Posts in the category "Entertainment":

2014 round-up of best new airport amenities

Aeroplane-Hat-Alice White

Convenience is king for travelers hoping to spend as little time as possible in an airport. But for those who must hang around a while, it’s amenities that matter.

And during 2014, airports around the country introduced a wide variety of very welcome amenities for travelers.

Here’s the round-up I put together from my ‘At the Airport’ column on USA Today.

More ways to get to and from the airport – legally

Airports around the country are struggling to work out policies and permitting programs for on-demand rideshare services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. The services are currently banned at several airports, but in September Nashville International Airport became the first U.S. airport to officially recognize Uber and Lyft and in October San Francisco International signed agreements with Sidecar, Lyft and UberX. A few other airports have issued permits to some Transportation Network Companies as well, and we’ll likely see this amenity added to the ground transportation options at other airports during 2015.

‘Drinks on the go’

Nashville Intl smaller

This year, Nashville International Airport (BNA) introduced “drinks on the go.” Thanks to an airport-wide beer and liquor license, passengers no longer have to sit at the bar or in a restaurant to enjoy their alcoholic beverage but can take it with them anywhere in the secure side of the terminal.

Pot and airports

Pot amnesty box installed at Colorado Spring Airport this year. Not much use, but plenty of social media mentions. Courtesy of the airport.

During 2014, shops selling recreational marijuana became legal in both Colorado and Washington and the airports in those states had to decide how – or if – they’d go about enforcing rules prohibiting passengers from taking pot to and through security checkpoints and onto planes.

Most put up signs reminding passengers of the federal laws governing travel across state lines with marijuana – or did nothing – but in January, Colorado Springs Airport installed a pot amnesty box at the security checkpoint. Few travelers seem to be using the box to dispose of unused pot, but with images of the amnesty box being snapped and shared, the airport’s social media profile is certainly higher.

Airport workouts

Travelers can rent a bike at BWI airport and ride  along the BWI Trail. courtesy BWI

During 2014, SFO airport opened its second yoga room (in Terminal 3, Boarding Area E) and following last December’s opening of a yoga room at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, in September Chicago’s Midway International Airport got a yoga space as well.

In July, Philadelphia International Airport partnered with a local fitness equipment retailer to install stationary exercise bikes at several locations throughout the airport and this year Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was among several airports adding marked walking paths inside (and sometimes outside of) its terminals.

For those who would rather exercise outdoors, in August bike-share company Zagster installed a rack of 10 reservable bikes in a rack outside the international terminal at BWI Marshall. For $5 (good for 12 hours), passengers can borrow a bike and ride it around the 12.5-mile scenic outdoor trail that encircles the airport.

Wi-Fi milestones

Travelers have come to expect unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi at airports, and in 2014, the Houston airports (IAH and HOU) and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport joined the team of major airports that provide this much-appreciated amenity.

JetBlue has offered complimentary unlimited Wi-Fi in Terminal 5 at JFK for a while now, but earlier this year the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced its intention to offer free 30-minute Wi-Fi sessions for all travelers at JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports.

The Port Authority and Wi-Fi provider Boingo are still working on those plans, but in a statement earlier this week said that free Wi-Fi will be available in at least one terminal at JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports by month’s end, with the free 30-minute service at all terminals anticipated by the end of the first quarter of 2015.

“Complimentary 30-minute Wi-Fi sessions are now available in JFK Terminal 4 and Newark (EWR) Terminal C, with free service on target to be available at LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building by month’s end,” according to a Boingo spokesperson.

Events

In 2014 Reno-Taho International Airport gave out free compliments on National Compliment Day.

To show off a $10 million reboot of the shops and restaurants in the post-security AIRMALL at Pittsburgh International, PIT airport invited non-ticketed visitors to come out for a one-day holiday event in early December. More than 1,500 people attended the event, which may be repeated, and “someone tweeted us asking why the San Antonio airport can’t do the same,” said PIT spokeswoman Alyson Walls.

On National Compliment Day (January 24), the staff at Reno-Tahoe International Airport set up a booth to dispense kind words to passengers. Some travelers were complimented on their choices of glasses, colorful scarves and boots, said airport spokeswoman Heidi Jared, “and booth volunteers even admired a gentleman’s ‘confident gait’ as he rushed by.”

Let’s hope the smart, charming and lovely volunteers at RNO set up that booth again this year.

Airport trading cards

STL_TradingCard_FRONT

As a gift to aviation geeks and collectors everywhere, in September, more than 20 airports around the country teamed up to create the North American Airports Collectors Series of trading cards. Each card has an iconic image of an airport on the front, fun factoids about the airport on the reverse, and are being distributed in the terminals of participating airports. Twenty-three cards are currently in the series, with Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport set to begin distributing its trading card after Christmas.

And then there are amenities that aren’t necessarily airport firsts, but are proud 2014 additions for the airports that have installed them.

Seattle-Tacoma International, for example, is proud that during 2014, it not only added handy cup holders to many seating areas, but brought branches of two iconic local brands, Metsker Maps and indie music label Sub Pop, into the airport.

