Free things you can get at airports

Flying during the holiday season can be a stressful and expensive, once you add up ticket prices, baggage fees, parking and a meal with a drink (or two) in the terminal before your flight.

But from ping-pong and yoga to water and other top-notch entertainment, many airports in the U.S. and abroad offer a wide variety of amenities for free. Some are available year-round, while others may be tied to a certain season or event. Here are a Baker’s Dozen you can take advantage of now.

Free phone calls

At Denver International Airport and both Washington Dulles International and Reagan Washington National Airports, travelers can make free phone calls year-round.

In Dulles and Washington Reagan airports, local and long distance calls are free to anyplace within the 48 contiguous United States for the first five minutes from marked courtesy phones located both pre- and post-security in the main terminal and in each concourse.

Denver International Airport has ad-supported phones offering free domestic calls and 10 minutes of free long distance calling

Free yoga studios

A pop-up (pay) yoga studio is operating for a few months at Denver International Airport, but there are a handful of airports around the country, including San Francisco International, Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway, Miami International and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airports, where travelers can make use of yoga rooms for free. Most have complimentary loaner mats available as well.

Free shoe shines

A throwback to the days when people actually dressed up to fly on an airplane, at Los Angeles International Airport, Denver International Airport and Missouri’s Kansas City International Airport travelers can set their own price or just simply leave a tip when getting a complimentary shoe or boot shine at an airport shoe shine stand.

Free movies

Free movies by local filmmakers are offered to travelers in the post-security 17-seat Hollywood Theatre micro-cinema at Oregon’s Portland International Airport, the pre-security Video Arts room at San Francisco International Airport and in the post-security See 18 Film Screening Room (by Gate C18) at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Free first run films are offered at two 24-hour movie theaters at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Free personal shopper

Passengers traveling through London’s Heathrow Airport can book ahead to tap the complimentary services of the airport’s team of personal shoppers, who make no commission but make it their point to know the all the latest trends and the current stock available in all the shops. There is no minimum spend and consultations take place in a private lounge where free champagne is served.

Free art and history and games


SFO Museum Exhibition

San Francisco’s SFO Museum offers no fewer than 20 free exhibitions inside the airport at any one time, while airports in Miami, Albany, NY, Minneapolis, Portland, St. Louis and elsewhere offer a rotating schedule of free museum-quality art and history exhibits throughout the year.

Austin-Bergstrom International and Seattle-Tacoma International airports each present more than 20 free music performances each week and, at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, passengers can play ping pong for free.

Free water: bring your own bottle

Buying a bottle of branded water can set a traveler back $5 in many post-security airport shops, but travelers who bring their own empty bottles can fill them up for free at complimentary water bottle refill stations now located in airports in San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago and many others cities.

Free city tours

Fliers with long layovers can take advantage of free city tours at some airports.

Passengers with layovers of two hours or more at Salt Lake City International Airport can get a free shuttle ride to and from Temple Square, where they can join in a free tour of the thirty-five acre historic site. Free city tours are also available to travelers with varying lengths of layovers at Singapore’s Changi Airport, South Korea’s Incheon Airport in Seoul, Tokyo’s Narita Airport, Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, Qatar’s Hamad International Airport in Doha (with Qatar Airways), and Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei.

Free ride to the city

Travelers who land at Boston Logan International can ride the Silver Line bus from the airport into the city for free. The bus picks up at every BOS terminal and offers free connections to the Red Line once in town. (Rides from the city back out to the airport, however, are not free.)

Free CPR training

At a growing list of airports, passengers can learn to save a life while waiting for their flight by taking a free course on an interactive hands-only CPR kiosk. A “how-to” video is followed by a practice session on a rubber manikin and a 30-second CPR test.

Airports with hands-only CPR training kiosks currently include: Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Indianapolis International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, Orlando International, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Harrisburg International in Pennsylvania and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA.  In many cases there are multiple units at each airport.

