Airport Perks: the Unexpected Benefits of Flying on Mother’s Day

This is too easy – where is everyone? Ah, they must all be eating brunch! I bet they’re sipping mimosas, ordering custom omelets, and going back for seconds of mini spinach & feta quiche, and bacon-wrapped figs. Apparently no one flies on Mother’s Day, because the grown children are busy pampering Mom, by not asking her to cook. So, I have the newly renovated Concourse A , of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport , all to myself; it’s time to explore!

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I learned early on, growing up in Chicago, that you’re supposed to arrive at the airport a full 2 hours prior to your flight time. You never know what the security line is going to look like, whether there will be problems finding your flight reservation, or if there is access to a coffee stand en route to your gate.

You don’t want to be “that person,” who pleads (or elbows) her way to the front of the security line, because she is about to miss her flight. You are confident that your reservation is entirely in order, but that doesn’t help the gal at Southwest’s check-in find your name on the confirmed passenger list, especially when there is an apostrophe in it. And, coffee? Well, that’s obviously a high priority, non-negotiable.

Little did I know that today FLL would have a strange echo, here in the early afternoon, because. . . well, who would be flying on Mother’s Day? I can’t tell you the number of times I was wished a Happy Mother’s Day. Perhaps airport staff could sense that I was anxious to get back to my girls, and make sure they know they are loved. My babies are covered in fur, but I love them, just the same.

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My expandable suitcase isn’t technically a carryon, by Southwest Airline standards, when it is fully expanded. Stuffed with large bags of coffee beans, clothing, refrigerator magnets, frameable cards, and other small trinkets, mostly from Miami’s Little Havana, it was full. . . you know, so full  that you have to sit on it, not knowing exactly what you’re squishing, in order to get it to close.

I’m shocked to see that there is NO line at the kiosks, where I will check in, print my boarding pass, and attach the stickered label that will get my bag safely to its final destination – home!

When I get to the security checkpoint, I am made to feel like a small white research mouse in a maze, with the reward of a full-body scan, and potential hands-on search, as my reward. I weave back-and-forth, and back and forth, and back-and-forth quickly through the empty line, and walk right up to the TSA officer. The only delay is because it is time for a shift change, so I wait for the new officer to settle in.

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Experiencing an airport when you arrive at your destination, excited to get out of there and on your way to the beach, is wildly different than your experience of it while you are waiting for your flight to take off, and have time to kill. (I’m distracted by the Henry David Thoreau quote: “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”)

Today’s travelers expect their airports to double as a shopping mall, a food court, a play area and a study center, a spa, a place of meditation, and an exercise area, with its waking paths and mile markers.

The newly renovated Fort Lauderdale terminal for Southwest gives a glimpse into the direction that airports are moving in, the features that passengers are demanding, and the fact that an airport isn’t just an airport anymore.

The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Improvements and Renovations Program (FLLAIR) is delivering on the promise of more food and shopping, modernized seating and renovated bathrooms.

Why put travelers through the inconveniences of renovation? Expansion and modernization bring more business to the airport, but safety and environmental impact (including control of noise pollution) are also important considerations. FLAIR’s overall goal is a better customer experience!

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Broward County Aviation Department “is committed to integrate sustainability into the long-term business strategy, future development, day-to-day management, and operations of the Airport. In support of our vision, and building on our achievements to date, we will seek a comprehensive approach to sustainability.”

Efforts are being made to relocate trees on airport property, preserving a mature tree canopy. Construction crews are recycling pavement from old runways, and being cognizant of the number of trips trucks are making, to transport materials. When possible, they are transporting materials by rail; when that is not possible, they are reducing the number of trips by 25%.

Other efforts include erosion control, use of solar powered cameras and replacement of incandescent lamps with LEDs on taxiways. These aren’t the things travelers are thinking about, when they are late for a 5:50 am flight, because pet kitten knocked a full cup of coffee into an open suitcase. But these efforts are important, and demanded by, the local community.

