Shopping

Sofa shopping at Amsterdam Shiphol Airport

There are loads of reasons to love Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Among them – a great art collection, a casino, an indoor park, a library and loads of other amenities.

Now there’s one more: sofa shopping.

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Schihol teamed up the online design brand Made.com and invited them to create furniture showrooms in two areas of the airport (Piers H and M).

That’s pretty nifty on its own, but even better – passengers can do more than just look at the nice living room set-ups, they can sit down on the furniture and, if they like it, go online and buy it.

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Free digital magazine from Miami Int’l Airport

Here’s a nice free perk from Miami International Airport: a lovely e-magazine – in English and Spanish – that offers tips on dining, shipping and entertainment inside the airport and out in the community.

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You can view the digital magazine for free inside the airport on the airport Wi-Fi network (www.MIAConnex.com). or from anywhere else you have Wi-Fi access.

The inaugural issue has articles, with great photos, about the impressive art collection and exhibition program at MIA, the national parks and preserves in South Florida, shopping tips for both in and outside of the airport, and stories about local architecture, great places to visit and where to eat regional treats in and outside of the airport as well.

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2014 round-up of best new airport amenities

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Convenience is king for travelers hoping to spend as little time as possible in an airport. But for those who must hang around a while, it’s amenities that matter.

And during 2014, airports around the country introduced a wide variety of very welcome amenities for travelers.

Here’s the round-up I put together from my ‘At the Airport’ column on USA Today.

More ways to get to and from the airport – legally

Airports around the country are struggling to work out policies and permitting programs for on-demand rideshare services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. The services are currently banned at several airports, but in September Nashville International Airport became the first U.S. airport to officially recognize Uber and Lyft and in October San Francisco International signed agreements with Sidecar, Lyft and UberX. A few other airports have issued permits to some Transportation Network Companies as well, and we’ll likely see this amenity added to the ground transportation options at other airports during 2015.

‘Drinks on the go’

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This year, Nashville International Airport (BNA) introduced “drinks on the go.” Thanks to an airport-wide beer and liquor license, passengers no longer have to sit at the bar or in a restaurant to enjoy their alcoholic beverage but can take it with them anywhere in the secure side of the terminal.

Pot and airports

Pot amnesty box installed at Colorado Spring Airport this year. Not much use, but plenty of social media mentions. Courtesy of the airport.

During 2014, shops selling recreational marijuana became legal in both Colorado and Washington and the airports in those states had to decide how – or if – they’d go about enforcing rules prohibiting passengers from taking pot to and through security checkpoints and onto planes.

Most put up signs reminding passengers of the federal laws governing travel across state lines with marijuana – or did nothing – but in January, Colorado Springs Airport installed a pot amnesty box at the security checkpoint. Few travelers seem to be using the box to dispose of unused pot, but with images of the amnesty box being snapped and shared, the airport’s social media profile is certainly higher.

Airport workouts

Travelers can rent a bike at BWI airport and ride  along the BWI Trail. courtesy BWI

During 2014, SFO airport opened its second yoga room (in Terminal 3, Boarding Area E) and following last December’s opening of a yoga room at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, in September Chicago’s Midway International Airport got a yoga space as well.

In July, Philadelphia International Airport partnered with a local fitness equipment retailer to install stationary exercise bikes at several locations throughout the airport and this year Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was among several airports adding marked walking paths inside (and sometimes outside of) its terminals.

For those who would rather exercise outdoors, in August bike-share company Zagster installed a rack of 10 reservable bikes in a rack outside the international terminal at BWI Marshall. For $5 (good for 12 hours), passengers can borrow a bike and ride it around the 12.5-mile scenic outdoor trail that encircles the airport.

Wi-Fi milestones

Travelers have come to expect unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi at airports, and in 2014, the Houston airports (IAH and HOU) and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport joined the team of major airports that provide this much-appreciated amenity.

JetBlue has offered complimentary unlimited Wi-Fi in Terminal 5 at JFK for a while now, but earlier this year the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced its intention to offer free 30-minute Wi-Fi sessions for all travelers at JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports.

