Why O’Hare needs to grow — and what we can learn from other mega airport expansions

If O’Hare International Airport goes ahead with plans for a massive $8.5 billion upgrade, it will join a host of other major U.S. airports that are completing or in the middle of big rehab projects.LaGuardia Airport in New York City is beginning an $8 billion makeover, which will include rehabilitating the Central Terminal. Hartfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, the world’s busiest airport, has started work on a $6 billion expansion plan, which will include terminal modernization. LAX in Los Angeles is in the midst of a multiyear, multibillion-dollar modernization project, which has included construction of a huge new international terminal with gates big enough to handle jumbo jets, with a midfield passenger terminal now underway.And Denver International Airport announced last year a $1.8 billion public-private partnership to get faster security screening, expanded concession space and the ability to handle millions more passengers.One could say Chicago is late to join the rehab festival, or coming just in time to save its competitive edge. Late or not, O’Hare needs to do a major renovation to stay competitive for tourists and business travelers and continue to draw companies to the region, industry experts agree. Chicago also wants to attract e-commerce giant Amazon, which is looking for a second headquarters.“The facility is outdated right now — you could say it’s late to the party,” said Seth Kaplan, managing editor of the industry magazine Airline Weekly. But he noted that a late arrival can learn from the successes and failures of airports that already have done big rehabs.“Generally, what airlines want, what they think is best for themselves and their customers, is a facility for adequate capacity for all the flights that need to be there, but isn’t too expensive,” said Kaplan, referring to space for planes and passengers. “Airlines don’t want Taj Mahals, and they’ve Continue Reading

Longtime DIA janitorial services provider faces questions that could delay a new $115 million contract

Questions are emerging about the performance of a city contractor that has provided Denver airport janitorial services for decades, just as it’s set to win a $115 million contract. Denver City Councilman Kevin Flynn, who received a copy of the protest letter filed by a losing bidder last week, says he plans to delay consideration of the new three-year contract with ISS Facility Services when it comes up for approval at Monday’s 5:30 p.m. meeting. Council rules allow any council member to trigger a one-time, one-week delay of a contract. “It’s unfortunate that questions come up at the last minute like this,” Flynn said, adding that he’s heard similar concerns informally from another losing bidder’s representative. “But it’s a very large contract, and there is some controversy around it, so we deserve to hit the pause button and get some answers. I don’t want to vote on something that still has lingering questions.” Triangle Services, based in Valley Stream, N.Y., alleged in its protest letter to a Denver International Airport contract administrator on Feb. 6 that San Antonio-based ISS failed to submit management and quality control reports required under its current contract, resulting in its termination last fall of a quality assurance manager. The company also has underperformed on carpet cleaning and floor stripping and waxing, the letter says, and it alleges that ISS’s recent site managers haven’t met experience qualifications for that position. Finally, the letter suggests that ISS’s winning bid would charge the city too much. DIA already is pushing back on the claims in the protest letter and defending its selection of ISS, but it’s unclear if that effort will head off a delay Monday. Scott Murray of Triangle wrote that DIA’s evaluation committee, made up of DIA officials and industry representatives, likely would not have recommended the Continue Reading

Dozens of flights canceled at Denver airport due to storm

DENVER -- Officials say about 190 flights have been canceled at Denver International Airport as a winter storm moves through Colorado. Airport officials say passengers should check directly with their airline for information on delays or cancellations on Sunday. The Federal Aviation Administration also is using a ground delay to space out planes arriving at the Denver airport. Airport officials say those delays are averaging about 2.5 hours. Crews began working overnight to treat the airport's surfaces and officials said the airfield was in good condition. But officials said blowing snow and low visibility is a concern as winds pick up speed. Continue Reading

City council blocks Chick-fil-A in Denver airport

Denver is giving Chick-fil-A the bird. The city’s council Business Development Committee has delayed by two weeks Chick-fil-A's request to open in the Denver International Airport due to the fast-food chain's opposition of gay marriage. The city council's next meeting is Sept. 1. Four council members — including an openly gay one — think that Chick-fil-A's stance could mean some employees and potential employees are discriminated against. One council member said welcoming the restaurant will only fuel "corporate profits used to fund and fuel discrimination." Chick-fil-A responded that its corporation and franchises "are equal opportunity employers" with workers "who represent many diverse viewpoints, opinions, backgrounds and beliefs." "We hope to welcome all guests to any of our locations," the statement read. The people want their chicken: A 2013 poll of airport users found Chick-fil-A to be the second most-requested quick-service restaurant to open in the airport, only after Chipotle, which hasn’t applied for the new space. In 2012, Chick-fil-A came under fire for donating to anti-LGBT causes. CEO Dan Cathy stirred the pot when he said he was “guilty as charged” in supporting marriage between a man and a woman. That caused gay-rights activists to boycot the restaurant and even hold franchise kiss-ins. Governments got involved, too. Boston mayor Thomas Merino said he would forbid Chick-fil-A from opening in the city unless its policies changed. Chicago and San Fransisco also said the corporation’s values did not line up with their cities’. It’s not the first time that Cathy’s comments have created a clucking mess. In 2013, after the Supreme Court struck down Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act, Cathy tweeted that it was a “sad day for our nation.” The tweet was later removed. The first Chick-fil-A in New York City is set to open Oct. 3 near Herald Continue Reading

