Jan. 27--Another historic innovation arrived at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday, and this one will save passengers the horror of having to tilt their water bottles to fill up at fountains.
The leaders of the airport, San Francisco City Hall and the agency that supplies the region's water descended on the hub for the first major news conference there in several months.
The big news? The unveiling of new water fountains shaped like soft-drink dispensers. The water-refill stations are the first at any major U.S. airport.
If the number of suit-wearing bureaucrats, television cameras and curious passengers at the event is any indication, these new units are a really big deal.
At about $3,000 a pop, the question mark-shaped contraptions allow passengers to reclaim the precious fluids they lose in airport security lines, where Transportation Security Administration agents empty out bottles containing more than 3.4 ounces of liquid.
This leaves travelers two options: refill their bottles at a regular fountain or sink or buy a new bottle for $3.
But local officials, sensing travelers can't be bothered with the bottle-tilting required to fill up at a traditional fountain or sink, have found the answer.
With the new "machines," passengers put their bottle under the spigot, press a button and watch tap water flow into the container. The company that supplies the machines, called Globaltap, has even thought to put a drain
at the bottom of its GT1000 Bottle Filler so any excess water can be washed away.
At the end of the news conference, a handful of officials led by San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu christened the hydration station by filling up their "I Love SF" bottles with the liquid, then drinking it, while eager photographers and videographers recorded the moment.
San Francisco and SFO "are on the cutting edge of phasing out bottled water," Chiu noted.
"We're very proud of this project," said Francesca Vietor, president of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which also supplies drinking water to much of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
With a heavy-duty steel shell and a stainless-steel inner surface, the dispensers come standard with "chrome push button actuation" that pumps water at 20 to 105 pounds per square inch to a "vandal-resistant stainless steel spout."
Sean Campion, who was preparing Wednesday to leave SFO to return to Kansas City, Mo., from a business trip, was impressed.
"Some airports are better than others" at offering water fountains, he said. "At a lot of them, people are forced to buy a bottle of water or go to a bathroom sink."
The water isn't filtered, because it would be a waste of energy, officials said.
"We're saying tap water is better than bottled water," said Ed Harrington, the utility commission's general manager.
Illinois-based Globaltap founder Daniel Whitman said "a team of synergistic people" designed the devices, and they also offer mobile units, wall-mounted machines and even one that comes with a traditional fountain attached, although thus far they've had no other takers. He said the "delicious" Hetch Hetchy water now should be easier and more sanitary to drink than that from traditional dispensers.
San Francisco officials, who oversee the airport, have also installed the fountains at a few places around San Francisco proper, and they plan to put them in six city schools. They say the goal is to reduce the number of people who buy bottled water then throw out the container, a practice that is considered environmentally unfriendly.
SFO, the nation's 10th-busiest airport, was also the first airport in the nation to try two other green initiatives: It launched discounts for passengers who rent hybrid cars, which has had some success, and installed "carbon kiosks" that allow passengers to pay for tree plantings to offset the carbon footprint of their trip, an idea that has yet to take off.
As for San Francisco, it was the first American city to prohibit the use of public funds to buy bottled water.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 650-348-4324.