Taking off

btlogo1The economy’s soft, but that’s not stopping airports from spending billions of dollars on new facilities, infrastructure improvements and upgraded amenities designed to attract business travelers. Here’s what’s some of the top airports in the world are doing to stay on top:

Amsterdam/Schiphol (AMS) – KLM’s new Crown Lounge for intercontinental passengers is over 37,000 square feet and seats 840. The airline says the facility has been built with special energy-efficient lighting, as well as an air circulation system that warms water for its 10 showers. The airline recently launched flights between Amsterdam and both Calgary and Liverpool, and has expanded use of its electronic boarding pass system, which allows passengers to check in using their cell phones or PDAs. A new Yotel has opened inside security, between gates D and E.

Beijing Capital (PEK) – Beijing’s Terminal 3, the world’s second largest, had a smooth opening prior to the Olympic Games, and continues to win kudos for its elegant design and trouble-free operations. Air China, the terminal’s main tenant, has opened a series of transit lounges for passengers with connections of four hours or more. Plans are also in the works to secure the airport’s train line so that passengers with connections can check bags and complete security screening while onboard, allowing them to proceed directly to their gate upon arrival at the airport.

George Bush Intercontinental (IAH) – IAH is spending $134 million to extend the airport’s Automated People Mover (APM) system so that it connects all four terminals, while Continental, Houston’s hometown airline, is improving its facilities with additional check-in kiosks and baggage drops. The airline recently launched daily service from Houston to Rio de Janeiro, and will begin daily nonstops to Frankfurt in November. Houston is one of seven U.S. airports using self-serve kiosks to speed frequent international travelers through passport and customs control via its Global Entry Pilot Program. On March 31, 2009, a new business-class lounge for passengers of Qatar Airways, Emirates, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines opened in Terminal D.  The lounge offers full Wi-Fi, cell phone and laptop recharging stations, a concierge desk with flight arrival and departure information, two quiet rooms, two business centers, a bar and light snacks.

Chatrapati Shivaji International (BOM) – Fast-growing Jet Airways continues to expand in Mumbai, recently launching service to Kuwait, Jeddah and Riyadh, and adding a second daily flight from Mumbai to Dubai. The airport is three years into a major renovation program, and recently added additional check-in, security and immigration counters, installed better signage, and welcomed a range of new restaurants and bars, including the popular Bombay Blue. Work is expected to continue through 2014.

Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) – DFW is spending $45 million to renovate terminals A, B, C and E, upgrading carpets, restrooms and flight information monitors. That’s on top of $2.7 billion spent over the last decade constructing Terminal D and the Skylink people mover system. Complimentary power ports and (wired) Internet are now available at 17 different spots around the airport, and visitor information boards have been upgraded to provide real-time traffic and road condition data for the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. In May, American Airlines inaugurated nonstop flights to Madrid, and American Eagle recently launched service to Santa Fe, Montgomery, Lake Charles and Tallahassee. 

Denver International (DEN) – Denver is bringing more local concessions to its airport, having recently opened a branch of the Colorado-based ChopHouse, and launching the 5280 Lounge (referring to the city’s altitude) this fall. Throughout the airport, flight information display systems have been upgraded to include visual paging, and looking forward, the FasTracks train line will progressively begin operation between 2013 and 2016, whisking passengers to downtown Denver in less than an hour. Denver International is also home to a 7.5-acre solar farm that produces nearly half the amount of electricity needed to power the airport’s people mover system. 

Doha International (DOH) – Doha-based Qatar Airways continues to grow, adding an average of one plane a week to its fleet, and launching new service to Sydney, Melbourne and several destinations in India. First- and business-class passengers flying Qatar out of Doha will notice a range of enhancements to its Premium Terminal, including new shower rooms, high-end retail and additional space for dining. Elsewhere in the airport, a new eight-gate transit terminal is being built to simplify connections for passengers with layovers of less than an hour.

Dubai International (DXB) – At Dubai International, the focus is on expansion. The renovation of Terminal 2 has increased passenger and cargo capacity by 50 percent, with the facility now able to handle up to five million passengers annually. Additional check-in counters have been added, a hip new décor introduced, and duty-free shopping space now totals 15,000 square feet. Over at Terminal 3, Emirates continues to grow, with new service to Luanda, Angola in August and Durban, South Africa in October. The airline began serving Toronto and Bangkok in early June on new A380s, and plans to begin service to Seoul with the superjumbo aircraft December 1, 2009.

