smoking lounges

Atlanta stubbing out smoking lounges at its airport

Flying to or through Atlanta? Now is a good time to quit smoking or to get some nicotine gum

My column this week for CNBC is about the last remaining smoking lounges at U.S. airports. Here’s that story.

Salt Lake City International Airport did it in 2016. Denver International Airport did it in 2018. 

And, thanks to a new, enhanced ordinance in Atlanta banning smoking and vaping in bars, restaurants and other enclosed public spaces, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), which has held the title of world’s busiest airport for many years, will snuff out its smoking lounges on January 2, 2020.

In ATL, which has held the title of “World’s Busiest Airport” for many years, there are currently about a dozen post-security spaces where smokers can light up. The lounges were initially paid for by Phillip Morris in advance of the 1996 summer Olympics.

Although the U.S. Surgeon General has determined that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke, ATL officials have long claimed the lounges benefited non-smokers as well as smokers by keeping secondhand smoke away from non-smoking guests and by discouraging smokers from lighting up in restrooms and other spaces.

But since ATL is part of the city of Atlanta, airport officials say the airport will comply with the new ordinance and convert the lounge to other purposes. Passengers will be directed to smoking areas outside of both terminals.

“We plan to work with our airline partners to make sure they communicate with their customers that smoking is no longer permitted at ATL,” said Jennifer Ogunsola, spokeswoman for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), “We also will have PSA [public service announcements] messaging throughout the airport as well as permanent and digital signage with like messaging.”

ATL’s shift to smoke free is “huge,” said Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) and the ANR Foundation, “As the airport with the largest passenger volume and a huge workforce, both flight crews and airport staff, going smoke free means that millions of people will be fully protected from exposure to secondhand smoke.”

Now, says Hallett, it’s time for the handful of other U.S. airports that still have smoking lounges to follow Atlanta’s lead. “Many airports have repurposed smoking lounges for much desired spaces to sit, including electronic device charging stations or more food options,” she said.

U.S. airports where smoking is still allowed

In addition to ATL, a handful of the country’s busiest airports still offer smoking lounges for passengers, despite a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that designated indoor smoking areas at airports are not effective in eliminating secondhand smoke exposure.

Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) has smoking lounges in each concourse. “There is enough customer demand to maintain their presence in the airport and there are currently not any discussions to close them,” said Christina Saull, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

All the restaurants and retail shops at Nashville International Airport Thursday, July 7, 2016 in Nashville, TN.

At Nashville International Airport (BNA), there are in-store smoking lounges at the Graycliff Cigar Company stores located on Concourse B, near Gate B-10, and on Concourse C, near Gate C-10. Passes to the lounge are $5 for 120 minutes. 

For $10, passengers can gain access to the Graycliff smoking lounge by Gate B11 at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

At Miami International Airport (MIA), passengers are permitted to smoke in the open-air patio at TGI Friday’s at Gate D36. “Since it is already in an outside area, there has not been discussion about closing it,” said MIA spokesman Greg Chin.

And there are still spaces for passengers to smoke at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

McCarran, which has slot machines in many parts of airport, has enclosed, specially ventilated casino gaming areas on each concourse where passengers may smoke.

“In the past, when there were no such areas, we experienced repeated issues in which travelers would smoke in restrooms, companion care rooms or other public spaces,” said Chris Jones, spokesman for the Clark County Department of Aviation, “ We’d get complaints from parents who would enter such a room to change their baby’s diaper and find it filled with second-hand smoke from someone who’d lit up there minutes earlier, for example.”

Passengers would also open alarmed doors in attempts to smoke on emergency exit stairways, Jones said.

Clearing the air in airports

According to the CDC exposure to secondhand smoke has been steadily decreasing in the United States, due primarily to the adoption of smoke-free policies prohibiting indoor smoking at worksites, restaurants and bars.

“However, an estimated 58 million, or 1 in 4, Americans remain exposed to secondhand smoke in areas not covered by these policies, including certain airports,” said Brian King, deputy director for research translation in CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.

“The good news is that we know what works to protect people from this completely preventable health risk,” King added, “Implementing smoke-free policies in indoor public areas is the best way to fully protect everyone, including airport travelers and employees, from the deadly risks of secondhand smoke exposure.”

