More mobile device plug-ins and a lactation room for nursing mothers and babies.
These are some of the upgrades Southwest Florida International Airport will have ready at its passenger terminal in time for the busy winter travel season.
Inspiration for these improvements came from consumer feedback and recommendations from the staff of the Lee County Port Authority.
The changes aren’t as extensive as what will occur in the passenger terminal expansion and security checkpoint reconfiguration that should begin in about a year. But the authority thinks they’ll make travel more pleasant meantime.
“We’re trying to keep up. … We thought these were things we could do to make sure our customers continue to give us good grades,” said Jeff Mulder, port authority executive director.
It matters that an airport terminal makes a good impression on visitors because often it’s the first thing people see when they arrive and the last thing they see when they leave.
Keeping visitors happy is crucial to Southwest Florida’s economy. Tourism and hospitality support an estimated 1 in 5 jobs in Lee and Collier counties alone.
Plus, some of those visitors decide to move here permanently and relocate businesses here.
You might notice some of these features the next time you use RSW:
After leaving security checkpoints for the air gates, look for stanchions topped with the airport logo and holding outlets for recharging mobile devices.
They’re a little more visible than the banks of outlets and USB ports that hang just below seats where you wait for a boarding call. Those also have increased in number.
“We’ve doubled the number of plug-ins in the terminal and gate areas,” Mulder said.
Who hasn’t had to pitch a bottle of water or soda before entering a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint?
We know staying hydrated is important when traveling; however, sometimes we don’t want to buy replacement beverages after clearing security.
And refilling bottles at drinking fountains can be messy.
Now all three airport checkpoints sport wall-mounted hydration stations.
Place your water bottle on a flat platform under the spout. An automatic sensor stops the flow of water when the bottle’s full.
Care for the baby
Changing tables have been added to the terminal’s gender-neutral “companion care” restrooms.
A lactation room — where a mother can nurse her baby or pump breast milk in a private, tranquil atmosphere — will open late January in the airport’s pre-security public area near the Concourse D entrance.
A concept drawing the airport provided shows an upholstered rocking chair with arms and a separate footrest among the room’s furnishings.
A ”Friendly Airports for Mothers Act” was included in the five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration that President Trump signed Oct. 5.
Although many airports already have them, these rooms become a requirement for medium- and large-hub airports as of Sept. 30, 2022.
The law says a lactation room must be in the area past security checkpoints, which means RSW will have at least one such room post-security after its terminal expansion.
With the addition of a permanent Starbucks coffee stand on Concourse D this year, all three RSW concourses and the pre-security area of the terminal have a full complement of food and beverages from the popular retailer.
But until the terminal expansion, “we’re still lacking enough restaurants and gift shops past security,” Mulder said.
As a temporary measure, the port authority has worked with existing concessionaires to add grab-and-go kiosks, particularly those serving up bottled beverages and snacks.
To be sure, flyers don’t choose an airport for these little comforts and conveniences.
But there’s a “high correlation between satisfaction and the amount people spend at an airport,” said Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power. He provides business improvement recommendations to the company’s clients in the airline, airport and car rental industries.
People who rate an airport 10 out of a possible 10 in J.D. Power surveys “spend twice as much as people who rate it a six or a seven,” Taylor said, adding, “That’s across all airports we measure.”
In its most recent North America Airport Satisfaction Study, J.D. Power ranked Southwest Florida International third — behind Buffalo Niagara International and Indianapolis International — for medium-sized U.S. airports.
Lee's port authority encourages travelers to arrive two hours ahead of their scheduled departures from RSW — three hours if traveling internationally.
The local airport has a good reputation for on-time travel, even during the busiest of times.
Personal finance site Magnify Money recently looked at the 10-year average percentage of flights departing airports that arrived at their destination on time, and the 10-year average percentage of flights that were canceled.
It placed RSW third on its "best 10 airports for holiday travel" list, with an average of 77.2 percent of flights arriving on time to their destinations and just 1.7 percent canceled.
Only Hawaiian airports Daniel K. Inouye International (84.2 percent on time, 0.5 percent canceled) in Honolulu and Kahului in Maui (83.7 percent on time, 0.7 percent canceled) had better 10-year averages.