Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Fri May 20 2016

Is A Better Airport Experience Coming to A Hub Near You?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | May 20, 2016

Is A Better Airport Experience Coming to A Hub Near You?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Airlines have been engaging in competition when it comes to fares, fees and amenities. These moves have been good for fliers, but few will have as lasting an impact on the travel experience as what is happening at several major U.S. airports. 

Delta, United and airport service company OTG have already upgraded the facilities and services at their main East Coast hub. The airlines and OTG have partnered to add high tech features like iPads and unique, high-quality dining options at airside terminals. 

A growing trend

With the announcement of two new projects, it appears that this has become a real (and growing) trend. 

It all started in 2013, when Delta Air Lines teamed with OTG to spruce up its offerings at JFK's Terminal 2. The T2 food and beverage offerings now include chef-driven restaurants that are a major departure from the usual assortment of airport bar-and-grill eateries and food court counters. The now-popular Cibo Express Gourmet Markets, which feature healthy local foods, made an appearance as part of the JFK upgrade as well.  

The project included the installation of complimentary iPads that passengers can use to ease the ordering process. Concierge services and new retail spaces were also part of the T2 upgrade.

READ MORE: New Store Offers Whole New Way to Use Your Frequent Flier Miles

OTG was able to execute this project successfully. Apparently, the other airlines took notice. In 2014, United tapped the firm to create a similar setup at its Newark hub. United even created a system where passengers could use their MileagePlus points to pay for food and shop for travel accessories via the public-use iPads or in restaurants and shops.   

Best of all, from a fliers perspective, these new features at JFK and Newark are available to everyone who uses the terminals, even if they are flying economy class.

More projects announced

Now, United and American have announced upgrades to terminals in Houston and Philadelphia. United will be teaming with OTG to add restaurants, shops and over 8,000 iPads to the terminals it uses at Houston Bush Intercontinental. Most of these new restaurants and the new seating will be focused around the new C North Concourse, though other terminals used by United at the airport will also get some upgrades. 

READ MORE: United and OTG Bringing iPads and Gourmet Food to Houston Airport

According to early announcements made by OTG and United, it sounds like this will be the biggest project thus far in the United States. 

Shortly after the Houston upgrade was announced, American Airlines said that it would be undertaking a similar project with OTG at Philadelphia International, a hub that it inherited from U.S. Airways after the merger. This project will include 1,000 iPads, new gate seating and enhanced dining options created by local chefs. 

The Houston restaurants should be opened in 2017 when the ribbon is cut on the new concourse. Philly’s iPads and restaurants should be online sometime in 2018. 

A formula for better airports?

OTG seems to have found a winning formula with its iPad ordering, comfortable seating and one-of-kind local-chef-driven dining options. The company could continue to expand this business model to other airports in the country, or other airports and airlines could take these four projects as an example and create their own more-comfortable, higher-quality airport experience. 


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