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The 2017 airport amenity honor roll includes a fresh batch of amenities, services and special events introduced and embraced by both airports and airlines who proved themselves to be both enthusiastic and creative in the quest to better serve air travelers on the ground.
Getting to the gate -- even if you're not flying. Remember the good old days of flying, when friends and family could go with you to the gate?
9/11 changed all that, but this summer Pittsburgh International Airport worked out a unique deal with the Transportation Security Administration to bring that perk back.
Now members of the non-flying public who check in at a special MyPITPass ticket counter can get a pass that gives them access to the gates, shops, restaurants and art offered by PIT airport beyond the security checkpoint. No other airports have yet been given permission by TSA to replicate this perk, but at PIT the service is quite popular and is being used by between 75 and 150 people a day, according to airport spokesman Bob Kerlik.
Reel entertainment. Back in 2014, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport opened the See 18 screening room near Gate C18 to showcase short films. This year, at least three other airports joined the in-airport movie fan club as well.
In March, a 17-seat Hollywood Theatre "microcinema" opened at Portland International Airport, showing a round-the-clock program of short features made by Oregon filmmakers.
In August, a bank of old flight monitors at Miami International Airport began showing vintage film footage of the airport and of celebrities arriving at the airport from the 1950s through the 1980s, courtesy of Wolfson Archives.
And in October, San Francisco International Airport unveiled a pre-security Video Arts Center in the International Terminal which features a rotating showcase of short films.
Gate delivery. Many travelers are familiar with OTG's iPad-enhanced airport seating areas that allow passengers in many gate-hold areas to order food, drinks and products from nearby restaurants and shops to be delivered to them at their seats.
This summer two app-powered services, Airport Sherpa and At Your Gate, announced they'd be offering a new perk: airport-wide delivery of pretty much anything sold on-site, for a small delivery fee.
Gate-huggers rejoiced, but rollout has been a bit slower than planned. Airport Sherpa currently provides this service only at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, but says new airport partners will be announced soon. At Your Gate, which won approval of the Innovation Lab at San Diego International Airport, had planned an August launch, but that is now slated for January.
Biometrics and beyond. Biometrics is taking hold at U.S. airports. In June, JetBlue partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and global IT company SITA to test a program using biometrics and facial recognition technology to verify customers at the gate during boarding. Travelers flying from Boston's Logan International Airport to Aruba's Queen Beatrix International Airport and from Boston to Santiago, Dominican Republic, can choose to opt-in to the program.
Delta Air Lines also added biometric options for some travelers. One of four self-service bag drop machines the carrier installed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is testing facial recognition technology to match customers with their passport photos through identification verification, a step the airline says is a first for U.S. carriers and has the potential to process twice as many customers per hour.
Furthering fitness, health and universal access. Marked walking paths and yoga rooms (at San Francisco International, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago O'Hare and Midway, Miami International and others) offer passengers a healthy alternative to just sitting by the gate. But travelers got a new option this year at Baltimore/Washington International Airport when Roam Fitness opened what is currently the only post-security fitness facility offering a gym, workout gear and shower facilities.
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