Airport amenites

Touring Austin – and Austin Bergstrom Int’l Airport

I joined Delta Air Lines for the inaugural of its direct flight between Seattle and Austin and had one day on the ground to explore the city and the airport.

Base camp was the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin, downtown on Congress Avenue. The hotel is within walking distance of a food cart corner where we fueled up for the day at the silver trailer named My Name is Joe.

The menu includes hearty starts such as Texas Rancher Oats (oatmeal, tomato sauce, poached egg, queso fresco, black beans and avocado) and the proceeds help provide jobs and treatment program funding for service industry workers recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Next, we set out on a portion of the 10-mile ride and hike trail around Austin’s Lady Bird Lake. Transportation – and excellent guides – provided by Rocket Electrics , which offers both organized and custom tours throughout the city on fun and surprisingly easy-to-ride electric bikes.

Then, it was off to Austin Bergstrom International Airport for a tour.

Upgrades galore are underway at AUS airport, with new shops, restaurants, baggage claim and gate areas under construction.

One work-around airport officials are especially pleased about are the four temporary jet bridges -or “elevated walkways,” as the airport calls them –  that have been set up to keep things moving smoothly at one end of the terminal while a new addition is built. The longest temporary jet bridge is 720 feet and AUS’s Derick Hackett believes it is currently the longest temporary jet bridge in the United States.

Record-setting or not, the bridge is so long that the airport has created a marathon-inspired set of posters to encourage passengers on their journey from one end to the other.

We also stopped by for a tour of the newly-opened Bark and Zoom pet hotel and valet parking center right next to the airport, where dogs and cats can be pampered while their people are away. In addition to the upgraded suites where pups can watch cable TV all day (CNN was playing when we toured, but programming is usually Animal Planet), we got to see the guitar-shaped pool pups gets to play in.

Notice the “No Diving” sign….

Fresh airport amenities for summer travel

In my msnbc.com column this week –Fresh airport amenities make the wait fly byI offered a run-down of some of the programs and services air travelers can take advantage of this summer.

One amenity that didn’t make it into the story is self-service ice-cream sundae machine at Boston Logan International Airport.

Make-your-own sundae machine at Boston Logan Airport

We all scream for ice-cream at the airport

Using a touchscreen, customers choose a flavor (12 are available) and a mix-in. The machine then prepares and delivers the dessert.  Boston Logan Airport has two  MooBella machines installed: one is at Terminal C at the Back Bay Café (Gates 11-21); the other is at Lean & Green (Gates 40-42).

If you test it out, please send a report – and a photo.

What else is fresh and new at airports this summer?

Philadelphia International Airport offers entertainment this summer

Mimes among the entertainment at PHL this summer

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) now has free wireless and a Passenger Chillin’ Zone with sofas, tables, chairs, ottomans and foliage (Gate D-3). Throughout the summer, PHL is also hosting a Just Plane Fun program with live music, appearances by mascots from local sports teams, contests and other activities.

From now through the end of August, Miami International Airport is throwing weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) parties with a different theme each week. This weekend’s theme is Havana Nights, with domino tables, mojito demonstrations, a DJ, rumba dancing and cigar rolling.  August 20-23 you’ll find a flamenco dance show, Latin food sampling and more.

Observation Deck at Los Angeles International Airport now open

Observation Deck at LAX now open on weekends

At Los Angeles International Airport, the outdoor observation deck on top of the Theme Building in the center of the airport is finally open. Closed since 9/11, and during the building’s $12.3 million renovation and earthquake retrofit, the deck is open weekends, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with free telescopes offering great views of arriving and departing aircraft, the airport grounds and the surrounding area. Pink’s, an iconic Hollywood hot dog stand, has also opened a branch in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

At Outagamie County Regional Airport (ATW) in Appleton, Wisconsin, they’re still lining up to get candy from the giant purple machine with flashing lights.

Candy-dispening machine at Outagamie Airport

Willy Wonka candy machine dispenses mixed candy treats

Located pre-security, the Willy Wonka candy machine is one of 25 such machines in the country (there’s one at the Mall of America) and is currently the only one at an airport.

Passengers had so much fun during the special events held at Vancouver International Airport during the 2010 Winter Olympics games that the airport decided to host Take-off Fridays festivals all summer, complete with face painting, DJs spinning music, prize drawings, meal specials and frees samples from a variety of airport shops.

And San Francisco International Airport is presenting You are Hear concerts again this summer. Performances take place every Friday through August 28th between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at three different stages in the airport. This week the line-up includes Quinteto Latino in the International Terminal, Lavay Smith & The Red Hot Skillet Lickers in the United hub and, in Terminal 1, Threeocracy. See the SFO website for the full season schedule.

Enjoy!