New kids play area at STL Airport has a rental car center

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is still giggling with delight over the children’s play area that opened in May. The 1,500-square-foot Magic House not only has a kid-sized plane and an air traffic control tower with a slide, it has car rental counters, a luggage conveyor belt and an airport screening area with a pretend x-ray machine.

At Denver International Airport -Passengers interact with the new Open Windows display

Denver International Airport is proud of the popular water bottle refill stations it installed throughout the airport terminals this year, the new on-airport pet boarding facility, and its just-plugged in “Open Windows” experimental interactive digital customer experience on Concourse B that combines 128 LED rings of light and a 3D motion-detection camera to create an 11-foot-tall interactive tower of lights that react to a person’s movement.

Did I miss your favorite new airport amenity from 2014? Please add it in the comments below.

Alaska Airlines offers free entertainment on personal devices

alaska-beyond-10

Alaska Airlines is joining the ranks of airlines offering in-flight entertainment directly on passengers’ personal electronic devices.

The new entertainment service, part of what the airline is calling its new Alaska Beyond ‘experience,’ kicks off today on 50 of Alaska’s 737 planes and will be available for free though Jan. 31, 2015.

Alaska plans to equip nearly all of its fleet with the new in-flight entertainment service by April 2015, but starting February 1, 2015, the programming will offer some complimentary content, with premium movies and TV shows available for purchase at $1.99.

Summer camp: not just for kids anymore

Happy Solstice! Summer is finally here and for a lot of kids that means summer camp is just around the corner.

But why should kids have all the s’mores and all fun?

Here’s a round-up of some of the adult camps I found for a feature on CNBC Road Warrior.

clowns

From fantasy sports camps with major league players to boot camps for aspiring astronauts, rockers, clowns, zombie slayers and world poker players, there are plenty of summertime options for adults seeking to cross big-ticket items off their bucket list or or just try something new.

Music fans can take lessons from rock stars who serve as counselors at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp held in Las Vegas and, starting in October, at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. Four-day packages begin at about $5,000 and include loaner instruments and lunches, but not lodging.

The hefty fee didn’t deter 51-year-old Ron Cianciaruso, a musician and a senior vice president at a major bank in Jacksonville, Florida, from signing up for what will be his second session at Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp: the upcoming four-day camp that will feature The Who’s Roger Daltrey as one of the counselors.

Rock camper Ron Cianciaruso with Billy Hinshe and rock camp band members

Ron Cianciaruso (in red T-shirt on the left;) along with rock counselor Billy Hinsche (in the hat), a former member of Dino, Desi & Billy who also played with the Beach Boys; and co-campers Nick, Ted, John, Bill and Pat, who joined Ron in the camp band, Outside the Box.

Yes, it’s a lot of money,” Cianciaruso told CNBC. “But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And when you do anything like this as an adult you can appreciate the value in doing the things you love.”

Sports enthusiasts can hang out with their heroes at a wide variety of baseball and basketball fantasy camps, many with registration fees for adults hovering at around $5,000 as well.

Wish you could go into space?

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, offers a weekend-long Adult Space Academy for those who want to learn what it’s like to train to be an astronaut. Campers get to hang out in one of the world’s largest space aircraft collections, construct and launch rockets, and train on simulators, including the one-sixth gravity chair and Multi-Axis Trainer.

The three-day camp costs $549 per person while the four-day program runs $649. Meals and lodging are included.

For those worried about a zombie attack, weekend-long sessions at the Zombie Survival Course, held near Whiting, New Jersey, teach campers age 21 and older skills that might come in handy should there be a zombie apocalypse or some other disaster.

“It’s very much a camp-like experience, but with crossbows, pistols and training in advanced first-aid techniques and hand-to-hand combat,” said Zombie Survival Course founder Mark Scelza.

The $450 price includes lodging and meals.

“We’re ready for zombies, hurricanes, earthquakes, even martial law now,” said 34-year-old Ivory Mejia, an ultrasound technologist from Hull, Georgia, who took the course recently with her husband.

“Adult camps often take place in traditional camp settings and can be the adult version of a kid’s camp,” said Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association. And adult campers are likely to be baby boomers interested in “taking their vacations while supporting their vocations,” she said.

According to the ACA, the 12,000 organized camps in the United States are part of a $15 billion industry, with 11 million children and youth and more than 1 million adults attending camp each year. The ACA’s Find a Camp tool lists 200 adult camps, while its business affiliate GrownUpCamps.com has more than 800 paid listings for camps, courses and experiences.

Here are a few more options:

In Ely, Nevada, two of the three Railroad Reality Week summer sessions offered by the Nevada Northern Railway Museum are for adults only. The hands-on experience promises time spent maintaining 19th century locomotives and rail cars “with all the dirt and grime, you’d expect” and working as part of a railroad crew out on the track.

(Next session: August; price: $995; extra fees for bunkhouse lodging and “Be the Engineer” experiences.)

