Recreation

Flying with legally-purchased pot? Be careful.

My “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY this month is all about what travelers need to consider when flying with cannabis products. Here’s the story: 

In January, California joined the growing list of places where the sale of recreational marijuana is allowed and now one in five Americans lives in a state where buying pot can be a tourist activity.

But if you’re considering traveling with pot, be careful.

Marijuana is still an illegal drug under federal law and post-security areas at airports are ruled by federal agencies. So, as in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Nevada, bringing legally-purchased pot past a security checkpoint in the country’s most populated state can still get you into hot water.

Or maybe not.

The Transportation Security Administration says its officers remain focused on security and detecting weapons, explosives and other threats to aviation and passengers – not on sniffing out drugs. But if a TSA officer does finds marijuana or another illegal substance during the security screening of carry-on or checked baggage, the policy is to call in local airport law enforcement, said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.

“The passenger’s originating and destination airports are not taken into account,” said Dankers, “TSA’s response to the discovery of marijuana is the same in every state and at every airport – regardless of whether marijuana has been or is going to be legalized.”

But at most commercial airports in California, as in other states where possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana is now legal, once airport law enforcement steps in, nothing much usually happens.

According to the Los Angeles Airport Police, which operates at Los Angeles International Airport and several other Southern California airports, if someone is stopped by the TSA with a state-legal amount of medical of recreational marijuana, airport police would not charge them with anything, “Because it is not a crime.”

The same goes for John Wayne Airport in Orange County.

“If the TSA calls us [about finding marijuana], we’d go up and make sure it is within the legal quantity. If it is, we’d just stand by while the passenger decides what to do with it,” said Lieutenant Mark Gonzales, airport police services bureau chief with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, “TSA may not want it to fly, but that doesn’t mean it is illegal in California.”

Gonzales says so far his team hasn’t been called to the airport checkpoint by TSA to deal with a marijuana issue. “People are reading the law and seem to know what they need to do to get through the checkpoint,” said Gonzales, “I don’t think a lot of people are risking it.”

To alert flyers to the rules about traveling with recreational pot purchased legally in California – and to advertise their cannabis company – in November Organa Brands ran an ad in the bottom of the bins at the security checkpoints at Ontario International Airport.

The message read: “Cannabis is legal. Traveling with it is not. Leave it in California.”

“We were very confident in the positive message that the trays carried,” said Organa Brands spokesman Jackson Tilley, although the company wasn’t too surprised when a month into the campaign the airport asked that the cannabis messages in the trays be removed. “If the landscape changes and cannabis ads are welcomed in airports, we’d be thrilled to run a campaign again,” said Tilley.

There are currently no marijuana-related checkpoint tray ads, signs or ‘amnesty disposal bins currently at the San Francisco, Long Beach or other California airports contacted for this story. But in Nevada, where sales of recreational marijuana became legal in July, 2017, it’s a different story.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport has a sign in its smoking area reminding travelers that marijuana use is not allowed. “In general, we have not seen a big impact from this new law at the airport,” said airport spokeswoman Heidi Jared, “However, we are closely watching other airports and how they are handling this unique situation.”

At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, there is a formal, airport-wide ban on possessing (or advertising) marijuana, with notices about the Clark County’s Commission’s ruling posted on the airport’s website. And, starting next month, signs about the policy and amnesty boxes for marijuana and other cannabis products will be installed at key locations at McCarran, including at the airport’s consolidated car rental facility.

“These disposal boxes will be outside of the buildings, not at the checkpoints,” said McCarran spokesman Chris Jones, “The intent being [cannabis products] are not allowable anywhere inside the buildings, be it pre or post-security.”

Meanwhile, in Colorado, which back in 2014 was the first state to license stores to sell recreational marijuana, Denver International Airport still maintains its policy of prohibiting marijuana anywhere on airport property.

