Orlando International Airport

Will more airports ban religious services?

A wing and an organized prayer: OK at some airports, but no longer in Orlando

Chapel at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

My story this week for CNBC is about airport chapels. Here’s a very slightly different version of that piece.

They’re not as ubiquitous as cocktail bars and souvenir shops, but chapels and inter-faith prayer spaces, many with full or part-time chaplains and regularly-scheduled services, are among the amenities offered by more than three dozen airports around the country.

Some prayer rooms occupy what has, over time, become prime real estate in pre or post-security areas of airport terminals. Others are tucked away and may be hard to find on mezzanines, down back corridors or in bag claim areas. 

But a recent rise in violence at churches, mosques and synagogues prompted Orlando International Airport to rethink holding religious services at its interfaith chapel and reflection space, prompting some concern about whether other airports will make similar changes. 

Interfaith chapel at Orlando International Airport

Earliest airport chapel

In 1951, Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) was the first U.S. airport to set aside dedicated space for prayer. “It was explicitly meant for people working at the airport. A neon light pointed to the chapel,” notes Wendy Cadge, an expert in contemporary American religion, in “A Brief History of Airport Chapels.”

Today Logan’s appropriately named Our Lady of the Airways is located in the airport’s public area. It seats 250, is open around-the-clock and offers mass daily for passengers, airport and airline employees and the general public. 

Orlando International Airport makes a change

At Orlando International Airport (MCO), an interfaith chapel with a Tree of Life stained glass window dates to the airport’s 1981 opening. A second reflection space for prayer, with accommodations for Muslim travelers, was added in 2015, as part of a customer service enhancement project.

Both spaces are located post-security and for many years Catholic mass has been offered in MCO’s chapel each Sunday morning and during holidays. But, citing increased passenger volume, space allocation and safety, the airport board recently revised it policies.

Now, while ticketed passengers and employees are welcome to visit the prayer spaces anytime, organized religious services of any kind are not permitted.

“Every airport authority has to make the decisions that they think are the best for their environment and location,” said Susan Schneider of the Interfaith Airport Chapels of Chicago, which offers religious services and passenger support services at both O’Hare and Midway Airports. “If Orlando feels this is something they must do at this time, you have to trust the decision. You just hope it’s the right decision.”

Reverend Rodrick Burton, a pastor is St. Louis, is certain the authorities at Orlando International Airport have made the wrong decision.

“I believe Orlando’s actions are stunning in their shortsightedness and in an effort to be politically correct or to misinterpret the constitutional right of freedom of religion,” said Burton, who serves as president of the St. Louis Airport Interfaith Chaplaincy, an organization that has offered “prayer, religious services, spiritual guidance, empathetic listening” and other assistance at St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) for more than 33 years.  

“There’s nothing sacred about those spaces if Chaplain’s don’t attend to them. Those chapels will become quiet rooms,” he added.

Status of other airport chapels

I polled about two dozen other airports around the country on the status of their interfaith spaces and organized religious services.

Reflection room at San Diego International Airport

Airports in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle and many other cities have chapels, quiet rooms, meditation spaces and/or reflection rooms that welcome travelers at all hours, but do not offer religious services. “No regular services are held here. It is strictly self-service,” said Greg Willis, Marketing Program Manager at Florida’s Jacksonville International Airport, “We provide a book where customers can write down their thoughts and prayers.”

Interfaith chapel at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Some airport chapels have been ensconced in airport terminals for a long time. At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the ATL Interfaith Airport Chapel was established in 1979. Pittsburgh International Airport opened its post-security interfaith chapel in 1992, along with the current terminal. And the quiet room at Philadelphia International Airport was created just last August.

T1 chapel entry at St. Louis Lamber International Airport

In addition to the scheduled religious services offered at Boston Logan and St. Louis Lambert International Airport, airport chapels in Atlanta, Cleveland, San Francisco, Denver, Dallas, New York (JFK) and a handful of other airports offer organized religious services. All airports that responded to my query say they currently have no plans to follow Orlando’s lead in banning these services.

A solution that works

Meanwhile, back in Orlando, after some scrambling and, no doubt some prayers, there’s now an alternative arrangement for those seeking to attend Sunday mass at the airport.

Instead of being offered in the post-security airport chapel, starting this Sunday, mass will be held in the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport hotel, which is attached to the main terminal of the airport.

The solution is being hailed as a godsend for the both travelers and the airport.

“Security and Safety will always be a top priority at Orlando International,” said Tom Draper, Senior Director of Airport Operations for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, “By moving these activities to a larger and more private location, we are minimizing activity in secure areas while enhancing the guest experience for those traveling through the airport.”

Mural Monday: terrazzo murals at Orlando International Airport

Next time you’re passing through Orlando International Airport, be sure to look at the floors in the north terminal.

