Los Angeles International Airport

Stuck at The Airport: Mars edition

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is set to touch down on the Red Planet on Thursday, February 18th.

Earthlings are pretty darn excited.

At Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the famous LAX pylons are glowing red in anticipation of the landing.

Many other sites and landmarks around the world, including Cleveland’s historic Terminal Tower, are also glowing red in anticipation of the landing.

Krispy Kreme is celebrating the landing too with a special Mars doughnut. This chocolate cream-filled doughnut is dipped in caramel icing with a red planet swirl and sprinkled with chocolate cookie crumbs. The limited-edition doughnut is available in shops and online for one day only – Thursday, February 18.

And of course, you’ll want to tune in to watch NASA’s live coverage of the Perseverance Rover Landing, starting at 11:15 am PST and 2:15 EST.

Seasonal news from PIT, LAX, BWI, MKE, PHX & SAN airports

Whether or not you’re flying during the holidays, it pays to keep up to date with what airports are doing to serve passengers during what is sure to be another unusual season.

Here are some tidbits we’ve already spotted this week.

PIT has its holiday tree up

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) won’t be having its annual Holiday Open House this year. And local choirs and bands won’t be offering holiday performances.

But PIT is setting up a holiday-themed selfie station in the Airside Center Core and hosting distanced (instrument-only) performances by local musicians. And there will be terminal visits from the PIT PAWS airport therapy dog team.

The holiday tree is already there. Here’s a fun time-lapse video of it going up. PIT reports that 20 people worked to raise the 26-foot-tall tree over a span of eight hours and that this year’s tree has 538 ornaments, 42 yards of fabric, and 166 strands of lights.

Take a 360 Virtual Tour of LAX

Missing airports? Us too. So we’re excited as all get out a new virtual 360-degree of the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) airfield.

This is the same airfield tour that used to be offered to students, community groups, and others curious about LAX operations before COVID-19 arrived. Now anyone can access the immersive, high-resolution 360-degree video experience online using a smartphone, tablet, computer, or VR headset.

Coat check reopens at MKE

If you’re flying from Milwaukee to Hawaii, Florida, or some other warm spot, you probably won’t need your winter coat when you arrive.

So, for the second winter in a row, Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Mitchell Internation Airport (MKE) has opened it popular coat check service.

The Coat check program operates in partnership with retail partner Paradies Lagardère and is offered inside the Summerfest Marketplace store, which is located pre-security. Each coat is wrapped in protective plastic and the charge is a very reasonable $2 per day, or $10 per trip.

As far as we know, this is still the only U.S. airport offering this service.

Fresh art at PHX

Fun and games from BWI

New experiences from SAN’s artist-in-residence

And, thanks, LAX for reminding us that it is December. Already.

Now the airport info booths are going virtual

We’re declaring the virtual information booth an official trend at airports.

Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF) rolled out its Virtual Information Booth back in May 2020. The super social distanced system lets travelers connect with a volunteer Airport Ambassador in a remote location via a live video feed.

In July 2020 Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) introduced a pilot virtual assistant program in Terminal 2. That system lets passengers have real-time conversations with customer service agents over a touch-free tablet at the real-world information booth. 

Two more U.S. airports now have virtual information booths as well.

The Virtual Information Desk at Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) is near the Southwest Airlines baggage claim belts 1-5. Passengers can get help from a Pathfinder staff member stationed in a safe, remote location.

During this holiday season, Denver International Airport (DEN) is testing a new Live Agent program. DEN’s program will let passengers interact with a live customer service agent via video, text messaging, and live chat. 

At two information (one in the center of the terminal, near arrivals; one in the center of Concourse C) passengers can use iPads to contact a customer service agent for a virtual face-to-face interaction.

The customer service agents can also be reached through DEN’s website and via text chat.

The pilot program, in partnership with Recursive Labs, also allows a traveler to use the camera on their smartphone to show the Live Agent where they are in the airport so the agent can help with directions.

Airports deploying ‘mask nannies’

Right now face coverings and masks are required in every airport and on most airlines due to continued concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

There are signs, stickers, and announcements everywhere a traveler turns, but still, not everyone is covering up.

Some people don’t want to mask up and it is reassuring to know that some airlines won’t let those folks fly.

Other travelers may have forgotten their masks or are neglecting to put them on in areas of the airport.

So, to help passengers get with the program, “ambassadors” who are serving as mask nannies are being sent out into airport terminals to help.

Yes, it’s come to that.

At San Francisco International Airport (SFO) “TravelWell Ambassadors” are roving the terminals to make sure passengers wear face coverings and maintain proper physical distancing.

At Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the mask nannies are called “Travel Safety Ambassadors. They’re on duty in Terminal 1 and in the Tom Bradey International Terminal (TBIT).

Don’t have a mask? No problem. The mask nannies have a supply of them. So there should be no excuses.

We expect other airports are or will be deploying mask nannies as well.

Travel Tidbits from an airport near you

Here’s some of the airport news that caught our attention today.

May I help you, virtually?

Our first encounter with a video help desk was at the massive Istanbul Airport in October 2019.

It seemed odd but, then, efficient to step up to what seemed like an unstaffed information desk and then have a live video chat with someone located offsite.

But now video chats are the socially distanced way to get questions answered in an airport.

As of May 2020, volunteer Airport Ambassadors staff the Virtual Information Booth at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF).

And now Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is running a Virtual Assistance pilot program in Terminal 2.

Travelers can have real-time video conversations with a customer services specialist over a touch-free tablet system installed at the information booth.

As health safety and social distancing concerns continue, we expect to see more airports offering some sort of virtual help desk.

San Jose International Airport shows off its ingenuity

Like most airports now, Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) is implementing new health and safety measures in its terminal.

We like the no-nonsense social distancing signage and floor decals.

And we are impressed that instead of waiting months for out-of-stock hand-sanitizing stations and plexiglass barriers, the Facilities and Engineering team at SJC is making its own.

At Your Gate + Grab = Service

Grab, the time-saving app that lets you order from an airport restaurant and then go straight to the pick-up line to get your meal is partnering with AtYourGate, the service that lets you order airport food via an app and have it delivered to you wherever you are in the terminal.

The partnership makes sense on many levels but is perfectly timed for these ‘no-touch’ times.

Grab already operates in over 50 airports in 4 countries. AtYourGate serves 10 airports now, with 40 more to be served in short order.