passenger experience

Top airports? Las Vegas, Orlando, John Wayne, Buffalo, says J.D. Power

Despite record passenger volumes and lots of construction projects,  travelers are more satisfied with the North America airports than ever before. That’s according to this year’s J.D. Power Satisfaction Study, which was released today.

The study breaks down airports by “mega,”  large and medium and evaluates for five factors (in order of importance): check-in; food, beverage and retail; accessibility; terminal facilities; and baggage claim.

Using a 1,000 point scale, the overall passengers satisfaction for airports overall was 761. That’s 12 points higher than last year’s study.

There was a tie for first place for  ‘mega’ airports category: Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and Orlando International Airport, with a score of 781.

“We are so proud of our No. 1 ranking in the mega airport category,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, McCarran International Airport’s director of aviation, “This honor validates the hard work and collaboration among our airport partners as we have embraced a commitment to improving the passenger travel experience through shared customer service values. At McCarran, we know we are the first and last impression of Las Vegas, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

The team at Orlando International is equally proud:

“We remain dedicated to our core goal of providing travelers and guests with an outstanding
experience, ‘The Orlando Experience’, as they travel through the airport,” said Frank
Kruppenbacher, Chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. “We are gratified that
the efforts of the Board, staff and our airport partners to provide the traveling public with the
finest airport experience continue to be recognized.”

In the mega airport category, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (775) ranks third and Denver International Airport (771) ranks fourth.

Among large airports, John Wayne Airport, Orange County ranks first, with a score of 815. Dallas Love
Field (810) ranks second and Portland (Ore.) International Airport (804) ranks third.

“Not only did John Wayne Airport receive the highest score of any airport in the study, scoring 815 points on a 1,000-point scale, we also received the highest score in four of the six study categories, said Airport Director Barry Rondinella.  “John Wayne Airport has earned this distinction due to our team’s commitment to providing a superior guest experience. Every guest, every day, receives a superior level of care and attention.”

In the medium airport category, Buffalo Niagara International Airport ranks highest with a score of
814. Indianapolis International Airport (811) ranks second and Fort Myers/Southwest Florida
International (810) ranks third.

Of course, here at StuckatTheAirport.com, we love all airports equally, but here are the full rankings from the report. If you can’t read them on this post, you can find them here.

              “Mega” Airports

                                              Large Airports 

                                   Medium Airports

 

Atlanta Int’l Airport testing restroom stop/go lights

Los Angeles Internationl Airport has some ‘smart’ restrooms, now Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International (ATL) has some too.

As part of its $6 billion modernization program, ATL is testing technology to improve the restroom ‘experience’.

Two pairs of restrooms (at Delta’s Gates B18 & B23), now feature  Tooshlights – a system that works like modern parking lots to light red or green lights (in use/empty) over stalls – and Infax, a system that tracks restroom usage so janitorial staff knows when the space needs to be cleaned.

Anyone who has ever waited on line in an airport restroom waiting for an empty stall – and anyone who has been in a stall and had someone rattle the door to see if it’s open – will appreaciate the red light/green light system, especially when rushing between flights.

 

Face it: Sydney Airport & Qantas testing facial recognition

 

Sydney Airport and launch partner Qantas Airways are testing a program that allows passengers to use their faces as identification.

The trial will apply to select international flights and include four steps in the passenger journey: automated check-in, bag drop, lounge access and boarding. In the future they may add facial recognition to mobile check-in and automated border processing.

Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert said the trial is part of a broader focus on investing in technology to make the airport experience easier and more convenient for passengers.

“In the future, there will be no more juggling passports and bags at check-in and digging through pockets or smartphones to show your boarding pass – your face will be your passport and your boarding pass at every step of the process.”

Qantas Chief Customer Officer Vanessa Hudson said the airline was focused on increasing the use of technology to drive innovation for customers.

“One of our core commitments at Qantas is to make travel as attractive, convenient and enjoyable as possible,” Hudson said.

Facial recognition is in use – on both a trial and everyday use – for various steps of the airport journey at an increasing number of airports around the world, including Singapore’s Changi Airport, which uses facial recognition for bag check-in, boarding and (for some passengers) immigration in Terminal 4 and Orlando International Airport, which recently announced its commitment to processing all arriving and departing international travelers with facial recognition technology.

How airports clean up

MSP’s award-winning restroom

My “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY this month is all about germs at airports and how crews use high and low tech ways to clean things up.

Here’s a slightly shortened version of that story:

As we head into the busy summer trael season, recent news reports about bed bugs found at Kansas City International Airport and an unscientific but widely-shared ‘study’ highlighting germy spots in airports has many travelers worried they’ll unintentionally pick up something besides snacks and bottled water in the terminals this summer.

Should you worry?

Not about those bedbugs at KCI. The airport was quick to take care of that problem.

And not about that survey which claimed to find high levels of germs on screens at check-in kiosks, gate area chair armrests and water fountain buttons in three unnamed airports.

“It was a poorly designed semi-study with no real science,” said Marilyn Roberts, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health. “Anywhere there is high hand contact will have lots of bacteria. But unless you are immunocompromised, old, or very young this should not be an issue. We are surrounded by bacteria all the time and the majority are harmless.”

SFO Restroom T2

The best way to avoid harmful germs at airports (or anywhere) is – no surprise – to practice good hygiene. “Be mindful about washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes,” said Roberts. And keep hand sanitizer handy.

Travelers will also be reassured to learn how serious most airports are about cleaning and how technology is helping an increasing number of airports maintain restrooms, gate hold rooms and public spaces.

 McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and Pittsburgh International Airport are among the airports that have replaced multiple types of packaged harsh cleaning chemicals with onsite technology and machines that use tap water to create non-toxic cleaning solutions on demand.

In addition to eliminating much of the staff time previously spent purchasing, storing and managing traditional cleaning solutions (and discarding all the packaging), “We’ve replaced six cleaning products with two that allow airport staff to do deeper cleaning without harsh chemicals,” said David Shaw, Vice-President of Facilities and Infrastructure at the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates PIT Airport.

Pittsburgh International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are among airports that have tested autonomous floor scrubbing machines that allow custodial staff to spend more time doing tasks that require more skills and attention. (PIT’s tester came from Nilfisk and Carnegie Robotics; the machine at PHX is by Brain Corp.)

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, an automatic floor scrubbing machine is already part of the full-time cleaning team, operating four or five hours overnight polishing high traffic floors and, as a bonus, providing entertainment for late-night passengers.

“It acts like my co-worker,” janitorial worker Jack Lloyd explains in a C& W Services video about the machines, “I set it up, it works and I’m doing something else.”

Laser-focus on the lavatories 

Restrooms are among the most highly-visited parts of airports and, in surveys, dirty restrooms are often cited by passengers who are dissatisfied with their airport experience.

In response, airports, which now compete against each other for “Best Passenger Experience” awards, are focusing increased time, attention, and technology on making their restrooms shine.

Their efforts are paying off.

In 2016, the first batch of updated restrooms at Minneapolis-St. Paul International took first place in an annual competition for the Best Restroom in America

High-tech features that helped clinch that award were turbine-powered low-flow fixtures and occupancy sensors that monitor restroom use and signal maintenance crews to clean based on the use and number of visitors, said MSP spokesman Patrick Hogan.

Air is pumped into and out of the MSP restrooms in a way that helps dry surfaces quickly and minimizes odors and digital signs outside the restrooms direct travelers to the nearest open facility when a restroom is closed for cleaning.

Starting in 2016, housekeeping staff at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) have been wearing Samsung Gear smartwatches and using the TaskWatch app to match staff resources to peak restroom times instead of cleaning restrooms on a set schedule.

Wireless counters at each restroom entrance collect data and once a pre-set threshold is reached an automated message is sent to everyone wearing the watch. “The nearest housekeeper responds, inspects, addresses and clears the alert,” said CVG spokeswoman Mindy Kershner.

Cleanliness scoring for the airport’s restrooms increased so much (7 percent year over year) that what started as a six-month pilot program has been continued.

Now CVG airport is exploring how to use the TaskWatch system in other parts of the airport.

Officials at the Houston Airport system believe detailed attention to maintaining facilities – especially restrooms – that are clean, attractive and accessible, contributed to both George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby earning 4-star ratings last year from Skytrax, a major airport and airline rating service.

“Using the industry clean standards set by the International Sanitary Supply Association, custodial and maintenance staff at both airports work hard to ensure the facilities are maintained at or above those standard levels,” said Bill Begley, Houston Airport System spokesman.

HOU and IAH are also among a growing number of airports nationwide that, like MSP, have ‘smart’ data-gathering programs in restrooms and in other parts of the terminals.

“Everything pushes out data now,” said Tracy Davis, CEO of Atlanta-based Infax, one of the software services companies that collects real time data from passengers and from trash cans, lighting, restrooms fixtures and other things in airports.

“We take that data in and can let airport staff see on a map where there’s a spill or a trash can that needs to be emptied,” said Davis, “We also give maintenance crews predictive information about when flights are due in so they know when restrooms will experience peak hours.”

In addition to high tech tools, airports are also focusing on the basics to keep terminals tidy.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where that autonomous floor scrubber is earning its keep, airport cleaning crews use cordless vacuums to avoid creating a tripping hazard and use microfiber cloths to constantly wipe down screens on passport control kiosks and common use check-in kiosks.

And SEA Managing Director Lance Lyttle (who previously served as Houston Airport System’s Chief Operating Officer) keeps a plastic glove in his pocket so he’s ready to pick up bits of trash he spots when checking in with his staff in the airport terminal.

Lance Lyttle, Managing Director, Aviation, Port of Seattle, at Sea-Tac Airport, 3 February 2017.

That attention to detail sets a keep-it-clean tone. “It certainly does,” says SEA airport spokesman Perry Cooper, “When the boss does it, you pick up random litter as well.”

United Airlines partners with that exclusive private lounge at LAX

You may remember stories about a private terminal at Los Angeles International Airport where passengers pay a premium fee to get special service before their flight, including private and personalized check-in and baggage handling, private security screening, a swank ride directly to the aircraft and a very upscale lounge to hang out in.

The cost? Fees are up there in the rarified “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it” categories:

Membership is $4500 a year, which gives a discount rate on individual visits of (only) $2700 when flying on a domestic flight and $3,000 when flying one-way internationally.

Not a member? Those one-time visits cost $3,500 for a domestic flight and $4,000 for someone traveling internationally.

Want a “cheaper” way in?

United Airlines and The Private Suite have partnered up to offer what it describes as “a highly preferential rate” that will be included in some business-class fares.

Exact pricing isn’t mentioned in the airlines’ release about the new partnership, but on the webpage for the United Private Suite, it says:

“With this service, you’ll save $4,500 on The Private Suite’s annual membership fee that’s normally required for travel with other airlines. In addition, you’ll enjoy favorable rates when compared to making separate bookings for travel and The Private Suite experience.”

Want to book it?

United says the The Private Suite experience is initially available only if you book through select corporate travel booking desks and travel agents, but that passengers will soon be able to purchase the perk  on united.com or through the United app as part of a premium-cabin ticket fare.