Thanks for the car ride, United.

I felt like an imposter.

I’d been upgraded on my flight home from a press event in London to tour the new Star Alliance Terminal 2 at Heathrow – and United’s new lounges there – and, unbeknownst to me, someone at United had added the Global Services code to my reservation.

That program is invitation-only and offers upper echelon travelers special treatment and services. And while I’m special, of course (my mother taught me that…) and old enough now to have flown on enough purchased tickets on United to get million mile status, I’m certainly not permanent Global Services program material.

But, I can see the appeal.

A Global Services rep with my name on a sign met our flight when it arrived in San Francisco.

“Am I in trouble?” I asked. (“Someone’s dead,” I thought)

“Certainly not,” she said. “I’m here to greet you as a Global Services customer and get you to your next flight. We have a car waiting.”

I tried to tell her I really wasn’t a Global Services customer, but she was having none of that.

So I went along with the fairy godmother service and got escorted through several lines, out a door leading to the tarmac and into the back seat of an SUV – a Mercedes-Benz SUV – that drove on the tarmac to take me to the connecting terminal for my flight home to Seattle.

Along the way, I learned that United started this Global Services perk a few weeks ago in San Francisco after rolling it out in Chicago, Houston and Newark Liberty Airport and that usually the ride is offered to Global Services customers with very close connections.

I had about a hour between my flights so wasn’t feeling stressed about getting from one terminal to another, but if the flights were tight (and I was used to being treated special) I can see how this service would endear an airline to a high-value customer a bit more than, say, a free drink or a personalized luggage tag.

So I did enjoy the ride and – just like a real Global Services customer, my escort assured me – I did get my picture taken with the car there on the tarmac.

United car service

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United’s new lounges at Heathrow Terminal 2

I’ve been wanting to get a look inside the new Terminal 2 – The Queen’s Terminal -  which is due to open on June 4, 2014 at London’s Heathrow Airport.  So I was pleased to be invited by United Airlines to come by for a preview of their two Terminal 2 Lounges.

Heathrow T2

25 airlines – all the Star Alliance carriers, as well as Aer Lingus, Germanwings and Virgin Atlantic Little Red – will operate out of Terminal 2, which has a main building and a satellite terminal (Terminal 2B).

But to try to make sure the move-in goes smoother than the notoriously glitchy opening of Heathrow Terminal 5, there will be a phased move-in of carriers, with United as the kick-off tenant on June 4th.

On move-in day United will move its 17 daily flights from Terminals 1 and 4 over to Terminal 2 and will have two lounges available for premium customers: A United Global First Lounge for first class passengers and the United Club for those with United Club memberships and those traveling on business class tickets.

Here are some of the photos I snapped during the preview tour:

United Global First Lounge

United Global First Lounge Heathrow Terminal 2

Egg chairs, couches and vintage photos from the airline’s archives create comfortable work and chat spaces throughout the lounge.

Big Ben-style close at United T2 lounge

A Big Ben-inspired clock in the tea lounge section is one of the “you’re in London” touches.

This lounge also has a quiet zone with couches and privacy drapes (no snoring, please), private phone booths and a wine room where a la carte meals can be served.

The United Club

Next door, the United Club also offers floor-to-ceiling windows and complimentary food and beverages.

There’s seating here for up to 280 guests, private phone booths and eight shower suites that include a handy valet service that will freshen up and press your outfit while you wash up.

The United Club at Heathrow Terminal 2

The United Club at Heathrow Terminal 2

pop up power at United Club

A nice feature of the tables in this work area are the pop-up power ports in the tables.

Of course, these lounges aren’t the only cool things in Heathrow’s Terminal 2. Stay tuned for a few more posts and more photos of the shops, restaurants, art and amenities – and notes on some features that are missing.

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Airport “Brookstone Guy” saves the day

Brookstone guy_edited

I had to cut out most of this photo to keep this guy, who works at a Brookstone kiosk at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, from getting in trouble with his bosses.

Even though he did a really nice thing and saved me more than $30.

I’d forgotten the cable to charge my cell phone and realized that the little gadget I’d been carrying around to serve as an emergency backup didn’t work.

The Hudson newsstand didn’t have a replacement cable, so I headed to the Brookstone kiosk, where I learned that the cable I needed only came in a kit that cost more than $30.

I was about to buy it (and visualizing how irritated I’d be when adding it to the nine other cables sitting on my desk at home) when I mentioned to the clerk that I had this gadget that I hadn’t been able to use.

“Let me see it,” he said, “maybe it does work.”

It did.

He lost the sale, but gained a fan. And when I said “let me take your picture and share this nice story,” he said company policy forbid him from having his name or picture shared in social media.

I only sort of get that policy, but don’t want to get him trouble for doing a nice thing.

So, all I can say here is: thank-you, Brookstone guy! You saved me from having to buy a needless cable.

