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Atlanta Hub Seeks Ways to Eliminate the Hassle

September 24, 2002|SARAH HALE | ORLANDO SENTINEL

Hidden on the top floor of Concourse A in Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport is a business traveler's haven: a getaway so private that most passengers walk right past the lone elevator needed to get there.

The foyer at the top of the elevator can be a little noisy, with conversation and laughter spilling over from the Budweiser Brewhouse & Smoking Lounge next door. But beyond the glass doors of Laptop Lane, the hustle and bustle seems miles away.

The peace and quiet comes at a price: There are fees for using the outlet's Internet access, workstations and other business services. But travelers can surf the Internet, check e-mail, fax paperwork or ship a package.

Of the dozen or so Laptop Lanes in airports across the country, Atlanta's three locations aren't the biggest or newest. But they are representative of efforts to give business travelers more things to do and better ways to do them while waiting in airports.

"At the cornerstone of everything we do is passenger service," said Yolanda Clark, the airport's public relations manager. "We want to eliminate the 'hassle factor.' "

For Dan Malkovich, a network engineer from Denver, a long layover is the perfect time for catching up on e-mails. He recently spent $29.05 for 20 to 30 minutes of Internet time in one of Hartsfield's Laptop Lanes, "staying in touch with the office."

It was money well spent, he said.

"It's not that I got any work done," he said. "But it saved me from being swamped in e-mails when I return to the office."

Hartsfield officials estimate that business travelers constitute just more than half of all passengers using the Atlanta airport, the nation's busiest airport. To accommodate them, planners hope to open a health clinic and are discussing building a workout facility.

"We hear requests for a gym all the time," Clark said. "Passengers just want something to do while they wait."

Hartsfield has more than 20 stores, including Brookstone and Wilsons Leather. Other U.S. airports have more retail businesses--Pittsburgh International has an entire shopping center called the Airmall--but Hartsfield's selection is considered diverse.

Not all business travelers like to work or shop. For them, the Atlanta airport offers InMotion Pictures, a national chain that caters to airline passengers by renting small, portable video screens and DVDs. Travelers can watch a movie in the terminal, take it on a flight and deposit it upon their return, or drop it off at another of the InMotion locations in 17 airports.

"Laptop space is nice, but sometimes I just don't feel like working," said Mack Wilborn, a restaurateur from Atlanta who was catching a flight to Bermuda. Wilborn rented a player and four DVDs from InMotion before leaving.

"I can watch these on the plane or in my room," he said. "It's just a nice, fun service that I appreciate."

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