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Getting people to exercise at the airport

Amy Hough and Craig Lennon are avid hikers, runners and vegetarians. But they leave their healthy ways at home when they head to the airport — where, like many, they behave more like couch potatoes.

'It's very easy to fall into an unhealthy rut when you're traveling," Lennon said as the couple waited for a flight at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. "Like I keep looking over there at Cinnabon."


Officials at BWI are working to change that. The airport, already lauded for offering walking trails and bike rentals, and pushing restaurant tenants to offer healthier fare, now plans to open a full-service gymnasium this fall.

Such efforts have been a hard sale elsewhere. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, for instance, closed one gym intended for travelers (but has opened another one for airport workers). Philadelphia International Airport removed stationary bikes.


But BWI officials are convinced that health-conscious travelers are looking for ways to stay active, and say they are using a model that other airports have not tried.

The airport produces a "Fit2Fly" brochure that guides passengers to all the exercise options available and includes suggestions for healthy menu items, such as the 250-calorie veggie chili at Silver Diner and a 284-calorie Apple Pecan Salad at The Greene Turtle.

Green signs inside the terminal direct passengers along 2-mile-long walking trails. The airport also offers bike rentals and a 12.5-mile trail just outside the airport.

In 2014, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine rated BWI the best airport in the nation for healthful meal options.

The airport is responding to passenger demand. Travelers surveyed by AirMall, which leases retail space at BWI and other airports, say they want healthier foods. Passengers have also expressed their feelings on social media.

"In the not-so-distant past, people gave themselves a pass on being healthy when they were traveling," said Brett Kelly, vice president in charge of retail operations at AirMall. "That is not the case anymore. People want healthy options."

The gym will open in a new corridor of the airport that will include a new security checkpoint and the capacity for more international flights, a major growth area for BWI.

The idea is to give travelers options other than reading and using their mobile devices, or eating and drinking, during long layovers and waits for connecting or delayed flights.


They will be able to run on a treadmill, ride a stationary bike or lift free weights. The nearly 1,200-square-foot-facility will include showers and workout clothes that customers can rent.

ROAM Fitness, an Oregon-based startup, will run the new facility. Kelly said AirMall talked to other gym companies about opening at BWI before deciding ROAM had a concept that would work best in an airport.

The company conducted research and found that people would use the gym during a layover, but might also use it before a flight. The gym would have to be small and efficient, which is why there are free weights, but not large weight machines.

People wanted to be able to shower and not board a flight sweaty and stinky. They didn't want to worry about carrying workout clothes. The gym would need to be located beyond security checkpoints, and should be open to employees as well as passengers.

"There is added stress if you're worried about making it through security to make your flight," said Cynthia Sandall, a co-founder of ROAM.

Sandall says the gym is the next wave of fitness opportunity for travelers. She is working with other airports to open facilities.


One physiologist who has studied travel and fitness said it might be hard to get even those travelers who say they want to exercise to actually do it.

"In terms of a business proposition as opposed to a passenger satisfaction proposition, a gym is risky business," said Christopher Berger, who chairs the American College of Sports Medicine Task Force on Healthy Air Travel.

There are challenges to airport gyms. Berger said the gym at the Las Vegas airport did not work because it was not a major airline hub. Few passengers had long layovers; most were more concerned with getting their vacation started than with exercising.

In contrast, a gym at the Toronto airport does well because it is a major hub for Air Canada.

Zero Floor Fitness opened on the bottom level of the Las Vegas airport in 2014, but it caters mostly to employees. The facility offers a wide range of classes in addition to exercise machines and weights people can use on their own. It has begun to offer day passes to travelers who ask to use the equipment.

A program in Philadelphia that provided stationary bikes for passengers to ride while waiting for flights ended after the manufacturer went out of business. The airport worried about who would maintain the bikes, airport spokeswoman Mary Flannery said.


Flannery said space challenges make it hard to open a gym. BWI took advantage of the planned renovations at the airport to build a gym from scratch in the new concourse.

The website allows people to upload information about gyms at or near airports. There are 190 locations listed, but the vast majority are located in hotels near or connected to an airport.

Kevin Gillotti, founder of the website, said travelers do use gyms. There is particular opportunity when flights are canceled or delayed.

"I think for a segment of the population who travel they want to do something in the airport other than sit around," Gillotti said.

Despite the challenges of getting people to exercise, Berger said, airports such as BWI are doing a good job of giving people options. Passengers can work in exercise even if there is no gym, he said. For instance, they can walk instead of taking people movers.

ROAM Fitness expects to get about 100 travelers a day to use its BWI facility once the idea catches on. The company says the gym won't be for everybody — not everyone will want to squeeze in a workout while traveling.

The Morning Sun

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As Lennon ate veggie ramen before his flight to Albuquerque, N.M., he chuckled at the signs for the walking path. He called it a "cute" idea.

He wasn't in the mood for walking that day, especially since he was on vacation. But he said he liked the idea of a gym.

"If I got stuck because of a storm or some other delay, it might be nice to get a workout in," he said.

Marty Schwartz, who was waiting for a flight to Detroit, said he likes the healthy food choices he now sees at airports, but doubts he'd have time to use a gym while traveling.

"I just don't see myself working out before a flight," said Schwartz, president of the Baltimore-based nonprofit Vehicles for Change. "It's the last thing on my mind."