Austin airport an example of innovation, flight industry experts say

Austinu2013Bergstrom International Airport features many design elements inspired by the city it serves.

Austinu2013Bergstrom International Airport features many design elements inspired by the city it serves.

With the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals in full swing, many of the tens of thousands of festivalgoers will begin and end their time in Austin at the same place: the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

At a Monday SXSW panel called "Future of Airport Design Starts in Austin," flight industry experts discussed the importance of design and programming to the airport experience. They heralded the $20 million revitalization of the Austin airport as an example of industry innovation.

Austin has a reputation as a great place to travel, said Lionel Ohayon, founder and CEO of ICRAVE, the studio responsible for the design of JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“This is an incredible city. It’s got its own brand,” Ohayon said.

For a long time, airport food consisted of just pretzels and hotdogs, and it was often expensive and bad, he said.

“In a city like Austin, there’s an expectation of the kind of food you’re going to get,” Ohayon said. “You’re going to see these amazing things. There's the brand that Austin is, and airports initially have not met up with that brand.”

Kevin Kelly is president of Delaware North’s travel subsidiary, which provides food and retail services to airports across the country, including Austin. He said ABIA vendors now serve iconic Austin foods, such as breakfast tacos, Amy’s Ice Creams and barbecue for travelers to enjoy before their flights.

“[Designing airports is] an opportunity to actually create a compelling experience that’s commensurate to what your time in Austin [is like],” Ohayon said. “Your time in the airport should be a part of that story.”

Airports are now offering more retail and other activities, said Barbara Peterson, who reports on air travel for Conde Nast Traveller. Her work has included an entire article on how shop for Christmas presents in airports.

The flight industry is also getting creative with the activities and experiences they offer in airports. De-stressors are a recent trend. Peterson said she has seen yoga rooms and therapy dogs and pigs in more and more places.

"Our therapy pig here in Austin is Salt Lick BBQ," Kelly joked.


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