Airport guides

Pleasant perks at Portland International Airport

 

2_PDX_Foot-forward selfies with the PDX carpet are very popular at Portland Int'l Airport

 

Disclosure: this story was sponsored by National Car Rental

As the author of this blog, a monthly USA TODAY column and various features about how to make the most of your time stuck at just about any airport, I’m often asked which airport is my favorite.

The short answer is always, “The airport where I board the plane that takes me to a new adventure, and the one where I board the plane that takes me home.”

But when pressed, I admit there are a few airports I’ll actually build a trip around.

Oregon’s Portland International Airport is one of them.

Its perks are plentiful and, like the city, PDX airport is super environmentally-conscious and kind of quirky.

For example, an assembly/repair station and a tool check-out where cyclists can borrow a pedal wrench or air pump encourage biking to the airport. And the recently-replaced but hipster-embraced terminal carpet lives on in everything from coasters and caps to dog leashes and luggage tags made from remnants of the old rug.

Shopping for these and other unique-to-the-region items at PDX is a pleasure, in part because Oregon has no sales tax and the more than 60 stores and restaurants must offer their goods and services at prices no higher than what would be charged at off-airport locations.

And there are plenty of Oregon-based venues where you’ll want to spend your money, including the pre-security branches of Oregon-based Pendleton, Nike, Columbia Sportswear and Powell’s Books, the selection of Portland’s favorite food trucks, and at the post-security outlet of House Spirits Distillery, where the makers of Aviation American gin and a variety of other regionally-themed, small-batch spirits offer samples.

PDX also has a pop-up Farm-to-Table stand offering Oregon produce, wine and cheese; a spa; a barber shop; a great art collection; and an extensive schedule of vendor events and live entertainment that extends through the weekend. And, later this summer, Portland’s non-profit Hollywood Theater will open an 800-square foot in-airport mini-movie theater that will run short films telling Oregon stories.

While spending time inside PDX airport is a delight, you’ll eventually want to head outside and explore.

The MAX light rail line makes the trip to downtown in 38 minutes for $2.50, but renting a car is almost as easy and allows visitors the freedom to explore everything the Portland area has to offer.

On-airport rental car companies are on the ground floor of parking garage P1, across from baggage claim, and the National Car Rental location here has an Emerald Aisle. That means Emerald Club members can bypass the counter, choose their own car and be immediately on their way to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area just 20 miles away, Mount Hood, an easy 60 miles away, or the Oregon beaches, which are less than 100 miles from the airport.

Or you might not want to drive very far: the Cascade Station shopping center, home to restaurants and shops, including an IKEA, is located just outside the airport grounds.

 

What’s up at Walla Walla Regional Airport

Walla Walla onion_edited

What’s that giant onion doing at Washington’s Walla Walla Regional Airport?

Besides being a shiny distraction for those waiting for their bags at the tiny airport’s baggage carousel, the onion artwork celebrates the area’s most famous crop – Walla Walla Sweet Onions.

You’ll find a few other treats at ALW airport.

In the ticket lobby, a plexiglass case displays a impressive collection of luggage tags one couple collected during their travels.

walla walla tags

A small alcove filled with photos and clippings tells the history and highlights of the airport, including the day in 1971 when Richard Nixon stopped by on his way to Alaska.

Nixon in Walla Walla

And once you pass by security to the waiting area at the airport’s one gate, you’ll find a machine offering complimentary coffee and a “take one/leave one” bookcase.

WALLA WALLA free coffee

Walla Walla free books

Free digital magazine from Miami Int’l Airport

Here’s a nice free perk from Miami International Airport: a lovely e-magazine – in English and Spanish – that offers tips on dining, shipping and entertainment inside the airport and out in the community.

MIA magazine

You can view the digital magazine for free inside the airport on the airport Wi-Fi network (www.MIAConnex.com). or from anywhere else you have Wi-Fi access.

The inaugural issue has articles, with great photos, about the impressive art collection and exhibition program at MIA, the national parks and preserves in South Florida, shopping tips for both in and outside of the airport, and stories about local architecture, great places to visit and where to eat regional treats in and outside of the airport as well.

MIA CARYBE

Big things you won’t see at Heathrow’s new T2

There are plenty of fresh, new things you will see when Heathrow Airport opens its new Terminal 2 on June 4th, but you won’t see the giant passport and the behemoth gift bag pictured below.

passport

These two giant-sized props were used during some of user trials that have been taking place in the terminal during the past few weeks.

Gift bag

But although they seem like they’d be fun, photo-friendly objects for real passengers to encounter, during my recent pre-opening tour of the terminal a Heathrow staff member told me the props were about to be removed and discarded.

Too bad!

Stuck at the airport? Lucky you!

As the person who wrote a book about being Stuck at the Airport (it was published eight weeks before 9/11 and, as you might imagine, was not a big seller) and who now writes this Stuck at The Airport blog, it was a delight to be asked to round-up advice about the best airports for stranded travelers for this month’s At the Airport column on USA TODAY.

Feel free to add notes in the comment section below about which airports you’d be happily stranded in….

