As travel rebounds, flyers rave about RI airport's new $9.5million bathrooms

As travel rebounds, flyers rave about RI airport’s new $9.5million bathrooms

TF Green Airport plays a major role in the state’s economy, whether it’s attracting tourists, attracting conferences, or giving Rhode Islanders or Southeast Staters bay a chance to travel for business or pleasure without having to travel to Boston. However, you’ll trade that convenience and comfort for fewer nonstop routes compared to Logan. Although the numbers are trending upwards, there is still no consistent nonstop route west of Chicago, and despite the word “International” in the name, there are no current international routes. International routes have been intermittent in recent years.

Updated and newly remodeled bathrooms feature contemporary faucets, marble wall pattern, and recessed LED lighting.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

The airport, meanwhile, has still not exceeded pre-pandemic passenger levels: from July 2022 to October 2022, the total number of passengers at Green was around 1.2 million, or 83% from 2019 levels. And during the holiday travel season, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation expects Green to be near pre-pandemic levels.

However, people stepping out — perhaps for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic — will likely notice some changes. The most conspicuous? The bathrooms. The project to redo five sets of them cost $9.5 million, funded entirely by federal grants, the airport company said. Work began in January 2021. The last and final set, to the left of the security check before passing as you head towards the gate, was completed last week. Marble – yes, marble – always looks pristine.

Everything is high end. Live plants and fresh cut flowers, an automated aroma dispenser, LED lights that can change from the current setting to a soothing blue, cabins large enough to accommodate you and your suitcase, a truly sophisticated contraption that dispenses automatically a plastic toilet seat cover without having to touch anything, a sink and a hand dryer all in one.

State-of-the-art lavatory sinks feature a combination faucet and hand dryer.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Search “TF Green” and “bathrooms” on Twitter and you’ll find people raving about it. People like Rachel Ladd, who is from East Greenwich but now lives in Portland, Oregon, and who came and went from Green over the holidays last year. The bathrooms immediately caught his eye.

“I walked in, speechless – I was like, am I allowed to be here?” Ladd recalled in an interview. “This is really awesome.”

Ladd immediately returned to her fiancé and reported that she had been in the most beautiful bathrooms she had ever seen.

“The fact that one of the things I remember from my Christmas trip was the toilets at TF Green airport is crazy to me,” she said.

Tony Aguilar, who runs Providence-based marketing agency New Flavor Media, is a frequent Green traveler. It’s always been a nice airport, but the bathrooms weren’t – it was more of a “high school gym” than an “upscale restaurant”.

This has changed.

“It felt like a very Boston, New York, Los Angeles style,” Aguilar said. “You would never expect this sort of thing at an airport.”

Ladd and Aguilar aren’t alone: ​​The bathrooms are generally a hit with travelers, said Goodman, the airport representative. This is not an easy task. The airport is trying to woo airlines and keep the routes it already has, Goodman said. Airlines like Breeze Airways, the startup that plans to open a base in Green next year, want airports to focus on customer service as well (despite recent travel disruptions). Research has shown that bathrooms are a big factor in people’s reviews, Goodman said. They are often the first place people go when they arrive at the airport and the last place they go before leaving. These certainly make an impression.

The same goes for the cost: Yes, it was close to $10 million. But people have to keep in mind that it will have to serve a flying audience of 10,000 people a day for 25 years, Goodman said. And based on customer feedback, they got what they paid for: Goodman said he hadn’t heard a single negative word about them. The architect for the project was Saccoccio & Associates of Cranston. The contractor was EW Burman, Inc. of Warwick.

A traveler enjoys the Escape Lounge where passengers can pay a fee and enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet and select beverages. MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

The airport is always on the move, even now, as the holiday travel rush resumes. Some storefronts are still closed; the airport tries to convince a vendor to bring in new restaurants to add to a selection that now includes a Wolfgang Puck Express, a gastropub called Providence Provisions that sells Rhody-themed food, and several Dunkin’s. Volunteers play the piano as part of a new program to welcome weary travelers with a soothing soundtrack. About a year ago, the airport launched a program allowing people with hidden disabilities to wear a sunflower lanyard to discreetly let airport workers know they might need extra help.

And for when you finally have to leave the beautiful bathrooms and the piano music behind, the airport now has 32 routes, up from 17 in 2015, Goodman said. This is despite travel overall still being milder than pre-pandemic levels.

On Wednesday, the airport announced that a Caribbean airline, Sky High Aviation Services Dominicana, would offer the public bi-weekly charter flights between the Dominican Republic and Rhode Island. Charter flights will run from December 12 to January 20, with the possibility of extension if there is sufficient demand.

But, underscoring the challenges of not just attracting but keeping airlines in Green, Frontier Airlines will end operations at TF Green at the end of the winter season on April 19 next year, the airline said. airport Wednesday. Over the years, Frontier has had destinations such as Denver, Atlanta and several cities in Florida. Most routes, with the exception of the Denver summer route, are already served by other airlines, the airport said.

Meanwhile, the travel industry has faced wider upheaval with staff shortages and supply chain issues – issues over which the airport has no control.

The airport, said Goodman, will instead focus on what it can change. More recently, this included bathrooms. It won’t stop there, Goodman said. The airport is commonly referred to as green for short, which also serves as the overwhelming color scheme inside the terminal. It smells a bit like the 1990s. The airport is looking to tap into federal funding to change that.

“The new bathrooms are great,” Goodman said. “But when you come out of the new bathrooms, I think people recognize that we’re a 25-year-old terminal.”

A traveler passes time while waiting to board his flight.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

This article has been updated with information about Sky High Aviation Services Dominicana and Frontier Airlines.


Brian Amaral can be contacted at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.

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