Free trading cards

They look like sports trading cards, but at more than 60 airports throughout the country, passengers can stop by information booths and tourism booth to pick up a free, collectible, airport-themed trading cards featuring a photo of the airport on one side and geographic and historic tidbits about the airport on the other.

Animal encounters

To ease the stress of modern-day travel, dozens of airports now have specially-trained therapy animals regularly mingling with passengers in the terminals. Most airports have dogs on their pet-therapy teams, but San Francisco International Airport has a pig on its team, Denver International Airport has a cat, and miniature therapy horses visit the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport twice each month.

Free travel item

Customers of Google’s Project Fi can use their phone to get one free item a week from Project Fi vending machines located in airports in Baltimore, LaGuardia, Chicago Midway and O’Hare, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, Seattle and San Jose. Free items include bottled water, playing cards, fuzzy socks, eye masks and luggage tags. Travelers who aren’t Project Fi customers can also get free items by playing a trivia game on the machine.

Did I miss anything?

(My story about free things at airports first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different form.)

Old airports get fresh new uses

My “At the Airport” column for USATODAY this month is all about some cool, new uses for old, unused airports.

A while back I visited Quito, Ecuador with JetBlue and learned that when the modern Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, Ecuador opened for business in 2013, on land 11 miles east of city, the old in-city airport (which once held a spot on the list of “World’s Most Dangerous Airports”) was transformed into Bicentennial Park.

Terminal buildings now host office space, a convention center is being built onsite, former runways are used for bicycle riding and racing, and large concerts and events, including a July 2015 mass led by Pope Francis, are held in the fields.

Denver’s Stapleton International Airport, less than 10 miles from downtown Denver, was replaced in February, 1995 by the much larger Denver International Airport, which was built 25 miles from the city center. The 7.5 square miles that once housed Stapleton’s runways and terminals is now a mixed-use community that John Karsada, author of “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next,” considers “The most successful repurposing of a former major commercial airport I have observed anywhere in the world.”

Most all the original structures from the former Stapleton airfield were demolished, but the control tower and its building remained. And this month, after sitting vacant for more than 20 years, the tower building reopened as a 32,000 square-foot “eatertainment” concept with six bowling lanes, shuffle board, bocce courts, karaoke rooms, a sports bar and a wide variety of other indoor and outdoor dining, drinking and social gaming opportunities.

“Dozens of ideas for re-use of the tower were presented over the years, including demolition, but there was a desire in the community to preserve the tower in order to visually convey the history of the land as the former Denver airport,” said Robert Thompson, found and CEO of Punch Bowl Social, the company that turned the control tower building into a fun zone.

It would have been easier for Punch Bowl Social to demolish the old building and create something from scratch. Instead they were able to preserve the historic structure, re-using some of the original pre-cast panels that adorned the building exterior. Inside, there are plenty of nods to the golden age of flight.

“The hostess stand is made from a vintage steamer trunk. Reclaimed airplane dials are mounted on the walls, vintage luggage is stacked in shelving around the bowling cage and we have signage from the original Stapleton International Airport throughout,” said Thompson.

And while the interior walls are covered with what appears to be polka dot paper, the pattern is actually made from an aerial view of Stapleton from 30,000 feet up.

“The air traffic control tower is the most visible and iconic representation of the history of this area,” said Denver City Councilman Christopher Herndon, whose district includes Stapleton, “The Punch Bowl Social project embodies the spirit of re-imagination and reactivation Denver embraced when we envisioned a vibrant neighborhood filling the footprint of the former Stapleton airport.”

Creative airport re-use in Austin, Berlin, New York and Hong Kong


The 700-acre Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, which sat just three miles from downtown Austin, Texas was replaced in 1999 by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, about 10 miles from the city center.

Today, the former Mueller airport site, like Stapleton, is a mixed used community with homes, retail and office space, parks and public art. A farmer’s market is held in the historic 1943 Browning Hangar, the former aviation administration building houses a visitor/welcome center for the community, and Mueller’s historic airport blue-hued control tower remains as well.