Not just so you don’t trip, but so you don’t miss the permanent art installation made up of four large-scale terrazzo murals by international award-winning artist Scott Parsons.

Courtesy MCO Airport

The quartet of murals each measure around 28 feet by 32 feet and act as “welcome mats” or “gardens.”

The themes are wellness, fun, technology and space and included are images such as a roller coaster, a space shuttle and orange blossoms set amidst swirling splashes of color.

Courtesy Scott Parsons

“These designs are meant to be calming and joyful to the visitor,” Parsons says on his website, “The colors are rich and full of depth, subdued and complementary, forms flow one into the next, suggesting a journey with connections across the central Florida landscape. Each floor radiates from their center and enjoins numerous elements which repeat across all four floors to create a comprehensive and unified set of designs.”

Take a look at some of the mural details.

Orlando International Airport has lots more great art to keep an eye out for in the terminals including more terrazzo floor murals and, a favorite of mine, this work by Duane Hanson called “The Traveler” in Terminal A.

Orlando International Airport also has this treasure: a work by Jacob Lawrence, titled Space, Time, Energy, in Terminal B.

 

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.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0084.JPG

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?

Silly souvenirs spotted at Orlando International Airport

My flight today from  Orlando International Airport leaves pretty darn early.

Too early to take a tour of the art and too early for most shops to be open.

But a few newstands are have their lights turned on, giving me a chance to scan MCO’s offerings of souvenir chocolate ‘droppings’ for the growing StuckatTheAirport.com collection.

Luckily, there are plenty of options on the shelves.

Orlando International Airport souvenir

Orlando International Airport souvenir

These choices are good, but the offering also include Gator Droppings and another version of Pelican Poop:

Orlando International Airport souvenir

The photos should be better, but I had to take them on the sly. For some reason the shop clerk was enforcing a strict “No photos before 6 a.m” policy.

Help us expand the collection. If you spot a fun version of themed chocolate ‘poop’ at an airport, please snap a photo and send it along.

TSA officer dance-off with tiny traveler

Check out this fun dance-off between a young traver and a TSA officer at Newark Liberty International Airport. Thev video was posted on the TSA’s Instagram account and has gone viral.

Take a look.

This isn’t the first time a TSA officer with a sense of fun was caught on tape.

Here’s a video posted a while back of an officer matching the moves of a young traveler at Orlando International Airport.

TSA’s Instagram account is surprisingly well-followed, sometimes alarming and often entertaining ( if corny) feed. Here are few examples:

Did you know that sawblades are prohibited in carry-on bags. Yep. This one was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Atlanta airport. … Speaking of saw blades, we think we “saw” a pussycat. Probably because it’s #InternationalCatDay! Sorry about that horrible segue, but we had to cut to the chase somehow. … Have you always wanted to travel with your cat, but you’ve been afraid to ask how? Has your cat got your tongue? Even if you’re too much of a scaredy-cat to ask, we’re going to give you the rundown right meow. … Checkpoint Screening: … Check with your airline first to inquire about any fees and policies. … Your cat will need to be screened via checkpoint screening if it’s traveling with you in the cabin of the plane. … We do not X-ray cats or any other pets. However, there have been many occasions where passengers have assumed their cat needed to go through the X-ray. You can imagine the surprise of the X-ray operator when they saw Felix’s skeleton roll across their monitor. It is not an unusual occurrence. In this case, it’s not frowned upon to let the cat out of the bag. Your cat will need to come out of its carrier, so it’s a good idea to know how your cat will react. Many a cat has gone into a feline frenzy after being removed from its carrier. An angry cat is never a good thing. Especially when you’re in a confined area where there isn’t enough room to swing a cat. … The checkpoint is a noisy environment that can cause your cat to flee at its first opportunity. This happens with humans occasionally as well. Your cat can be carried through the walk through metal detector or walked through on leash if your cat isn’t too stubborn to do that. If your cat triggers an alarm, one of our officers will have to take a closer look. Cats are not screened with the body scanners, in case you were wondering. … Checked Baggage: … If your cat is traveling in a kennel, your airline will arrange for a TSA Officer to screen the kennel. Officers will need to inspect your kennel/carrier for prohibited items with you present. Sometimes this can be done visually, but occasionally, the TSA officer will ask you to remove your pet from the carrier.

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Sometimes, air travel can make you a little crabby. … #ThrowbackThursday to July 27, 2017 at the Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). … There’s no sidestepping it. This crusty critter was in a pinch. Nothing is known as to how or why he was there, but there he was. Alone. In a bowl. In Boston. He had been scuttled by his human. There is no “rest of the story” here. We don’t have any records of the event other than this photo. … Now we imagine you’re wondering if you can travel with crabs. You can! Crabs are allowed in carry-on and checked bags. We’ll screen them, but it’s strongly recommended that you contact your airline for any specific guidelines or packaging requirements. … #RandomFact – Abandoned crabs can end up in hot water.

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