Salt Lake City Airport to close smoking lounges

Lucky Stirke smoking

After years of insisting that the smoking lounges inside its terminals were an important service amenity for travelers, Salt Lake City International Airport has reversed position and announced that it will phase out the available use of the five lounges currently at the airport in a six-month plan beginning on July 5.

First to go will be the smoking room in Concourse D, with the final smoking lounge scheduled to close on December 19.

SLC has a $1.8 billion Terminal Redevelopment Program underway and it was also announced that there are no smoking lounges in the new plans.

“This is first and foremost an issue of public health, both for travelers and our airport employees, but it is also an issue of space concerns,” said Mayor Biskupski, on the closure plan. “The current airport terminal is also beyond capacity, and every foot of available space should be used to the best advantage of the traveling public.”

Closing the smoking rooms might not only help Utah reduce health care costs and lost productivity related to smoking, it will also free up more than 1,200 square feet in the concourses for other purposes, such as retail space, charging stations for electronics and extra passenger seating, the mayor’s announcement noted.

Here’s the schedule for closing the lounges:

*Concourse D (470 square feet): July 5
*Concourse A (308 square feet): Week of August 15
*Concourse B (396 square feet): Week of September 26
*Concourse E (357 square feet): Week of November 7
*Concourse C (598 square feet): Week of December 19

McCarran International in Las Vegas, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Denver International and just a few others are now the only major U.S airports with smoking lounges in the terminals.

Coming soon – if you’re lucky – to an airport near you

My At the Airport column for USAToday.com this month, Coming soon – if you’re lucky – to an airport near you, features some of the new amenities I saw on exhibit in Philadelphia at the recent conference of Airports Council International – North America, or ACI-NA.

Airport chairs

During the conference, workshops were offered on everything from saving energy to dealing with security threats and how to get more passengers to “follow” airports on Twitter.  But the real fun was on the exhibition hall floor. There, vendors displayed everything from the latest in airport seating (cup holders and USB plugs, thankfully, seem to be the next big thing) to new, high-tech machinery for shooing wildlife off runways.  But here are the amenities I found most intriguing.

Napping nooks

Last year, Minute Suites debuted “sleep rooms” at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Concourse B, next to Gate B15).  Each room has a day bed, work desk, complimentary Wi-Fi, a 32” HDTV, and sound masking system tools. The company is opening another branch at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) in March 2011, and is in talks with at least three other airports for more.

Minute Suites

Minute Suites airport sleep room

Unique Retreat, another company making napping nooks, should be opening its first branch at San Francisco International Airport before the end of the year in the International Terminal, Boarding Area A.

Cigar lounges

Bahamas-based Graycliff cigars opened boutiques with specially-ventilated cigar lounges attached at Nassau International Airport last November and at Nashville International Airport in March.

Graycliff cigar lounge at Nashville Airport

Each lounge has an admission fee ($10 in Nassau; $4 in Nashville) and Graycliff reps say they’re exploring setting up this type of smoking lounge at other airports as well.

Eat, buy, play

The Food Network is bidding on several airport locations for themed restaurants that will be called Food Network Kitchens.  And ZoomSystems, which makes those oversized airport vending machines (officially: “automated shops”) to sell products from Best Buy, The Body Shop, Sephora and other retailers will soon be installing airport ZoomShops to dispense apparel associated with a major sport.

Skip the cellphone lot; park at the plaza

“Cell phone lots on steroids” is how the folks at Airport Plazas are marketing the service centers they’re planning to build  on airport properties but separate from the terminals. Patterned after highway plazas offering fuel and food, these 24-hour service centers might have amenities ranging from a gas station, a food court, a car wash and a convenience store to free Wi-Fi, a pet hotel, a pharmacy and a bank.

The company opened its first airport plaza recently at Newark Liberty International Airport. There, amenities include an environmentally-friendly gas station, a dual-bay car wash, a service station bay and a 7-Eleven convenience store.

Future airport plazas are planned for New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Southwest Florida International Airport (Fort Myers) and Utah’s, St. George Municipal Airport.

Sound promising?  What should they work on next?