World Poker Tournament Boot Camps in Las Vegas (of course) cover everything from basic poker instruction to tournaments and tells (betting patterns and physical behaviors). And the Culinary Institute of America offers two- to five-day-long boot camps ($895 to $2,195) on such topics as wine, pastry, grilling and barbecue at its three campuses in New York, California and Texas.

Many CIA campers are food and wine enthusiasts who want to learn in a professional kitchen with professional chefs, but the short sessions sometimes serve as gateways to something more serious. “We have had people attend Boot Camp, decide it was a life-changing event and then enter into the degree program,” said Amy Townsend, CIA senior project manager for consumer marketing.

Opera performed by airline and airport employees in Munich

This New Ocean image

This sounds like fun.

On May 30 and 31 employees of Munich Airport and flight crew members from four different international airlines will appear on stage at Munich’s Cuvilliés Theater to perform the global opera “This New Ocean.

The three-act opera, which has a narrative arc described as stretching “from the earliest beginnings of humanity to the age of globalization,” starts with a video prologue filmed at Munich Airport. The roles will be sung by pilots and flight attendants from South African Airways, Lufthansa, All Nippon Airways, S7 Airlines and employees of Munich Airport and its subsidiaries.

The “Golden Record” sent out into interstellar space about 40 years ago with the Voyager probe also has a role in the opera. And, according to Munich Airport officials, the soprano soloist, Yoko Yamaguchi, is a flight attendant with All Nippon Airways when she is not singing. The solo bass role will be sung by Claus Schippan, a real estate manager with FMG. The third soloist with the cast recruited from across the aviation industry is countertenor Jan Kollmar, who works as a purser with Lufthansa. These soloists will be backed by 15 professional musicians conducted by Anton Zapf and alongside the strings led by concert master Vladimir Lakatos, the ensemble will include winds, a piano, percussion and an electric guitar.

Nélida Béjar and Björn Potulski (who works at Munich Airport) created this new opera and two years ago they also created a musical theater project called “Heavier Than Air” that featured the airport’s baggage handling employees.

Two performances of the opera will take place in Munich and all ticket proceeds will be donated to a fund to help people in need near the airport. In July the opera will be performed at the Soweto Theater. Backing the singers in the African shows for selected numbers will be a 100-voice children’s choir from Soweto.

Connected fliers get movies on their gadgets

United-inflight-pde-

Courtesy United Airlines

United Airlines is joining the ranks of carriers that can bypass seatback screens and deliver on-demand, in-flight entertainment directly to gadgets brought on board by passengers.

“We’ve noticed more and more customers have their own personal electronic devices when they fly, so it just makes sense to provide this service,” said United Airlines spokeswoman Karen May.

The service, provided by Panasonic, will allow passengers with Wi-Fi enabled devices to access over 150 movies and TV shows stored in on-board servers.

Apple users will access the content through United’s new iOS app; laptop users will just need to open a browser. An app for Android devices is still under construction.

United will begin testing the new service this week on a Boeing 777 flying between the mainland and Hawaii. “We’ll then gradually expand the personal device entertainment system to other 777s flying to Hawaii and then to other fleet types that currently don’t have on-demand seatback entertainment systems,” said May.

Programming will be different than that offered via the on-demand seatback system and will be changed quarterly at first and eventually refreshed monthly. During roll-out, the service will be offered to passengers for free, “but I can’t say it will always be that way,” said May.

United is not the first to begin offering on-demand programming to passengers’ personal devices. “Many airlines are rolling out this ‘from the Netflix server on the plane to your device via Wi-Fi’ option for passengers,” said John Walton, direct of date for Routehappy. Fliers get a wide range of content “often for no more than the price of downloading it from iTunes and, for airlines, it’s a lot cheaper and lighter than installing a seatback entertainment system,” he said.

For a fee, passengers on many American Airlines, Delta and US Airways flights can stream on-demand movies and TV shows via Gogo Vision. Other airlines streaming to passenger devices include Air Canada, El Al, Norwegian, Scoot and Virgin Australia. “Southwest offers streaming video plus streaming live TV, while Qantas offers streaming to the airline’s own iPads, which are rigged to the seat in front of you in a kind of sling,” said Walton.

It seems like a trend, but experts say Hollywood is making sure seatback in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems aren’t going away just yet.“Major airlines are still making significant investments in fixed IFE systems and backseat screens on wide-body aircraft because they want to offer the latest Hollywood blockbusters to passengers on long-haul flights,” said Raymond Kollau, founder of airlinetrends.com, an industry and consumer trends research agency.

“This so-called early-window content is restricted to fixed seat-back systems and select airline-owned tablets because of the perceived risk by Hollywood that their latest releases will get copied when streamed to passenger devices,” said Kollau.

But that barrier may not last long.

“Many airlines would like nothing better than to rip out embedded systems,” said Mary Kirby, founder of the Runway Girl Network, “and the moment Hollywood relents on early window to personal electronic devices, or connectivity can support streaming over the pipe, is the moment that embedded IFE will go the way of the dodo bird.”

(My story about changes in in-flight entertainment first appeared on NBC News Travel).

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