Orlando International 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.

A post shared by TSA (@tsa) on

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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Skip the shuttle: choose a cool airport hotel

I’ve got a story this week in the CNBC Road Warrior section all about  airport hotels and some of the newest ones on the horizon. 

Here are the highlights of that story.

Skip the shuttle: At-the-airport hotels take flight

With the official ribbon-cutting this week for a new four-star hotel at Minneapolis-St. Paul International, travelers now have one more major domestic airport where it is possible to skip the hotel shuttle and go directly from a hectic day of flying to a comfortable night’s sleep in a fluffy bed.

The 12-story, 300 room InterContinental Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Hotel is connected to Terminal 1 via a sky bridge and has a spa, conference center and its own security checkpoint, offering quick access to the gates for those flying with just hand baggage.

MSP’s hotel is a public-private partnership (with Graves Hospitality) and is just the latest example of airports recognizing that in addition to offering convenience, having an on-site hotel is a revenue generator that can give an airport a competitive edge.

In 2015, Denver International Airport opened the doors to the 519-room Westin Denver International Airport hotel and conference center on the plaza adjacent to the Jeppesen Terminal. In addition to on-site dining and an indoor pool and fitness area, the hotel has an extensive art collection and commuter rail access to the city.

Courtesy Denver Westin International Airport

At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport there are two hotels directly accessible from the terminals: a Hyatt Regency DFW at Terminal C and a Grand Hyatt DFW inside Terminal D with an outdoor rooftop pool overlooking the runways, multi-dining options and a Terminal Re-Entry program that gives guests access to the amenities inside the terminals.’

The Wayne County Airport Authority recently partnered with Starwood Hotels and Resorts to give the Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport Hotel attached to the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport a $15 million makeover.

The hotel has conference rooms, day rates and a fitness enter with a pool offering runway views (day passes $15), and a TSA security checkpoint adjacent to the lobby. Hotel staff can also arrange gate-passes into the terminal for guests.

Miami’s airport has had an in-terminal hotel since 1959. The Miami International Airport Hotel now sits pre-security in Concourse E and offers day rates as well the first airport Air Margaritaville restaurant (on the lobby level) and, on the top floor, the country’s first Viena Brazilian restaurant.

At Orlando International Airport, the 25 year-old in-airport Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport is owned by the airport authority and operated by Hyatt,

“The hotel serves as an extension of the airport’s goal to provide the best ‘Orlando Experience’ possible and is a wonderful amenity for all airport customers,” said airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell, “It is also a significant driver of the airport’s annual revenues.”

Among a variety of perks offered guests staying in the Orlando airport hotel is luggage delivery service. “Just get off the plane, come to the front desk, provide your bag claim ticket and our bellmen will deliver the bags directly to your room,” said Fennell.

Elsewhere in the U.S., travelers will find hotels inside or connected to several other airports, including Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (a Marriott), Boston Logan International Airport (a Hilton), Philadelphia International Airport (a Marriott), Hartford’s Bradley International Airport (a Sheraton) and Chicago O’Hare, which offers day $20 passes (with discounts for Hilton Honors members) to the indoor pool and extensive fitness center.

Airport hotels of future

In the next few years, travelers will be able to check into on-site hotels at more airports.

A Grand Hyatt with 351 rooms, 15,000 square feet of meeting space and direct access to the AirTrain light rail system is scheduled to open in summer 2019 at San Francisco International Airport.

An InterContinental hotel is set to open at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2020.

And the Chicago Department of Aviation hopes to both build a new hotel next to Terminal 5 and renovate and modernize the current O’Hare Hilton by 2023.

In the meantime, work is progressing on the much-anticipated TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

When it opens in early 2019, Eero Saarinen’s iconic 1962 TWA Flight Center will be transformed into a swank 505-room retro-modern hotel with 50,000 square-feet of art, meeting and event space; a 200,000 square-foot lobby that may lay claim to the title of the largest hotel lobby in the world; and a rooftop observation deck with a pool and an aviation museum.

Have you stayed at an in-airport hotel- or choose these over near-the-airport hotels? Please share your comments and suggestions in the comment section below.