A trip to the airport in the new normal

Missing airports? Us too.

That’s why we masked up and spent a few hours at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) last week to see what’s new – and what’s not.

And to gauge whether or not we’re ready to fly.

(Spoiler alert: we’re not.)

First, a disclaimer. We went to the airport with a long list of photos to take, features and amenities to check up on, and favorite views and pieces of art to visit.

We’ve been isolating at home and in our neighborhood, so the crowds (yes, crowds) at the airport last Friday afternoon were a surprise. So were all people who were mask-less and oblivious to social-distancing despite clear signage and perfectly understandable overhead announcements. And, well, the state of the world.

So while we are pleased to see all the protocols and precautions the airport has tried to put in place, we cut the visit short.

But here are some notes on what we found in our hometown airport.

Courtesy SEA Airport

As expected, we saw lots of signs reminding people not to flock together and to put on their masks.

We noted too that there are new overhead announcements. Instead of local music celebrities and airport officials welcoming us to the airport, there are reminders of health-related protocols. Including a request to stand in the middle of the step when on an escalator.

There are now vending machines filled with personal protection items you may need on your trip.

We had meant to do some shopping at the airport in some of our favorite stores. Because – stores! But while we were glad to see Ex Officio is open in its new spot and Fireworks Gallery has friendly minders posted at both the entrance and the exit of the gift shop, we moved along to our scheduled appointments.

Cool new bathroom feature

We admit it. It was this new bathroom feature that really lured us out of the comfort zone of our home and past airport security.

Although we almost turned back once we saw how bunched up and pre-COVID disorganized things were around the screening machines.

Some other airports around the country already have Tooshlights installed in some restrooms.

But Seattle-Tacoma International Airport just got their first set.

As you can see from the photo, this invention lets you know if a restroom stall is open or not. Before COVID, it was appealing because it eliminates that awkward touching of all the doors or peeking under them to find an empty stall.

Now, the fact that you don’t have to touch doors and can easily see what’s open means less time spent in an enclosed space. There’s a bonus service here too: the locks collect information on how often each door opens and closes, so cleaning cycles can be lined up with use.

A new African-themed menu at the Africa Lounge

Courtesy SEA Airport

We made two other stops in the airport.

One was at the Africa Lounge on Concourse A. The taproom has been here since about 2005 and is a visual oasis in the busy concourse as well as a nice place to get cocktails and American fare.

Now there’s a new reason to stop by.

The Africa Lounge now has African food and drinks on the menu, including sambusas, which are Central African fried pastries filled with spicy beef or vegetables. The sides include fried plantains with tangy sauces and jollof rice, which is a West African staple made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices.

The Africa Lounge is also featuring a nice selection of South African wines, a handful of African-inspired cocktails, Ethiopian coffee, and an African music playlist.

Courtesy SEA Airport


We hope to go back and re-visit all the club lounges at SEA airport. But on this trip, we stopped into the South Satellite branch of The CLUB at SEA to see what’s new and different.

In addition to plastic partitions at the entry and touchless document reviews, the lounge is operating at half-capacity, with many seats blocked off. Even the coveted window bar has seating restrictions.

Cocktails are still being served at the cocktail window, but “nothing that needs to be shaken or stirred, such as margaritas,” said general manager Karen Law, “and no olives in martinis for now.”

Newspapers and magazines are gone too. Now guests can scan and upload a wide variety of papers and magazines to phone or laptops in many more languages than before.

Serve-yourself food is also out, for now, so staff members stand ready to hand guests pre-plated food and soft drinks from the fridge.

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.


Travel Tidbits from Denver and Los Angeles airports

Ending the week with some travel tidbits from airports for you.

Were you hoping that Norbert the Turtle really was joining the pet therapy program at Denver International Airport? That turned out to be an April Fool’s Day joke, but DEN did add their 101st member to their team.

Not a joke was the announcement that Los Angeles International Airport had installed Tooshlights in one set of bathrooms in the American Airlines Terminal 4 to guide lav users – via overhead red and green lights – to stalls that are open.

LAX also announced that $4.9 billion contract had been approved by the Los World Airports (LAWA) Board of Airport Commissioners (BOAC) to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the Automated People Mover (APM) system at the airport.

The system promises driverless trains that will arrive at every station every two minutes, and light-filled stations with escalators, elevators, and moving walkways. Bonus amenities include a viewing platform of the iconic Theme Building.

When will we be able to take the train to LAX? Sometime in 2023.