Colorado airport part of TSA test screenings for larger electronics

Travelers at some U.S. airports are being asked to place electronic devices bigger than a cellphone in separate bins so that they can be examined more closely.The Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday that it has been testing the procedure at 10 airports for more than a year, and it may be expanded nationwide.TSA officials say overstuffed bags take longer to examine with X-ray machines. The pilot program is “an effort to de-clutter baggage,” said agency spokesman Michael England.There are no changes to what is allowed in carry-on bags, and people enrolled in the Precheck program can still leave laptops in their bags during screening, he said.Most travelers already must remove laptops from bags when they go through security checkpoints. In the test lanes at the 10 airports, they are no longer being allowed to lay machines on top of bags or with other electronic devices — each device must have its own bin. More: 1 year in, train to Denver airport still has computer bug Requiring travelers to spread their belongings among more bins could slow down the screening process. TSA said it is testing ways to make screening quicker and more targeted.Unless the pilot program is expanded, most travelers will never experience it. Even if goes nationwide, it would be a far less dramatic change than the ban on laptops and tablets in the cabin of U.S.-bound planes from the Middle East and North Africa.The TSA’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, is considering expanding that ban to flights from Europe to the U.S. but has run into opposition from business travelers, airlines and European governments that fear it will create chaos and delays.The new screening measures are being tested at the following airports: Boise, Idaho; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Detroit Metropolitan Airport; Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida; Logan Airport in Boston; Los Angeles International Airport; Lubbock Preston Continue Reading

Inside the LaGuardia control tower – and why you’re always delayed

The following is excerpted from the feature story "Traffic" now appearing at GQ.com , in which magazine correspondent Jeanne Marie Laskas shares her inside view of the air control tower at LaGuardia and the people who make it work. At any given moment, on any given morning, there are roughly 6,000 planes on their way to somewhere, from somewhere, over American airspace. Getting them safely down to the ground will depend upon the efforts of a small group of controllers who, nearly without fail, get the job done despite long hours, grim working conditions, and ancient technology. Get a view from the tower at LaGuardia Airport to see how it all happens.  Full story at GQ.com To get to the air-traffic-control tower at New York's LaGuardia Airport, you have to walk through Concourse D in the Central Terminal, past the shiny shops and fat pretzels and premium brews, into and back out of streams of travelers yammering wirelessly at wives, lovers, brokers. You come to a thick steel battleship-gray door, shove it open with your hip. Step inside. You are now in…Leningrad? Bucharest? Cinder-block walls washed in dingy fluorescent light, a cramped elevator, slow and rickety, up to the tenth floor. This is the center of the universe, a tower serving 23 million passengers a year as they fly in and out of the most congested airspace in the world, and yeah, this tower, built in 1962, one of the oldest in America, is a dump. The FAA promises a new tower next year. You can see it emerging next to the parking garage. It's right there. Some LaGuardia controllers remember hearing about a-new-tower-next-year as far back as 1984. "Next year." "Next year." "Why fix up the old tower when a new tower is coming next year?" A quarter of a century of no next-years is enough to make any worker with a spare shirt in his locker in case of a toilet explosion feel…skeptical. WHY YOU'RE DELAYED LaGuardia Airport is tiny compared to its sleek modern Continue Reading

Flights to nowhere: Fliers pan Laguardia and JFK airports in latest Zagat’s survey

Getting back and forth to grandma's ain't gonna be fun if you have to fly through LaGuardia or JFK. With the holiday travel season upon us, fliers gave New York's airports abysmal grades in the latest Zagat's survey. LGA came in dead last among the nation's 27 biggest airports, with the aging airfield in Queens scoring a pitiful 6.8 on Zagat's signature 30-point scale. "It's seems like it's out of the '60s," moaned Jennifer Thayer, 40, of Colorado Springs. "There's not a whole lot of choices." "They don't have those massage people," said Thayer, who was heading home from LaGuardia Monday. Michael Gray said he wasn't surprised to see LaGuardia ranked so low. He ticked off delays and a lack of shops and restaurants as the biggest problems with the crowded airport. "There's not much to do when you have to wait five hours," said Gray, 20, of Albany. Zagat quizzed nearly 10,000 air travellers who said they take an average of about 16 flights a year, mostly for business. The frequent fliers didn't have many good things to say about JFK, either. It placed fourth from the bottom with a 9.6 score. Tampa's airport scored a lofty 20 to top the list. Minneapolis, Denver and Charlotte also ranked high. The one slice of good news for New Yorkers in the survey was that New York-based JetBlue was ranked best major airline for economy travel. Joey Parr said LaGuardia is always a frenetic beehive of activity, and it's impossible to get any rest. "There's no place to sit and relax," said Parr, 42, of the upper East Side. "You can't get away from the crowd." The biggest complaint of all are the endless delays, which often keep travelers waiting for hours on end. Unlike other airports, there are few spots to get work done or enjoy yourself while you wait. "After you get through the gate, there's nothing to do," said Amber Hidlebrandt, 28, of Toronto. Lorenda Reddekopp said it's shameful that an airport in the greatest city in the world could be so Continue Reading