In New York, Floyd Bennett Field (Named for Floyd Bennett, the first person to fly over the North Pole, and the site of the city’s first municipal airport) is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area on Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn. And historic Hangar B, on the east side of the field, now serves as a restoration and exhibition space for vintage aircraft.

After Berlin-Tempelhof Airport closed in 2008, much of the land was slated for housing and commercial development, but today the giant terminal and hangars remain in use as grand event and concert venues and homes for small businesses. And the vast open spaces are being used by the community for cycling, jogging, running, dog-walking, kite flying, gardening and more.

Flying to cruising

One of the most creative airport re-use projects has been the upcycling of Hong Kong’s in-city airport, Kai Tak, into a cruise terminal.

Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport, known for the quick-turn flight approach into the city that inspired both nail-biting and awe, closed in 1998 and was replaced by a far larger Hong Kong International Airport on Chek Lap Kok Island.

Hong Kong’s cruise ship market was growing, so the government decided to turn the former airport into a cruise terminal.

British architectural design and engineering firm Foster + Partners won the international competition to design the project and the first cruise ship berthed at what has now become a landmark site in the city in June 2013.

And because cruise terminals have plenty of downtime, the building was designed as a column free space to accommodate other uses such as car shows, exhibition, concerts and other events.

There’s even a public garden on the roof.

And what will become of other airports that become unused or superfluous in the future?

Already, “Airports often figure in zombie movies as places of last stands or lethal transmission,” notes Christopher Schaberg, author of “Airportness” and an associate professor of English and Environmental Studies at Loyola University New Orleans.

And while there have been some successful attempts to rethink the airport as a different sort of space, Schaberg says “Airports are sites to watch closely as humans continue to run into new limits and challenges in the coming years.”



Preview of new satellite terminal at LAX

The Tom Bradley International Termional at Los Angeles International Airport is pretty swank and awfully big.

But it’s not big enough. So LAX is buildling a bonus Midfield Satellite Concourse (MSC) with 12 extra gates just west of the terminal.

Scheduled to open in early 2020, the new terminal – or MSC – will be connected to the Tom Bradley International Terminal by both a 1,000-foot passenger tunnel with moving walkway and a bus port to allow transportation on the airfield from other terminals.

Here’s a short video LAX shared.


Got a passport? 60 percent of Americans don’t!

Happy Friday! Get your passport and get going.

Passports. Have one? If not, you’re not alone.

About 60 percent of Americans don’t have current passports and Hilton Hotels is doing its part to help potential international travelers get going.

Hilton is kicking off its Hilton Passport Project with a Passport Concierge booth in the American Airlines terminal at O’Hare International Airport from October 20 to 22.

At the Passport Concierge booth, travelers will have the opportunity to fill out their passport applications, get their questions answered by on-site U.S. Department of State experts and take passport photos and get some ideas about international destinations.

The booth will move on to the Hilton San Francisco Union Square from November 2 to 4 and to the Hilton Cleveland Downtown from November 9 to 11.

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Fresh solar system themed art at St. Louis Airport

Courtesy STL AIrport

A fresh new piece of art at St. Louis Lambert International Airport explores and celebrates the mysteries of the solar system.

Created by artist Eric Woods, owner and founder of The Firecracker Press, The Solar System Series, is on  display at STL near the Terminal 1 A Gates entrance/exit.

This multi-paneled work is letterpress printed on paper, from hand-carved woodcuts and other recycled materials, including cardboard and vinyl siding. Each panel was printed individually and then pieced together and mounted on wood.

Hidden in the piece are all sorts of “Easter eggs” to look for, including the Starship Enterprise and a lost satellite.

Like the looks of this artwork? On the Firecracker Press website I see that they sell Solar System Prints (Gemini is my favorite), posters, journals, cards and more.

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