Traveler by Duane Hanson_at Orlando Intl

Traveler – by Duane Hanson, at Orlando International Airport

Earlier this month a tsunami of snowstorms and bitter cold air (the so-called “polar vortex”) forced the pre-emptive and day-of cancellation of tens of thousands of flights and hours-long delays for thousands of others.

That wacky weather also left plenty of passengers stuck at airports large and small.

No traveler (well, except me … ) enjoys spending more time in airport terminals than they have to, but weather, mechanical issues and other snafus are simply a fact of modern-day flying.

In some airports the wait can be more than pleasant than in others. So we asked frequent travelers to help us make a list of the best airports to be stranded in.

Dana Freeman of Burlington, Vt., said she never minds spending a few extra hours at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. “It has great local food, free Wi-Fi, clean spaces, and they got the architecture just right; the main space is voluminous and gets in plenty of light, making it feel really big for a medium-sized airport.”

With 23 concerts at various venues throughout the terminal each week, AUS also leads the list of airports that keep delayed travelers entertained with live performances that help time fly by.

Amanda Castleman is happy to wait out a delay at her hometown airport, Seattle-Tacoma International, “Thanks to the free Wi-Fi, good restaurants, Vino Volo, Butter London nail salon, the Massage Bar, etc.”

Here are some of the other airports – and airport amenities – that help travelers find the upside of being stranded.

Stress-busting amenities

Francine Cohen, a New York-based hospitality industry consultant, is keen on Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) for the rocking chairs, a stress-busting amenity found also at airports in Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Houston, Sacramento and other cities.

“They provide a great sense of calm when you’re stuck” said Cohen, “Not only because rocking is soothing,” but because the chairs offer a great perch for watching planes take off and land and people stream by.

CLT also got the nod from frequent travelers for the Terminal Getaway Spa, which will be opening three new branches at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and one at Orlando International Airport in the next few weeks.

The massages, manicures, pedicures and other services offered by XpresSpa, Massage Bar and other companies with multiple or one-off airport locations also factor into which airport many travelers are willing to wait out a delay. But whenever Stephanie Caro of Houston has extra hours to spend at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, she heads straight for Minute Suites on Concourse B. The small rooms for napping or working rent by the hour and are also available at Philadelphia International and DFW airports.

Yoga rooms also scored high on the list of amenities that helped make airport delays bearable and these are currently available at DFW Airport, Chicago O’Hare, Vermont’s Burlington International Airport and at San Francisco International, which is opening its second space devoted to yoga on Jan. 28, in United Airlines’ renovated Boarding Area E.

Kid-friendly spaces

Sally Farhat Kassab loves “the huge selection of shops and the interesting people from around the world that I meet every time” she’s at London’s Heathrow Airport and appreciates the “Stay & Play” areas staffed by “play coordinators” who host craft activities and storytelling sessions and help parents keep an eye on their kids.

I haven’t found any U.S. airports with play attendants on duty, but the kids’ activity centers offered by airports in cities such as Dallas/Fort Worth, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Las Vegas got raves from parents who have needed to entertain children during a delay. The new beach-themed play area in the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport is gathering fans as well.

Best for eating and drinking

When you’re dashing between flights, a grab-n-go sandwich will often do. But when you’re hanging around an airport for hours, there’s time to focus on where to dine.

USA TODAY readers weighed in via a USA TODAY/10Best.com poll that gave high marks to Vino Volo (with branches in more than 20 airports), the Salt Lick Bar-B-Que at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the healthy seasonal Southern California comfort food at Lemonade in LAX and all things crab at Obrycki’s at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

One Flew South, serving “Southernational” cuisine (and great sushi) is a perennial favorite at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but flight attendant Heather Poole said she’s always happy to wait out a delay at Miami International Airport because then she can visit her favorite restaurant there, La Carreta, for Cuban food. “I’d skip any first-class meal for that,” she said.

The “best” airport food and beverage outlets have also been sliced and diced by everyone from the Moodie Report to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, The Daily Meal, and GQ.

Art, culture and history

Passengers can kill time during a delay reading books, watching movies or catching up on e-mail, of course, but those willing to venture from their gates will be rewarded with intriguing art and/or history exhibits at many airports. Miami, San Diego, Phoenix, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Seattle, and New York’s Albany International Airport are among the airports with great art programs or in-house museums, as are the airports that made it onto this USA TODAY/10Best.com best U.S. airports for art list.

Escape planning

When a delay stretches from minutes to hours, a canceled flight can’t be far behind. That’s when an airport that can be easily escaped from has its charms.

Miami International, Chicago O’Hare, DFW, Orlando, Tampa, Detroit and Houston’s George Bush International are among the airports with hotels connected to the terminals, making that fresh start in the morning a bit easier to imagine. And Seattle, Portland, Ore., Atlanta, Boston, Miami, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are among the cities offering easy and inexpensive public transit to and from town.

Did I miss your favorite? If you “had” to get stranded at an airport, which would you choose, and why? Feel free to add your comments below.

We’ve already heard from Andrew Smith – the Chief Funster for New South Wales (and winner of the NSW Best Job in the World promotion).  He’s fine with hanging out for hours at the Sydney Airport because there are pubs serving Aussie beer, a Lonely Planet concept store and a mini-museum of uniforms, navigational equipment and other memorabilia from Qantas.