Kanasas City to one of 44 nonstop destinations.

(See list – and rules here). Deadline to enter is January 10, 2011.

Good luck – and don’t forget to bring home some souvenirs for StuckatTheAirport.com.