Restaurants

Hockey at airports? In restaurants and bars, yes.

Courtesy Provincial Archives of Alberta, via Flickr Commons.

If you’re a hockey fan, you’re no doubt paying attention to what’s happening with the NHL season playoffs and looking for TVs in airport where you can watch the games and be with your people.

Turns out, there  are plenty of hockey-themed restaurants and bars in airports.

Here are just a few, operated by HMSHost

Avenue des Canadiens at Montréal-Trudeau International Airport’s Domestic Terminal by Gate 01 celebrates the Montreal Canadiens.

Minnesota Wild in Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport’s Concourse H is Minnesota Wild-themed.

Sharks Cage Sports Bar & Grill in San Jose International Airport’s Terminal B by Gate B18 is all about the San Jose Sharks.

Stanley’s Blackhawks Kitchen & Tap in Chicago O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 2 by Gate E5 celebrates the Chicago Blackhawks.

Anaheim Ducks Breakaway Bar & Grill in John Wayne Airport’s Terminal C is where Anaheim Ducks fans will feel welcome.

And  Vancouver Canucks Bar & Grill in Vancouver International Airport’s US Terminal by Gate E81 is all about Vancouver’s NHL team, the Canucks.

Souvenir Sunday: bullish photo op at CLT

Sunday is Souvenir Sunday here at Stuck at The Airport – a day for taking a look at some of the fun, inexpensive items you can pick up when spending time at an airport.

CLTL Belt BUckle wall

This week’s pick comes from the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT), which now has a branch of Whisky River, the popular uptown Charlotte restaurant and sports bar owned by NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

The airport location, Whisky River CLT, is located on Concourse E and, in addition to a belt buckle wall and a menu that includes Whisky Wings, fried pickles, burgers and BBQ brisket, sports a stage that will feature live music and a (stationary) mechanical bull for “you-did-that-in-an-airport?” photo ops.

Restaurant Week at PHL Airport & beyond

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From October 20 to 27, Philadelphia International Airport joins cities around the country in celebrating Restaurant Week, with pre-selected, three-course menus for $20 per person offered at these in-airport restaurants:

· Cantina Laredo (Concourse E)

· Chickie’s & Pete’s (Terminal A West, Concourses C, D & E)

· Cibo Bistro & Wine Bar (Concourse B)

· Jack Duggan’s Pub & Restaurant (Concourse A East)

· Jet Rock Bar & Grill (Concourses B & D)

· Legal Sea Foods (B/C Connector)

· Local Tavern (Terminal F)

· Re:Vive Bar (Terminal F)

· Sky Asian Bistro (Concourse C)

· Vino Volo (Terminal A West, Concourse B, B/C & D/E Connectors)

Restaurant Week at an airport is a great idea, of course. And unlike Restaurant Week in most cities, the one at PHL Airport continues through the weekend.

But a week is so short.

And your travels may not take you through PHL.

Never fear. Throughout the entire month of October, HMS Host has brought the restaurant week concept to selected restaurants in airports around the country. See the list of participating airports and restaurants here

Amenities coming to your airport – maybe.

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A major role of commercial airports is, of course, to provide the facilities where passengers can get on and off the airplanes that zip around the world.

But airports are also increasingly where travelers spend time (sometimes a very long time) eating, shopping, playing, socializing, getting pampered, sleeping, working out and taking care of personal and official business.

Even if you take just a few flights a year, you’ve surely noticed that airports large and small have been seriously upping their game, making terminals prettier and easier to maneuver and filling corridors with a wide range of welcome dining, retail and other conveniences.

The good news is that this push to upgrade continues. Airlines and airports are pouring millions of dollars into terminal improvements, and at a conference hosted by Airport Revenue News earlier this month, the talk was of strategies for making terminals even more customer-friendly. Here are some of the amenities and services spotted in the exhibition hall that may make their way to airports worldwide.

More self-serve shops

Thanks to Zoomsystems and other vending machine-style automated retailers, it’s no longer a novelty to purchase electronics or classy, travel-sized personal items from a kiosk at an airport.

Benefit Cosmetic kiosk_photo Harriet Baskas

In addition to Best Buy Express, Straight Talk Wireless and 3 FLOZ brands, Zoomsystems has been rolling out a fleet of Benefit Cosmetics kiosks for airports designed to look like pink, vintage buses. And an Amazon-branded kiosk now dispenses Kindles and Kindle-accessories at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Houston (IAH), Oakland and San Francisco. A Kindle kiosk should appear at the Atlanta airport by mid-April, said Melissa Jones of Zoomsystems.

And for travelers who wear glasses, Opticwash is hoping airports will install its automated kiosks that use ultraviolet light to wash and clean eyeglasses or sunglasses in about a minute for a suggested price of one dollar.

Opticwash kiosk for cleaning eyeglasses and sunglasses_photo Harriet Baskas

Catering to ‘gate huggers’

Because so many travelers like to get through security and make a beeline for their gates, airport hold rooms are getting makeovers.

With iPads and delivery service, OTG transformed hold rooms at airports in New York, Minneapolis, Toronto and several other cities into marketing zones. Now Paradies, which has shops in dozens of airports, has an “At Your Service” cart stocked with soft drinks, snacks, magazines, neck pillows and other newsstand bestsellers that can be easily rolled into busy hold areas before a flight.