To celebrate, I spent that $30 getting my nails done an airport spa.

nails

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PHX gets a “pay -per-use” club lounge

Here’s another reason to not worry so much about reaching “special person” status with any one airline: the proliferation of pay-per-use lounges at airports, along with the ability to purchase day passes to airline lounges.

Club-at-PHX

This week Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport joins the list of “The Club” locations, offering travelers complimentary snacks, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks as well as comfy chairs, work stations and a view of the airfield for a per use fee of $35. This lounge is located airside in Terminal 4 and open daily from 8 a.m. to 3:30 pm.

The Club Airport Lounges are also located in Atlanta, DFW, Las Vegas and San Jose airports and welcome Priority Pass and Diners Club International program members as well.

See hours, prices, $5 discount coupons and additional information here.

This isn’t the only company offering pay-per-use lounges at airports.

You can find a Plaza Premium Lounge at London Heathrow, Hong Kong, Vancouver and many other international airports and Airspace Lounges can be found at BWI, JFK and CLE.

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Drilling for oil & natural gas at airports

DEN AIRPORT Drilling rig

Courtesy Denver International Airport

Like other airports, Pittsburgh International supplements its revenue from airlines with fees from parking, concessions, advertising and other sources.

But now that the FAA has given its approval,  PIT can add funds from oil and gas drilling to its income ledger .

The airport has a deal with Consol Energy that came with a $50 million signing bonus and the promise of payments and royalties of an estimated $25 million annually for at least the next 20 years.

“Other airports have other advantages. They may have better flight patterns or be close to major markets,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “But we have this natural gas that others may not have.”

Federal Aviation Administration rules restrict how airports can spend drilling dollars and other non-aeronautical revenue.

“So we can’t take this new money and put it into the jail or the court system or the park system,” said Fitzgerald. The county is using the cash to reduce landing, terminal and ramp fees paid by airlines. “That makes us more desirable and will help us attract more airlines and more flights to our airport,” he said.

Pittsburgh International isn’t the first airport to dig deep in the ground for extra revenue. Drilling contracts generate cash for Dallas/Fort Worth, said DFW spokesman David Magaña.

DFW received a $186 million bonus from Chesapeake Energy for a natural gas exploration lease signed in 2006.

“We had plans for as many as 300 wells on airport grounds,” Magaña said, “but we stopped at 112 in 2010 because of the drop of natural gas prices in the market.”

In 2008, when drilling began, DFW earned $33.9 million in royalty revenue. In 2013 royalties were $5.3 million.

“We certainly earn more money from other things,” said Magaña. “For example, we probably earn about $120 million a year on parking. But the gas revenues are a bonus that allows us to do things we wouldn’t have done.”

Early on, DFW used drilling income to make terminal improvements that customers would “notice and appreciate,” said Magaña. That included replacing all seating and flight monitors and updating all the fixtures in the restrooms.

Denver International Airport has 76 wells on its property and in 2012 oil and gas production generated over $6.2 million.

“That revenue is not a large chunk of our budget,” spokesman Heath Montgomery said. “For comparison, last year we saw record concession revenue of about $295 million. But oil and gas production is a way of generating non-airline revenue to help offset the airlines’ cost of operating so the airport can remain globally competitive.”

In Denver, Suncor buys the oil and Anadarko buys the natural gas while the airport owns the wells and manages the overall system.

With three Reserve Oil & Gas gas wells that began producing in November 2013, 790-acre Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.Va., isn’t in the same league, drilling-wise, as Dallas and Denver.

“We expect a steady $40,000 a year in royalties over a 40-year period, said Yeager Airport director Rick Atkinson, “but for a budget of our size that’s nothing to sneeze at.”

Atkinson said the funds can’t be used “to remodel the director’s suite to look like I’m an oil baron,” but the additional revenue stream will enable the airport to do small additional projects each year.

To get permission, the FAA must determine that under the National Environmental Protection Act, the wells would have no significant impact on the environment, Atkinson said. The other divisions of the FAA approve the wells from an air-space and air-traffic-control aspect and for impacts on future aviation developments at the airport, he said.

Oklahoma City Airport oil drilling

courtesy World Rogers World Airport

In Oklahoma City, three airports—Will Rogers World Airport and two general aviation/corporate airports—together have 87 active wells, generating more than $2.5 million in revenue in 2013, about 2.5 percent of the revenue for the city’s Department of Airports.

Several oil rigs—some of them pumping—can be seen by passengers from the airfield.

“They’re not just there for decoration,” said airport spokeswoman Karen Carney.

Tulsa International Airport doesn’t have any wells but it does have a 13-foot-tall, 56-foot-wide mural by Delbert Jackson titled “Panorama of Petroleum.”

The city of Tulsa doesn’t allow drilling within city limits, so instead, “we celebrate the region’s position as a leader in the energy sector by displaying the mural—which was once displayed in the Smithsonian Institution—in our terminal,” airport spokeswoman Alexis Higgins said.

(My story about drilling for oil and natural gas at airports first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

 

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