“Police ask passengers found with [marijuana] to discard the drug,” said airport spokesman Heath Montgomery, “But we’ve had so few instances that we don’t track these contacts anymore.”

 

More posh airport amenities

From my recent Bing Travel slide show, here are a few more posh airport amenities:


 

Offering travelers the world’s largest airport slide, a transit hotel with a roof-top pool and free foot massages, live entertainment, movie theaters and computer games, Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport consistently tops the posh chart. Posher yet: five fanatically-tended-to themed gardens displaying, respectively, ferns, orchids, cactus, sunflowers and more than 1,000 live butterflies.

Posh perusing is available at Taiwan Tayoun International Airport, which now has a library with 2000 paper books and 400 e-titles for passengers on layovers. The much larger Airport Library at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport opened last year. The “sitting area with added value” offers a multi-media collection of books, films and music about Dutch history, culture, art and literature.

Maintaining a posh state of mind in transit is easier if you look and feel great. Thankfully, spas offering manicures, haircuts, facials and back, neck and foot massages are becoming commonplace in many terminals. At Finland’s Helsinki Airport, relaxation goes a step further: a Finnair-branded spa offers a choice of spruce, stone, steam or a traditional Finnish sauna.

They say music hath charms to soothe the savage beast. So can music relax stressed-out travelers? We think so. Especially if you catch one of the regular concerts offered at airports in Austin, Nashville, San Diego or San Francisco. The poshest airport musical act may take place at Portland International Airport, where John English (“The Voice”) delivers Frank Sinatra tributes twice-weekly.

For more, see the full posh airport amenities slide show on Bing Travel – or check back here tomorrow.

Changi Airport’s giant slide joined by racing cars

As we noted here back in June, (and again in August because it’s so darn entertaining)  Singapore’s Changi Airport has been thrilling passengers with the world’s largest airport slide.

Changi Airport Singapore - World's Largest Airport slide

Changi Airport's giant slide

Now, to celebrate the 2010 Singapore Formula 1 Night Race, which takes place in the streets of Singapore from September 24-26th, Changi Airport is having its own Grand Prix Festival.

Changi Airport Singapore Grand Prix Festival

From now through September 30, 2010 both airport visitors and travelers can participate in racing-themed activities that include remote-controlled race cars, racing game consoles and prizes.

Changi Airport Grand Prix Festival remote control cars

Could it be possible to have too much fun at an airport?

Portland International Airport loves cyclists

Despite all the rainy days, Portland, Oregon is known as one of the most bike-friendly and bike-able cities around.

Photo of bicycle

Stenciled bike-riders with personality are everywhere  –

Book-reading bicycle stencil Portland, Oregon

And the city makes it easy to take a bike on the MAX light rail train that runs to and from Portland International Airport, where there’s bicycle parking and easy access to a bike and pedestrian path.

Now the airport has added a welcome and very useful amenity just for cyclists: a bike assembly station where travelers can easily assemble and disassemble their bikes before and after flights.

Portland Airport bicycle assembly station

(Photo courtesy Portland International Airport)

And – here’s a nice touch – Travel Oregon and the Port of Portland have basic bike tools, such as a pedal wrenches and air pumps, available for check out.

Look for the bike assembly stations at Portland International Airport on the lower terminal roadway near the TriMet MAX station.  Check out tools and find out about local cycling activities at the State Welcome Center, near bag carousels 5 and 6.

Leave the airport, visit a park

Does a bear sh#t in the woods? Depends on which woods.

Glacier National Park visitors 1960

My Well Mannered Traveler column on msnbc.com this is week is all about What’s OK, what’s not in national and state parks. Even some well-seasoned travelers don’t know the ins and outs. But if you don’t check out the rules before you head off into the woods you can end up in a heap of trouble.

Wendy Peck of Winnipeg, Manitoba found that out at the beginning of her two-month park-centric visit to the United States. She had her heart set on poking around the national parks in Arizona and Utah, hiking and camping with Amie, her black lab.

