AIRPORTS TRY TO BECOME ROAD OFFICES
(Buffalo News; 09/14/98)
those black holes in a traveler's day -- into productive work time.
A growing number of airports are becoming more business-friendly by offering
executives a smorgasbord of cutting-edge services, worldwide communication
links and quiet office-like settings.
Gone are the days when many restless air travelers would spend lengthy
layovers plunking quarters into tiny televisions bolted to the arms of molded
These days, computer kiosks, fully equipped offices, overnight- mail drop
boxes and even computer terminals at restaurant tables are becoming common
sites in many airports around the nation.
Buffalo Niagara International Airport's business center opened with the
debut of the new terminal last November.
Operated by Buffalo's Travel Team Inc., the complex includes six work
stations equipped with computers, a conference room that can be rented for
meetings and a full range of business amenities, including fax and photocopy
services, word processing, interpreter and courier services and foreign
The Business Center even has a cyber concierge who helps clients make the
most efficient use of their time.
While Buffalo Niagara International has made strides in becoming more
attuned to the needs of business travelers, they pale in comparison to the
technological advances at other airports, train stations and even truck stops.
Consider these examples:
In the food court at LaGuardia Airport in New York, computer work stations
are installed at the tables. Passengers can purchase a quick meal, sit down,
plug in their laptop and modems, then check e-mail or polish a business
A Denver-based company installed stand-alone computers at the tables of
restaurants in five airports. No need for a laptop or phone line -- a simple
swipe of a credit card puts users online.
In Cincinnati and Seattle, Laptop Lane opened suites of private six-by-eight
foot offices tailored to business travelers. For $8.95 for 30 minutes,
passengers have their own desks, multi-line phone systems, computers, printers
and faxes. Laptop Lane plans to open seven new locations by the end of the
At Buffalo Niagara International, Business Center Manger Ronald H. Luczak
said a growing number of executives are using on-site business services.
"Delays can be very productive. You can get a week's worth of work done
during a few long layovers," Luczak said.
National research indicates that the typical air traveler has about 82
minutes of down time during their airport stays. Even when deducting time
needed to obtain boarding passes, the average commuter has at least an hour of
"It's an ideal time to get something typed quickly or make those last-minute
copies," said Luczak, who noted that there are regulars who visit the business
One of them is Barbara Elias, a Williamsville investment adviser at Elias
Asset Management Inc.
The luxury of having access to a computer terminal to check her e- mail is
something she values, especially when she has an early morning flight to catch.
Ms. Elias doesn't have a home computer, so the option to check her e-mail while
she's waiting for a flight can be critical as she prepares for meetings in New
York City and elsewhere.
"Society in general is becoming more wired, and we're starting to see it in
airports," said Ms. Elias.
She also frequently sends faxes, paying fees that typically run $5 to $6 for
a three-page document sent long distance. And the $11-per- half-hour fee for
computer access is also reasonable, she said.
" 'Time is money' and if you can do something constructive while waiting for
a flight, then it's a smart investment for business travelers," she said.
The trend toward making airports more business-friendly also recognizes the
fact that society is more mobile, Luczak said.
"More people are working out of their homes and traveling more on the job.
These type of facilities give them value-added benefits when they're flying,"
Customers can also use the center's TouchNet kiosk to scan photographs,
check headlines and review the latest business news.
Consumer demand for cutting-edge services is spurring more airports to
expand their menus, prompting transportation officials to see dollar signs.
Airport operators recognize that these services can be powerful profit
centers. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority will receive 20 percent
of all revenues derived at the Business Center after the first $80,000 of
While operations in the first year are unlikely to generate substantial
revenues for the authority, officials are hopeful that the facility could
become profitable in future years.
NFTA spokesman Douglas Hartmayer said Buffalo Niagara International
"compares very favorably" in business amenities to airports of similar size.
He said the authority has even been trying to make life easier in the
parking lots. The airport offers preferred parking in a special section near
the rental car companies. For $2,500 a year, corporations can have a dedicated
parking spot seven days a week.
By the end of the month, the airport will unveil its new Zoom Lane program.
Picture the technology of the state Thruway's EZ Pass program being applied to
airport parking facilities.
Businesses will purchase automatic vehicle identifiers that will be scanned
by computer each time a car enters and exits the lots. At the end of the month,
the corporation will get a bill for cumulative use.
Internet access terminals at the tables of airport restaurants or other
futuristic features that have already been installed elsewhere may soon come to
Buffalo. While there are no immediate plans for expanding the airport's
business amenities, Hartmayer said it's impossible to predict what the future
holds in this era of ever- changing technology.
"We are always open to new and innovative concepts that would make our
facility more accommodating to all travelers," he said.