Wind, weather & a wacko delay flights

Wind, rain and a deranged passenger made Sunday miserable for fliers trying to travel in and out of area airports.Newark Airport reported 4-1/2-hour delays on arriving flights, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Kennedy Airport arrivals were delayed an average of four hours, while LaGuardia traffic arrived almost two hours late. "Our flight is delayed three hours so far," said Sarah Rozen, 50, of Manhattan, as she waited with her 8-year-old son, Fred Hechinger, for an American flight to Dallas. "We knew it would be late, but we decided to take our chances and see what happens," she said in a crowded Newark terminal. "But if it doesn't get off before 11 [p.m.], I'm afraid it's not going to happen." Winds up to 47 mph were measured in Central Park, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a wind advisory. Other airports on the East Coast and in the Midwest also reported heavy weather-related delays, coming on the second-to-last travel day before Christmas. For 150 passengers on a New York-bound JetBlue flight, though, their six-hour delay from San Francisco was caused by a passenger whose disruptive behavior prompted the pilot to set down in Denver. The man was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation and was facing no charges, cops said. A JetBlue spokeswoman couldn't say what the man did. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

N.Y. leads nation with worst flight delays and long waits

New York's airports are the worst in the U.S. when it comes to getting passengers around on time - and the flood of delays and cancellations frequently fouls up air travel nationwide. But if you've flown out of Kennedy, LaGuardia or Newark Liberty, you knew that already. For the record, 38% of all flights from the three airports were late or never got off the ground between January and April. And when they were late, they were very, very late. The 15,480 delayed flights from Newark, according to federal figures, averaged 95 minutes - almost enough time for passengers to take in a movie. Those at LaGuardia were, on average, an hour tardy. Why are we at the bottom of the efficiency heap? Bad weather and bad geography are two reasons. Minor storms that wouldn't be a problem elsewhere often delay New York flights because of where the city sits on the Eastern Seaboard. The airports also have outdated runway configurations, meaning they can land fewer jets per hour than modern facilities in Atlanta and Denver. On top of it all, air congestion is at an all-time high. Nearly 1.4 million flights passed through the region's airspace last year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. A variety of government agencies and aviation experts will take their best shot at solving the mess in the coming months. A high-level task force convened by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will study, among other things, ways to maximize runway use and get planes in and out more quickly. Meanwhile, the FAA is nearing approval of a new flight pattern for the crowded corridor between Delaware and Connecticut, which officials hope can slash delays by 200,000 hours a year. The airlines and FAA also are pushing Congress to authorize a multibillion-dollar upgrade of the nation's air traffic control system. Its high-tech replacement would use global-positioning satellites to coordinate traffic, allowing aircraft to fly closer together. Continue Reading

Best airports for craft beer lovers

During Oktoberfest season — and pretty much any time of the year — many travelers enjoy spending their airport layovers in a bar with a beer.In the past that meant something generic, sudsy and overpriced. But as the craft beer industry has boomed in towns and cities around the country, it’s now possible to find locally made brews in just about every airport.  “I make it a point to pound homegrown beer at every airport I pass through. That means sipping Stone IPAs at the brewery’s San Diego outpost and knocking back Land-Grant's hoppy wheat beers at its Columbus airport taproom — and then taking a six-pack to go, too,” said Joshua M. Bernstein, author of The Complete Beer Course and Complete IPA. History of airport brewpubsBoston-based Samuel Adams may have started the airport brewpub trend back in 1993, when it opened a branch at Boston Logan International Airport. The company now has 12 airport brewpubs around the country: Atlanta; Boston, Cincinnati (two); Richmond, Va.; Miami; St. Petersburg, Fla.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Charleston, S.C.; Flint, Mich.; and at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.“As a brewer, I travel a lot and knowing that I can have a taste of home at most airports across the country is something I’ll never take for granted,” said Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams. “It makes my travels a lot more fun.”Today, brewpubs such as Cask & Larder offer up a wide variety of local and regionally made beer at Orlando International Airport, but in the late 1990s the airport was the first to have a working brewery.In April 1997 the Shipyard Brewing Company of Portland, Maine, opened a 20-barrel, 5,000-square-foot microbrewery in the airport’s main terminal. Passengers could look thorough 6-foot glass windows, watch beer being produced, and take a self-guided tour along the perimeter of the facility to learn about Continue Reading