In airport news, American Airlines opens a big new lounge at Chicago O’Hare; Los Angeles International travelers can now use an app to speed up re-entry after international trips; Pittsburgh International will get a massive makeover; Minneapolis-St. Paul gets faster TSA screening lanes; and facial-recognition boarding is a hit with JetBlue passengers at Boston.
At Chicago O’Hare, American Airlines has cut the ribbon on its second new Flagship Lounge; the first was opened at New York JFK some months ago. At ORD, the lounge is in Terminal 3, in the crosswalk between Gates H6 and K6. Hours are 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Targeted for AA’s international travelers at its primary gateway airports, the 17,000 square foot O’Hare Flagship Lounge is open to qualifying first and business class passengers, AAdvantage Executive Platinums, Platinums and Platinum Pros; AAdvantage ConciergeKey members; and Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire travelers. American said it expects to open additional Flagship Lounges before year’s end at Los Angeles International and Miami International, and in 2018 at Dallas/Ft. Worth, Philadelphia and London Heathrow. The O’Hare lounge can handle up to 300 passengers. It has showers, “quiet rooms,” a self-service wine bar, create-your-own cocktail service, hot and cold buffets and a chef to prepare customized offerings.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Mobile Passport Control app is now available for travelers going through Customs at Los Angeles International’s Tom Bradley International Terminal as well as Terminals 2, 4 and 7, airport officials announced. Available free at the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, the app lets passengers create a profile and submit passport information and answers to CBP inspection questions via their smartphone or tablet. The app will then send users a receipt and an encrypted bar code to show to CBP agents at the airport. LAX is a little slow in rolling out the CBP Mobile Passport Control app – 22 other airports have already done so.
Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Airport Authority has unveiled a major redevelopment plan that calls for construction of a new landside building for Pittsburgh International’s Midfield Terminal and scaling back the terminal’s number of gates from 75 to 51. Besides new security, ticketing and baggage facilities in the $784 million landside building – which would be between the airside C and D concourses – the project also includes an overhauled international arrivals area, 3,000-space parking garage and other improvements. The X-shaped Midfield Terminal was built 25 years ago to serve as a hub facility for US Airways, but since the carrier downsized that operation and then was merged into American, the terminal now handles less than half the traffic that it once did. The terminal was built to accommodate up to 32 million passengers a year, but it currently handles only 8.3 million; the new facility’s capacity would be 18 million. The $1.1 billion plan calls for razing the existing landside building and the people-mover that carriers travelers from that building to the airside concourses. Construction is planned for 2019 to 2023.
Minneapolis-St. Paul is the latest airport to install those new automated security lanes that are said to speed up the TSA screening process by as much as 30 percent. (Although we’ve heard from many frequent travelers who would disagree with that assessment.) MSP now has four of the new lanes at the Terminal 1 south checkpoint, and will expand them to the north checkpoint next year. The lanes allow several travelers to load their belongings into bins simultaneously; the bins are larger than before, and if a bag raises the concerns of the TSA agent manning the x-ray machine, it can be shuttled off on a separate conveyor belt for further examination without slowing down everyone else. Empty bins are sent back to the starting point by a separate conveyor belt, freeing up TSA agents for inspection duties.
Some months ago, we reported on JetBlue starting to test facial recognition technology for passenger boarding at its Boston Logan hub. Instead of having to show a boarding pass, passport or anything else to the gate agent, passengers simply stand in front of a camera and proceed on board. After four months, SITA — the technology company that provided the new system — said its biometric scanning proved to be quite accurate in the tests, with a success rate of almost 100 percent matching passengers’ facial images to those in government databases to verify identity. The company said a majority of JetBlue passengers on the airline’s Boston to Aruba flights used the camera option to board.