ground transporation

Heading to the airport? Hold onto that rental car.

Courtesy State Library of New South Wales , via Flickr Commons.

Courtesy State Library of New South Wales , via Flickr Commons.


Disclosure: National Car Rental sponsored this project.

You finished your meetings, filed that report and now there’s not much else to do but take another pass at the breakfast buffet, check out of your hotel and head to the airport to hang out before your flight.

But don’t return that rental car just yet.

If you plan it right and do a little homework, you can squeeze in a leisure adventure on the way to the airport.

Here’s are some great attractions nearby 5 major airports:

San Francisco International Airport: Burlingame sits on San Francisco Bay, and is home to the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia. Nearby is the Coyote Point Recreation Area, which offers a beach promenade, marina and great viewing spots for watching planes take off and land.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is just seven miles from the sprawling Museum of Flight, with more than 160 air and spacecraft, flight simulators and a brand new, 3-acre Aviation Pavilion that features many of the large commercial aircraft in the collection.

New York’s LaGuardia Airport is less than 2 miles from the Louis Armstrong House and Museum in Corona. The world famous jazz musician and his wife, Lucille, lived in a modest house in Queens and guided tours of the home are offered every hour.

Los Angeles International Airport – The Flight Path Learning Center and Museum is on the south side of the airport in the LAX Imperial Terminal and features airplane models, uniforms, photographs and a wide variety of historic artifacts relating to the aviation industry and the history of Southern California. In-N-Out Burger, a favorite among plane spotters, has a branch in nearby Westchester, less than 2 miles away.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: Founders’ Plaza, on airport property (but almost two miles from the terminal), has an observation area offering great views of airplanes landing and taking off, telescopes, picnic tables and a radio broadcasting air traffic control communications. Historic downtown Grapevine, with wine tasting rooms, public art, shops, restaurants and an entertaining glockenspiel clock tower, is just 7 miles away.

The easiest and most time-efficient way to reach most of these near-the-airport locations is by car. A good option: National Car Rental, where some of the time-saving benefits offered to Emerald Club members make it easy to squeeze in leisure time on a business trip.

At these busy airports and many others, Emerald Club members get to bypass the lines at the check-in counter, pick out any midsize (or above) car from the Emerald Aisle and, when they return to the airport, skip the paperwork and get an email receipt after dropping off the car.

I’ve got a work trip planned to Denver and I’m planning now to squeeze in a drive out to Golden to see the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum and grave before heading back to Denver International Airport, returning my rental car and heading home.

National_Emerald Aisle_image

Don’t give that rental car back just yet. Take a fun side trip before heading back to the airport.

Free Uber rides for some Chicago travelers

UBER ST PETE

Ride-hailing service, Uber, and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater have teamed up to offer some travelers free rides in Chicago.

On Wednesday mornings during February, starting at 6 a.m., Chicago Uber users will see a “Warm Up Wednesday” message in the app and a promotional code to unlock a way to request a free ride.

It should work at the airport because Uber is now authorized to serve both O’Hare and Midway Airports.

In addition to the offer for a free ride, every Uber rider who unlocks the promotional view is automatically entered to win one of four 4-night getaways for two, including airfare, to St. Pete/Clearwater.

And as a bonus: a handful of specially wrapped Uber cars will have virtual reality goggles on board, offering riders a chance to tour St. Pete/Clearwater’s Gulf beaches during their Chicago rides.

Cool, classic ground transportation

Sure, some people fly to Detroit. But if you’re on the highway between now and January 8, keep an eye out for these three classic red cars from the collection of LeMay – America’s Car Museum, in Tacoma.

LEMAY RED CARS WIDE

The vintage red cars – a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, a 1966 Ford Mustang and a 1961 Chrysler 300G – are traveling as a pack on a 2,400-mile road trip from Tacoma, Washington back “home” to Detroit for the opening of the North American International Auto Show.

The Drive Home, as the event is called, is making stops along the way for rallies with local car enthusiasts in Boise, Salt Lake City, Grand Juction, CO., and various cities in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Michigan.

Check the schedule so you can be sure to get an up close visit with these cool cars – or drive your vintage car along.

Airport amenities to be thankful for

My At the Airport column on USA TODAY each December is a round-up of some of the best new amenities airports have introduced through the year.

Here are some of the highlights from 2015.

SFO airplane cocktail shaker

 

Taming transportation

During 2015, a wave of airports around the country, including those in Chicago, Las Vegas, Louisville, Sacramento, San Diego and Washington, D.C. (both DCA and IAD) hammered out deals with ride-hailing services such as Uber/UberX, Lyft, Sidecar and Wingz to legally pick up and drop off passengers at the terminals.

Look for that trend to continue in 2016.

Helping others

Following the lead of airports in Denver and Columbus, Ohio, in January 2015 — when all the Super Bowl fans were flocking to town — Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport put out spare change collection boxes to begin raising money for the on-site USO hospitality center. In April, Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE) in Allentown, Pa., added change collection stations to raise funds for a variety of local charities.

Helping moms

During 2015 many airports made space for properly equipped lactation stations for nursing mothers. Chicago O’Hare International Airport now has three Mother’s Rooms, while lactation stations and nursing rooms have been added at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, Jacksonville International, Spokane International, Newark Liberty, JFK, LaGuardia, Pittsburgh International, Boise Airport and others.

Soothing stress, helping health

More airports are adding pet therapy programs to help fliers deal with the stress of traveling.

In September, Sacramento International Airport introduced the Boarding Area Relaxation Corps, (B.A.R.C.), which welcomes pet therapy dogs and their handlers to the airport twice a week, while in October, Denver International Airport introduced the Canine Airport Therapy Squad, referred to as C.A.T.S.

Other stress-reducing and health-inducing amenities we noted during 2015 included the beach oasis — complete with Adirondack chairs, umbrellas and artificial turf — set up inside Philadelphia International Airport during snowy February, and the healthy eating campaign at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport that handed out free fruit for travelers, along with prizes.

Complimentary treadmill desks were installed this year at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and, at JFK Terminal 5, JetBlue opened a rooftop lounge complete with dog walk, and created a farm out in front of the terminal where a wide variety of herbs and vegetables are now growing.

Fuel for the flight

Healthy airport dining options — both sit-down and take-away — are on the rise  and, in addition to the many upgraded great restaurants (and bars) rolled out this year, we saw the introduction of several free apps, including Grab and AirGrub, that allow travelers to order ahead, skip the line and streamline the task of purchasing a meal inside the airport to take to the gate or onto the plane.

Unique amenities, events and milestones

While SFO and DEN airports offer a mobile car-washing service in their airport parking lots (fees range from $24.95 to $49.95), travelers who park in the garages or in the outside parking lot at Spokane International Airport can get their cars washed for free. (Technically introduced at the end of 2014, I learned about this unique amenity in early 2015 and hope it catches on.)

In addition to being named the Grand Marshal of the Starlight Parade for the Portland Rose Festival, during 2015 the quirky carpet being replaced at Portland International Airport continued its reign as a social media darling, leading passengers to take a closer look at airport flooring nationwide.

To help with the year-long celebration marking the 20th anniversary of Denver International Airport, the Colorado Lottery created a special edition $2 scratch ticket game featuring four iconic images of the airport and, picking up on the newest old-fashioned craze, this year Dallas Love Field has a giant coloring wall in the terminal. Whenever the picture gets filled in, all they have to do is wipe the surface clean and start over.

Dallas Love Field _coloring wall

 

Did you spot a cool new amenity at an airport during 2015 that I didn’t mention?

Please share your fave in the comments below.