Business Travel Secrets of 4 Major Airports

You’re tired and hungry female business traveler (FBT), likely a bit frazzled, and the worst is yet to come – a long layover.  Good luck with that.

But wait. Go Jane Go wouldn’t just leave you hanging, fellow FBTs!

Airports are responding to the seemingly endless wait times with a growing number of coping mechanisms for female business travelers like us. In addition to wider varieties of places to eat and drink, there is art, music, movies, open lounges and more. Even New York’s terrible trio  (Newark, LaGuardia, JFK) is making an effort to ease the ordeal.

Still, not all airports are created equally. As veteran female business travelers have learned (sometimes painfully), some are more friendly than others, and that includes the amenities. Here’s a sampling:

San Francisco International – Catch a flick, then your plane

The Video Arts Center is a showpiece among the SFO Museum’s array of exhibits spread throughout the airport. Recently moved to more expansive digs in the pre-security Main Hall of the International Terminal, the Center showcases the work of creative filmmakers with a rotating and diverse selection of short-form documentaries, experimental films and animation.

Video Arts Center at SFO

Four films always are available for viewing, 5 a.m. to midnight. Current selections include a profile, shot mainly in a stairwell, of a Brussels-based street dancer; a paint-on-film essay on color and motion and a piece on surfers who brave icy waters and industrial pollution in a river in England. And you think you’re uncomfortable waiting two hours for a plane.

Napa time

The slogan of Napa Farms Market is “Farm to Flight,” but you can hang around and dine in (and drink), as well. Modeled on San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace, the Market is located inside Terminal 2 (4 a.m.-11 p.m.) and International Terminal G (5:30-11 p.m.).

The emphasis is on the organic (of course) with loads of gluten-free goodies available, too. There is a broad and varied array of soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza, and breakfast items. The Terminal 2 Market features a Tyler Florence (the Food Network guy) Rotisserie. And, as you might expect, there is wine.

O’Hare International Airport – Give peace a chance

An oasis in the heart of one of the world’s busiest airports, the Urban Garden, also known as an aeroponic garden or “vertical farm,” provides a peaceful sea of greenery with not a speck of dirt.

Located in the Rotunda Building in Terminal 3 over the corridor to Concourse G is a striking display unlike anything seen in your neighbor’s backyard. The 928-square foot area is comprised of 26 eight-foot towers that cycles a chemical-free nutrient solution (derived from volcanic rock) to more than 1,000 planting spots. There’s even a yoga room nearby.

The visual effect the of vegetables, herbs and other greenery is striking. But the garden is more than an aesthetic delight; it also has a practical use. About 10 to 15 pounds of veggies (a wide assortment including gourmet lettuce, Swiss chard and red habanero peppers) not only are harvested each week, they end up on the plates of several terminal restaurants., including Wicker Park Seafood and Sushi, Wolfgang Puck’s and Tuscany.

Bubble, bubble

It’s medically proven, or should be, that a glass (or two) of wine and a tinkling piano can smooth the jagged edges off any layover. O’Hare has just the place.

Located in Terminal 3, Bubbles (you gotta love that) is an upscale (read: pricey) wine bar with a small selection of reds, whites and champagne. Beer is available, too. Menu items are mainly in the form of “plates” along the lines of the Mediterranean Vegetable Sampler and Scottish Smoked Salmon Tartine (a type of bread).

The piano is a baby grand that works on automatic (as a player piano) and manual, and has been known to attract talented passers-by who sit down and belt out a few tunes.

For travelers stuck elsewhere at O’Hare,  Beaudevin Wine Bar in Terminal 1, Skybridge (Greek food) in Terminal 2 and Hub 51 in Terminal 5 are solid choices.

Pittsburgh International Airport – Not a member? Not a problem

The Club – at PIT Int’l Airport

Among the airport’s recent upgrades, with many more on the way,  a new and innovative addition is the Club Lounge, now permanently housed on Concourse C opposite Gate 52 after its summer launch.

Open to passengers of any airline with no annual membership fee required, the Club facilitates work and relaxation as one of just 17 “shared-use” airport clubs in the U.S. Admission is a la carte. The $40 daily pass (complimentary if you belong to Priority Pass, LoungeKey, or Lounge Club) is not cheap, but amenities usually prevail over cost when it comes to long layovers. But you knew that.

Among the array of l TVs and blown-up prints of local photographers adorning the walls, the Club features three “zones” that fill most of the approximately 1,800 square feet, with cute nicknames and accordant services. The Replenish Zone offers food and beverages, the Productivity Zone has work stations with computers and printers and the Relaxation Zone speaks for itself, with comfortable chairs and private restrooms. The Lounge also affords a great view of the airfield.

Warhol and robots

In 1958, The Alexander Calder mobile Pittsburgh triggered Art in the Airport, which now includes a broad and eclectic series of displays ranging from the World of Warhol, borrowed from the Andy Warhol Museum on Pittsburgh’s North Side, to Fraley’s Robot Repair shop to the Exhibition Space spotlighting the works of local artists. Even the 69,000-foot terrazzo floor of the Center Court (the nexus of all gates) is a work of art, showcasing various Pittsburgh landmarks.

Another component of Art in the Airport is the Performing Arts Series, which typically takes place every Thursday from1 to 4 p.m. (although other times occasionally pop up) in various locations throughout the Landside Terminal. The musical offerings — jazz, classical, pop and more — are as varied as the artworks.

LaGuardia Airport – Making the best of it

There’s a reason we’re putting this last. Former vice-president Joe Biden once compared LaGuardia to a “third-world country.” Other descriptions are even less flattering, which is why the smallest of New York’s three airports is perennially ranked among the “worst” in the U.S.

But all is not lost, for the most part, anyway. LaGuardia offers some layover-soothing places to eat, drink, work and just hang out in the B, C, and D terminals, where most business travelers end up.

Angelina’s Metro Market in terminal B is more on the lighter side with good salads and decent breakfast and lunchtime fare. The Empire Tavern in Terminal C is both drinking and work-friendly with good wifi, and iPads and charging stations where you sit. The Biergarten has a nice selection of craft beers. Terminal D seems more bent on upscale, with designer pizza Crust (Tagliare is more classic, New York style, and Bisoux, which, if you haven’t guessed from the name, specializes in French fare. There are iPads here, too.

Do you have some airport secrets up your sleeves?  Care to share with other weary FBT’s (female business travelers) looking for a layover break?  Please share in Comments – maybe we’ll meet you there!

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Bob hopes that 40 years in journalism and a profound respect for the language mitigates his utter and permanent lack of experience as a Female Business Traveler.
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