The Public Face Of Airports

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Facility managers know that the cleanliness of their buildings has a big impact on visitors’ first impressions of the organization. With the volume of traffic that many airports cater to each and every day, putting the best foot forward in maintenance can literally be a neverending job. Daniel Yee of the Associated Press has reported on what is being done at several major airports around the country.

For TFM’s coverage of this and other airport management topics, read “Why Is Air Travel Like Facility Management?” by Tim Springer, Ph.D.

Yee writes:

Atlanta — A half year after Christmas, a small pile of crushed candy canes lie discarded at the base of escalators leading to the concourse trains at the airport that sees the most passengers in the world.

A long, unyielding stain from some harried traveler’s latte leaves a trail down the carpet in between concourses A and B at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. A few decades’ worth of dents and scratches from rolling suitcases and baggage carts also line the walls of the 26-year-old airport’s halls.

With 86 million travelers passing through the airport each year, signs of dirt and disrepair can be found as frequently as the travel hub’s infamous weather delays.

As a result, airport general manager Ben DeCosta believes it’s time for a makeover and he has launched a campaign to keep his concourses looking new.

Across the U.S., other airports constantly struggle with the task of keeping their terminals clean, especially during the summer months, which they say are the busiest of the year. Airport officials say they are always challenged with the task of keeping clean nearly constantly crowded bathrooms and food courts, which quickly accumulate trash.

Clean restrooms “are a huge deal for airports because after you’ve been on a plane for four or five hours, maybe you don’t want to use the restroom on a plane,” said Bob Parker, spokesman for the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

A dirty airport “adds to the frustration overall of having to travel too much for work,” said Michelle Johnston, 30, a consultant from New York, after arriving to the Atlanta airport.

DeCosta’s push at the Atlanta airport came after he toured some of Asia’s newest airports last year and returned surprised, finding trash on Hartsfield-Jackson’s concourse floors and scuff marks on walls. He started his airport’s makeover campaign in March.

“Hartsfield-Jackson is a pretty clean airport … but when you compare the airport — which has many more people who use it — with these other places, you see the difference,” he said. “During the peak times here you can see garbage cans are full, sometimes trash is spilling over. I never saw that once in Asia. The carpet here is old and sometimes it’s not as clean as I think it should be.”

The state of cleanliness at the Atlanta airport has been an issue with some travel experts, such as Terry Trippler of

“It needs a good fire hose,” Trippler said. “Someone needs to go in there and wash it down. It needs to be cleaned up — it needs a facelift.”

Under the makeover, the airport’s carpets will be the first to go as all the concourses will have scuff-resistant tile floors by the end of December. Columns throughout the airport are being protected by steel or other sturdy materials so they won’t be susceptible to dents or dings, DeCosta said.

The makeover also will include public service announcements to encourage passengers to throw away trash and all employees will be asked to pick up any trash they find in hallways, even if it’s not their job, DeCosta said.

It will cost about $6 million for the new upgrades that include the new marble flooring and walling, new ceilings, windows and stainless steel column covers throughout the airport, spokeswoman Felicia Browder said. The airport spends $16 million yearly in cleaning costs.

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