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Feel Good Airport Services

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AirportHave you ever considered how much time you spend in airports? It may be more than you think.

Recently, we conducted an informal survey to find out how early our readers like to arrive at the airport before a flight.

The majority of flyers arrive between one and two hours before a flight. Now take into consideration lengthy layovers and flight delays, and it can really add up. For those who travel often, the “hurry up and wait” game of rushing to the airport and then having to kill time until one’s flight can be frustrating, especially when you have to deal with heavy crowds, overpriced food and by-the-minute internet charges.

Fortunately, some airports are beginning to offer some above-and-beyond amenities in an attempt to ease those very frustrations.

AIRPORT VOLUNTEERS

In most major airports, you’ll find some customer service features that are quickly becoming the norm. The Airport Ambassadors program features volunteers — often retired travel industry professionals — who offer that extra bit of customer service. This can include meeting and greeting travelers, providing information about the airport, and offering tips on locations throughout the city. While these volunteers may be easy to overlook when you’re in a hurry, you probably can’t miss them at the Denver International Airport, where Airport Ambassadors stand out in white cowboy hats and brown leather vests.

Some airports have taken the enhanced customer service model from Airport Ambassadors and implemented it with their own paid staff. At Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), the Holiday Helpers program includes airport professionals such as accountants, lawyers and secretaries, who don’t necessarily work within the terminals. On high traffic days around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day and Labor Day, these staff members (and sometime their families) don DFW T-shirts and hats and hit the terminals to hand out water, treats and toys to travelers in hopes of easing the stress of holiday travel.

“My first day working here was September 11, 2001,” recalls Ken Capps, who serves as DFW’s vice president of public affairs. “That day, I watched people who don’t normally work inside the airport get up from their desks and go over to the airport to help passengers. That first Thanksgiving after 9/11, people were afraid to fly, and that’s how Holiday Helpers was born.”

Since the project is non-profit, sponsors often get involved with giveaways; setting up tables of Pepsi products and free Internet passes from T-Mobile.

At Chicago O’Hare Airport, a similar program called the Friendly Terminals Program was implemented by the Department of Aviation in March 2006. Throughout the peak summer travel season on the high-traffic days of Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, airport employees from various departments provide hands-on customer service support once a month.

FOR THE KIDS

When it comes to dealing with cranky kids while you wait, you’re no longer limited to feeding them junk food, desperate pleading, or letting them run around the crowded terminal. Did you know that many airports actually have a kids’ play areas for the little ones and their families?

The airports usually make sure that these sections have educational and physical activities, rather than simply subjecting you (and them) to tired Barney reruns. At Logan Airport, designers consulted with the Children’s Museum of Boston to create hands on “Kidports” in Terminals A and C that relate to traveling and flying. The Kidport in Terminal A even includes a replica of the Logan Control Tower and of the terminal itself.

The Seattle/Tacoma International Airport has a 1,400-square-foot play space near the Central Terminal that includes an airplane, a control tower replica and even a little baggage cart. Check with the information desk to find out if your terminal has a children’s play area nearby.

BRINGING HOME THE TROOPS

As I walked out the gate with great anticipation to see my wife and kids, I saw a large crowd displaying love and support for our troops. I was choked to walk through that reception and to finally have my wife run up and hug me, both with tears of joy, it was overwhelming. I just wanted to take a moment to thank [you] for such an outstanding and memorable moment, that which we troops do deeply appreciate… You all are A-W-E-S-O-M-E! Thank You and God Bless America!!!!!

What could inspire a major sergeant general in the U.S. Army to write such a letter to an airport, of all places? Well, in support of our troops, DFW and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airports have implemented something called the R&R Program, which had its two-year anniversary this past June. Every day, volunteers gather in the international terminals to welcome home soldiers who are flying home from Kuwait.

These volunteer groups, which include corporations, Boy Scout troops, church organizations and military veterans, coordinate with the airports so that they don’t arrive in overwhelming numbers; however, Kenn Capps, VP of Public Affairs, estimates that DFW sees about 100-300 volunteers a day.

“It’s about a 20-hour flight to DFW,” he says. “They’re still in their battle fatigues, and literally they still have the sands of Iraq on them. The next time they touch the ground it’s at DFW. When they walk out, there are hundreds of people there to welcome them home along with their families… it’s easy for people to come out on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, but to come out on a regular, hot Texas afternoon, is something special.”

TECH-SAVVY

With technology seemingly moving at a faster rate than their airplanes, some airports are turning to high-tech tools to make their customers’ travels a little easier. The new iPoint information kiosk system is being rolled out to several airports across the country, including Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Detroit Metro Airport. These information kiosks have screens and ticker tapes, which provide maps, food and attraction directories, local news, traffic and weather, and even conference facility schedules.

No one knows more about the impact of travel delays than airports, so some are implementing online services to help travelers deal with the traffic situations… before they even get to the airport. Logan International Airport’s website, , has a traffic report that is updated hourly, which has recently come in especially handy since the partial shutdown of the Ted Williams Tunnel under the Boston Harbor (due to a woman being killed by falling concrete). The airport has also been handing out flyers when motorists exit the parking garage to deal with the changing routes.

But there’s something of even more concern than traffic… the price of airline tickets. Here’s how airports are trying to help. In May 2006, the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport introduced the CLE Smartfare, a website that tries to track down the best airfares out of Cleveland to 28 different airports. The site is operated by the airport itself, and works in real time through different airlines and travel search engines to find the best fairs on any given route. This service is available on .

Of course, the bigger the airport, the more confusing it can be, especially for out-of-towners. DFW launched its new podcast on July 21, 2006, which you can download before you even leave for the airport. With both audio and video segments in English and Spanish, there are about 16 packets of information about the airport’s layout, its parking structure (including the new 8,000 space terminal), and the new $6 million art display. Visit iTunes.com, click on “Source,” select “Music Store,” and search for “DFW Airport.”

And finally, what about those times when you are desperate for some entertainment, but you’re in no condition to read a book or eat a meal? How about a sound and light show? Most travelers have experienced those long walkways between terminals, some of which seem like they’re stretching out to infinity. In the Detroit Metro Airport, Northwest Airlines, working with an architecture/engineering firm, have designed a unique 800-foot walkway between concourse A to B and C in the McNamara terminal: here you’ll find an extravagant sound and light show, an etched glass panel display, and a lit-up fabric ceiling that makes you feel like you’re not even in a tunnel. And that can’t help but make you feel good.

For more on airport amenities, check out Airport Spas Everywhere.

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