“That plan quickly fell apart,” says Peck, who discovered that most every national park in the United States prohibits dogs on back-country trails. “We were usually restricted to asphalt views. It was very disappointing.”

But Peck figured out that many national parks have state parks just down the road that usually offer much of the same landscapes and more pet-friendly policies.  “I found that by switching my focus to state parks, that I actually had a better time. Far fewer people, much more freedom, and some pretty cool sights that most others just don’t see. “

Peck’s vacation was saved, but rules about what is — or is not — allowed in state and national parks have ended up ruining or mangling trips for many other travelers.

Want to avoid those surprises?  Here’s some advice from park officials and outdoor enthusiasts.

Bugs and bunnies, shorelines and cemeteries

Figuring out what is – or is not – a National Park Service property can be confusing. National Park Service properties around the country encompass 392 areas, or “units” with 80 million acres of land and more than a dozen different, and often confusing, designations.

Those “units” include 58 traditional national parks, such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Bryce Canyon, but also about 150 historic sites and battlefields, as well as national monuments and memorials, national historical parks, national seashores, national parkways and national recreation areas, including man-made lakes such as Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam.

“Yes, we know we have some identity issues out there,” says David Barna, chief of public affairs for the National Park Service, “But you can divide the areas we manage into two piles: half of them preserve natural resources — bugs and bunnies — the other half preserves cultural resources, which represent the history of America.”

They may all be managed by the same agency, but the same rules don’t apply in each location. “There are places where a dog needs to be on a leash,” Barna says, “and places where that rule doesn’t apply.” Likewise, while personal watercraft (i.e. Jet Skis) are not allowed in the 58 national parks, those vehicles are allowed on recreational lakes and at some offshore national seashore areas managed by the park service. “It depends on what classification the areas fall under,” add Barna.

And then there are the seemingly site-specific rules. “For example, all boats entering Lake Powell [which stretches from Arizona to Utah] must be certified to be free of zebra mussels prior to launching. And in Maine’s Acadia National Park, visitors can’t bring firewood from home due to the threat of invasive insects,” says Dan Wulfman of Tracks & Trails, a company that organizes national park driving vacations.

How to navigate park rules

Kurt Repanshek of National Parks Traveler urges park visitors to study the National Park Service website long before leaving home. “Each park unit has its own website, but the content varies greatly. So don’t rely on that alone. If you don’t see information about the specific activity you’re interested in, make a phone call.”

And if you find the national park rules too restricting, don’t despair. It may just mean that a state park is a better match for you and your vacation style. “State parks,” says Shannon Andrea of the National Parks Conservation Association, “have less national significance and almost always allow for some form of active recreation such as bike riding, swimming, hiking, fishing, camping or horseback riding as part of their mission.”

Or maybe a visit to a National Forest is what you need. Myrna Johnson, a Boston-based outdoor enthusiast and urban open space professional, says National Forests “tend to be a little less traveled than National Parks and offer great backcountry opportunities for those who are looking for a slightly more rugged experience.”

Pay to play

National Park Service visitor pass

Whether you set out for a national or a state park, don’t forget to bring along your wallet. Of the 392 National Park Service properties, 130 currently charge some sort of entrance and/or amenities use fee. So consider investing in an $80 annual America the Beautiful Pass. There are some restrictions, but the pass covers a full year of entrance fees for a carload of up to four adults at National Park Service sites and at sites managed by agencies such as the USDA Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management. (U.S. citizens and permanent residents ages 62 or over can get a lifetime pass good for that same carload for just $10.) The America the Beautiful Pass won’t cover entry fees at state parks, but y states offer their own annual passes, which can be an equally good deal.

And it’s always a good idea to call ahead. National Parks have not experienced budget cuts this year, but many state parks have. So make sure the park you want to visit will be open when you show up at the gate.

(Photos courtesy National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection.)