Seoul Incheon International (ICH) – A Sheraton Grande Walkerhill transit hotel, which books rooms in six-hour increments, is open in Incheon’s main terminal, giving passengers with long layovers a place to shower, rest and eat before their next flight. Another layover option: half-day transit tours that leave from the airport on sightseeing trips through central Seoul, or even to the demilitarized zone on the border with North Korea. The airport has also introduced several Korean Cultural Experience Zones, where passengers can learn traditional crafts, like fan painting, or watch free music performances.

London Heathrow (LHR) – Two new hotels have opened at Heathrow: a high-end, 600-room Sofitel connected to the airport’s Terminal 5, and a Yotel, which rents small rooms for four hours at a time. British Airways, which continues moving its operations into the new T5, has invested heavily in a new first-class lounge, which will open there later this year. At Terminal 4, the SkyTeam alliance has opened the first level of a co-branded business-class lounge, which features an extensive wine selection, oxygen bar and full-body massage table.

Los Angeles International (LAX) – The $723.5-million renovation and expansion underway at LAX’s international terminal will result in four new lounges, a renovated customs hall, new ticketing lobbies and baggage systems, and gates able to handle A380 and 787 aircraft. Recently-opened amenities at LAX include reLAX, a pay-to-use lounge located outside security in the international terminal, with rates that begin at $10 for one hour. JetBlue, Emirates, Volaris and V Australia have all launched inaugural flights from LAX in recent months.

Munich Franz Josef Strauss – Voted “Best Airport in Europe” for four years in a row (2005–2008) by Skytrax, Munich has rolled out 67 Quick Boarding Gates, which allow passengers to scan their own boarding passes at the jet bridge entrance, reducing boarding time. Lufthansa is investing heavily at the airport, adding new amenities at its First Class Lounge, opening an additional Senator Lounge in August, and launching new flights to Tel Aviv, as well as three destinations in Central Europe. In spring 2010, a 250-room Novotel will open, joining the five-star Kempinski property situated between the airport’s two terminals.

Tokyo/Narita International (NRT) – A new high-speed train route connecting the airport to downtown Tokyo’s main light-rail loop will open in 2010, cutting travel time between central Tokyo and Narita by 15 minutes. Inside the airport, Bulgari, Cartier and Hermès (all located on the third floor of Terminal 1’s North Wing) have expanded, and at the end of October, Japan Airlines (JAL), Narita’s largest carrier, will upgrade its Los Angeles and Chicago flights with Boeing 777s in a four-class configuration, replacing the 747s currently servicing those routes.

Chicago O’Hare (ORD) – Late last year, Chicago’s O’Hare opened its first new runway since 1971, allowing air traffic controllers to land three planes simultaneously, and increasing the airport’s on-time arrival rate by 15 percent. The airport has installed a billboard-sized real-time flight information board at its cell phone waiting lot, and has opened several new retailers, including a Tech Wireless—which sells gadgets and accessories—in Terminal 2, and Oakley eyewear shops in Terminals 1 and 3. 

Sydney Kingsford Smith International (SYD) – Sydney is adding 24,000 square feet of space to its international terminal, and renovating another 95,000 square feet to make room for more high-end retailers, like Burberry and Emporio Armani. To deal with anticipated traffic growth and more A380 superjumbo flights, the airport is centralizing immigration and security checkpoints, adding new jet bridges, taxiways and baggage carousels, and upgrading its inbound luggage handling system. Qantas recently launched service between Sydney and Buenos Aires, and is now serving London and Los Angeles with new A380s.

Zürich (ZRH)
–  Zürich Airport is in the midst of a modernization program that includes streamlining and rebuilding its security checkpoints and passport control hall, as well as upgrading its people mover system. Last year, a 330-room, four-star Radisson SAS opened just across from the airport’s terminals, and a rail line linking the airport to some of Zürich’s fast-growing suburbs began service. The airport is aggressively going green, implementing a program to conserve rain and ground water, cut emissions, and reduce heat and electricity use throughout the airport.

Amsterdam/Schiphol (AMS) – KLM’s new Crown Lounge for intercontinental passengers is over 37,000 square feet and seats 840. The airline says the facility has been built with special energy-efficient lighting, as well as an air circulation system that warms water for its 10 showers. The airline recently launched flights between Amsterdam and both Calgary and Liverpool, and has expanded use of its electronic boarding pass system, which allows passengers to check in using their cell phones or PDAs. A new Yotel has opened inside security, between gates D and E.

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