WFAE 90.7 Charlotte (NPR)
, October 19, 2013
Credit Duncan McFadyen / WFAE
Travelers flying out of Charlotte Douglas airport this week may notice something different when they go through security. The airport has contracted with a company to make Checkpoint E more comfortable.
The first thing you notice are full length wall decals along both sides of the checkpoint. Once bland white walls now feature artsy photos of ripples in blue water, dewy green leaves, and an inviting hotel lobby. All of the panels prominently advertise Spring Hill Suites by Marriott. You see, Marriott is sponsoring the so-called “Comfort Zone.”
The idea is to make the experience of going through security a little less unpleasant. There’s furniture similar to what you’d find in one of the hotel chain’s lobbys on both sides of the x-ray machines. David Swegart stops on a plush red couch to put his shoes back on. He says it’s a welcome break in the airport monotony.
“That kind of fast-paced, get through as fast as you can, trying not to bump into other people and having to move other people’s stuff down,” he says.
The Florida company behind the Comfort Zone, Security Point media, paid the airport $70,000 for the rights to transform the checkpoint. The company sells ads on the bins we use to send our shoes, belts, keys, and laptops through x-ray machines in 41 airports. SecurityPoint CEO Joe Ambrefe says TSA checkpoints are one of the last areas in airports not to cater to travelers. For example, he says, look at airport food options 10 or 15 years ago.
“It was pretty stark,” he says. “There weren’t a lot of food options in lots of airports. You turn around and look today and there’s a tremendous amount of innovation happening.”
The comfort zones are a new attempt to bring that kind of innovation to the checkpoints. SecurityPoint launched the first two this week…in Charlotte and Dallas. Spring Hill Suites is paying half a million dollars to advertise in them.
Ambrefe says his company will be watching travelers’ response to the comfort zones and could add more amenities like monitors showing wait times in the future.