“The cart service lets us serve the ‘gate huggers’ and is made possible by new technology and need,” said Justin Marlett, senior marketing manager for Paradies.

John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., got the first, pushcart-style, version of the Paradies “At Your Service” cart and Florida’s Palm Beach International Airport is home to the first full-sized unit.

Expanding spas

Travel can be stressful no matter how customer friendly an airport appears to be, so spas offering everything from neck and foot massages to manicures, haircuts and facials continue to expand their presence in the nation’s terminals.

XpresSpa now has more than 50 locations, while Paris-based Be Relax, which currently has U.S. branches at Baltimore-Washington, Boston Logan, Detroit Metropolitan and San Diego, will be opening its full-service branch – with barbers and hair styling services – at the end of April at JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK International Airport.

More to eat

Dining options at most airports have definitely been expanding and improving. And while many popular new “concepts” in airports are joint ventures between established concession management companies and local or national restaurateurs, a wide range of companies — from SONIC (known for its drive-ins) to Camille’s Hand-Dipped Ice Cream Bars and Luvo, whose healthy wraps and snacks are currently offered on some Delta Air Lines’ flights — are trying to break into the club.

“Being in an airport would give us a great platform for getting our brand into markets where we currently have little or no penetration,” said Greg Delks, vice president for franchise development for Firehouse Subs, which has almost 750 street-side branches but is hoping to get its first airport location.

Firehouse Subs hoping to move into airports_photo Harriet Baskas

“There’s a ceiling to how much some of these brands can grow on the street side,” said Ramon Lo, editorial director of Airport Revenue News, “so they’re trying to get ahead of the curve, diversify and find different avenues of growth.”

Feedback

Another new amenity to begin looking for in domestic airports is the HappyOrNot customer feedback device already in use in at least 40 airports outside the United States.

HappyOrNotKiosk being tested at Greenville-Spartanburg Int'l Airport t_photo courtesy GSP Airport

The units have four, brightly-colored smiley face-based buttons that make it easy for passengers to give immediate feedback on the service they’ve received at checkpoints, gates, transfer desks and other spots. In some airports, travelers can use a similar device to rate the cleanliness and condition of the restrooms.

The first U.S. airport to install HappyOrNot machines is Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina, which currently has a few test units in the baggage claim area.

“We strive to improve the customer experience … and look for ways to measure the effectiveness of all these efforts,” said Rosylin Weston, GSP spokesperson. The HappyOrNot units are not only an effective overall measurement tool, said Weston, “but they can analyze data on a weekly, daily or even hourly basis.”

(My story about fresh airport amenities first appeared on my “At the Airport” column on USAToday.com)

Love the layover: at play in Portland, Oregon

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It’s always a bit strange for me to spend time in Portland, Oregon.

It’s the first city I lived in when I moved out west and it’s the city now portrayed in a fun and fractured way in the IFC show Portlandia and in Portlandia: A Guide for Visitors, a book that claims to describe “all that this magical, dreamy city has to offer.”

This visit I was a guest of Travel Portland – and most definitely a tourist.

I stayed one night in the Hotel deLuxe, which offers a Pilgrimage to Portlandia package, and two nights at the Heathman Hotel, which won my heart by sending someone to my room within five minutes of my arrival with a copy of my Oregon Curiosities book for me to sign so it could be added to the on-site library filled with books by authors – many of them really, really famous – who have stayed at the hotel.

Most of the weekend was spent racing around the city – on foot and on public transportation – visiting hot spots such as Powell’s Books, the Peculiarium and the Lan Su Chinese Garden, and trying to find all the venues offering the free treats that come with the Portland Passport visitors receive when they book a room through the Travel Portland site before March 31st.

PDX Voodoo

The somewhat Porlandia-ish list of treats includes a doughnut from Voodoo Doughnut (where the far-out offerings include a doughnut covered in Fruit Loops and one covered in bubble gum dust and decorated with a wrapped piece of gum), a tour of Widmer Brothers Brewing (free anyway, but passport holders get a free full-sized souvenir glass), a scoop of ice cream at Salt & Straw (sorbet at 10:30 in the morning? Why not?) and five other items, some of which were inspired by the ‘what-to-do-in-Portland-in-the-winter‘ tips gathered from Portland insiders.

The most puzzling place on the passport is the 10-piece meatball plate: a reward for visitors who make the trek out to IKEA.

“Pacific Northwesterners love IKEA, especially when it’s tax-free,” is the way Courtney Ries, consumer marketing manager for Travel Portland explained it. “And since we can’t give everyone a bookshelf or a new kitchen, we thought it would be something fun for the people that make IKEA a must-visit place when they come to town – or for those that have a special hankering for meatballs.”

Fair enough. But IKEA is just one stop on the MAX light rail line before my favorite place in the city – Portland International Airport – and there are plenty of fun and unique shops and restaurants there – along with art and entertainment. And, while I arrived in town on the train, it might be fun for visitors coming to town by plane to get their last passport stamp – and tasty treat – as they head home.