Renovations, costing 3.2 billion, are paid for by airport revenues, passenger facility charges, and federal & state grants, not Broward County tax dollars. Pedestrian bridges and canopies are already completed, as are some runway and terminal renovations, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

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I wish I’d done a little research on where to eat at the airport, prior to my arrival, but I had delicious leftovers from Little Havana, in my bag. The airport has added a BurgerFi restaurant, with its fresh, all-natural, never-frozen grass-fed burgers. What I was interested in was the vegan “Beyond Burger” that I’ve been hearing so much about, but have not had an opportunity to try. They also have hand-cut fries, craft beer and an assortment of wine, which isn’t too shabby.

Doing laps, while I wait for my flight, I’m curious when I see a large pod positioned along one side of a walkway. It is decorated in bright, fluffy clouds and a vibrant blue sky, a calming outward appearance. Signs advertise a “Baby Oasis,” provided courtesy of Broward County, FL, offering privacy for pumping or breastfeeding.

I couldn’t stop wondering what the inside was like; was it a cold, sterile space, similar to an extra-large bathroom stall? Or was it truly an oasis?

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There was an indicator just above the door handle, the kind you find on a Port-a-John, and it was kind of stuck between “vacant” (in green) and “occupied” (in red), so I wasn’t quite sure which it was. I tugged at the handle, at the same moment that I heard an infant crying. There is definitely something going on inside.

I read the small sign next to the door, explaining that I would need to download an app in order to get a code that would let me in to the pod. I wondered how much marketing I would be signing myself up for, if I downloaded the app. Would I start receiving emails and Facebook ads for breast pumps, and coupons in the mail for the latest trends in newborn diapers, butt paste, and nipple cream?

I decided to risk it, found the app and started the free download. I stared at the screen for a minute, in anticipation, and the indicator told me that it was downloading, but it was barely moving. I knew mom was in there with her little one, so I decided to take a walk through the rest of the terminal. Why not burn a few more calories while I was waiting?

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I discovered that there is a brand new play area in the new Southwest terminal, like none I’ve ever seen before. A sign on the wall told me that it was an interactive art area, a sturdy and durable sculpture, designed for children between the ages of 2 and 12. They are encouraged to touch and explore, to crawl through open spaces in the puffy clouds.

Why are there so many puffy clouds in this airport? Perhaps there’s really is a calming effect, being high in the clouds, away from whatever troubles you.

Along a glass wall, installed to allow passersby to see the art sculpture, there are cushy pillows – a place for parents to relax while the children play. Some of them are stretched out across the soft floor of the play area, with one elbow propped on a pillow, reclining. I wanted so desperately to go into that area, to join the children in their creative play, immersed in the art. But, childless, I refrained. (Toddlers were playing, but I noticed that the school age children were distracted by phones and iPads.)

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Circling back to the Baby Oasis, the app is still downloading, after about 15 minutes. The airport’s free WiFi isn’t the fastest, or this is a really complicated app. I certainly couldn’t blame the slow download on excess use of the network, not today. I suppose the accommodations will remain a mystery. (See link below for a 7 News report on the new “sanctuaries” for new Moms.)

Most airlines give special preference to families with young children, for pre-boarding. Southwest slips those families in between the A and B groups. It gets a little tricky when the kids are older. A 14-year-old ahead of me in line, with boarding number A 44, is being instructed by his family members, in the B group, on how to reserve two entire rows. They had paid for the early check-in for just one passenger, assuming he could secure the prime seats for the entire family.

As I prepare to board the plane, the airline worker scanning tickets is chipper: “Good morning.” “Welcome!” “Hello, and good morning to you!” “Welcome aboard.”… “You know, everybody looks a little happier when they’re coming to Florida they do when they’re leaving!” I believe that he’s just politely told us to wipe the grumpy looks off of our faces. It’s a beautiful May day, after all.

I had the best seat on the plane – 3rd row back, passenger side, window seat. But I had no control over the screaming toddler sitting directly behind me, kicking my seat, and airing his grievances, quite loudly. Happy Mother’s Day!

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Join me on my next adventure!

~ Kat

Related Links:

Fort Lauderdale Airport (FLL): http://www.broward.org/airport/Pages/Default.aspx

FLL Renovations: http://www.broward.org/Airport/FLLair/Pages/Default.aspx

Beyond Burger: http://beyondmeat.com/about

Baby Oasis: https://wsvn.com/news/local/baby-oasis-at-fll-allows-moms-to-breast-feed-in-private/

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