The Port Authority and Wi-Fi provider Boingo are still working on those plans, but in a statement earlier this week said that free Wi-Fi will be available in at least one terminal at JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports by month’s end, with the free 30-minute service at all terminals anticipated by the end of the first quarter of 2015.

“Complimentary 30-minute Wi-Fi sessions are now available in JFK Terminal 4 and Newark (EWR) Terminal C, with free service on target to be available at LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building by month’s end,” according to a Boingo spokesperson.

Events

In 2014 Reno-Taho International Airport gave out free compliments on National Compliment Day.

To show off a $10 million reboot of the shops and restaurants in the post-security AIRMALL at Pittsburgh International, PIT airport invited non-ticketed visitors to come out for a one-day holiday event in early December. More than 1,500 people attended the event, which may be repeated, and “someone tweeted us asking why the San Antonio airport can’t do the same,” said PIT spokeswoman Alyson Walls.

On National Compliment Day (January 24), the staff at Reno-Tahoe International Airport set up a booth to dispense kind words to passengers. Some travelers were complimented on their choices of glasses, colorful scarves and boots, said airport spokeswoman Heidi Jared, “and booth volunteers even admired a gentleman’s ‘confident gait’ as he rushed by.”

Let’s hope the smart, charming and lovely volunteers at RNO set up that booth again this year.

Airport trading cards

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As a gift to aviation geeks and collectors everywhere, in September, more than 20 airports around the country teamed up to create the North American Airports Collectors Series of trading cards. Each card has an iconic image of an airport on the front, fun factoids about the airport on the reverse, and are being distributed in the terminals of participating airports. Twenty-three cards are currently in the series, with Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport set to begin distributing its trading card after Christmas.

And then there are amenities that aren’t necessarily airport firsts, but are proud 2014 additions for the airports that have installed them.

Seattle-Tacoma International, for example, is proud that during 2014, it not only added handy cup holders to many seating areas, but brought branches of two iconic local brands, Metsker Maps and indie music label Sub Pop, into the airport.

New kids play area at STL Airport has a rental car center

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is still giggling with delight over the children’s play area that opened in May. The 1,500-square-foot Magic House not only has a kid-sized plane and an air traffic control tower with a slide, it has car rental counters, a luggage conveyor belt and an airport screening area with a pretend x-ray machine.

At Denver International Airport -Passengers interact with the new Open Windows display

Denver International Airport is proud of the popular water bottle refill stations it installed throughout the airport terminals this year, the new on-airport pet boarding facility, and its just-plugged in “Open Windows” experimental interactive digital customer experience on Concourse B that combines 128 LED rings of light and a 3D motion-detection camera to create an 11-foot-tall interactive tower of lights that react to a person’s movement.

Did I miss your favorite new airport amenity from 2014? Please add it in the comments below.

Greetings from Hong Kong Int’l Airport

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The duty free shops in airports often have a few bottles open for tasting. But at Hong Kong International Airport, there’s a bar with a bartender, seating, and complimentary drinks made with any of six featured liquors of the day.

You can belly up to bar and try any – or all – of the cocktails of the day or just grab a drink on the go from the hostess on duty.

One other fun feature spotted during my tour: an exhibition of toys, including this giant top (thank-you to my volunteer model) and a vintage Astro Boy!

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Souvenir Sunday all week long

Earlier this week, I shared a few of the tacky souvenirs I was going to feature in my NBC News Travel article about Doug Lansky’s new book, “Crap Souvenirs.” Here’s the full story, as well as more photos of some kooky souvenirs.

As the author of the popular “Signspotting” series of books chronicling weird and wacky street signs, Doug Lansky has proven he’s got an eye for the absurd.

When it comes to souvenirs, he’s also a connoisseur of the kitsch.

From the “Popener,” a bottle opener sold in Rome bearing the likeness of Pope John Paul II, to a pair of flip-flops from Spain adorned with bundles of tiny President Barack Obama faces, Lansky has seen it all. And for his newest book, “Crap Souvenirs” (due out Oct. 2 from Perigee Trade Paperback), he’s curated a collection of some of the strangest, kitschiest and tackiest souvenirs he could find.

Some, like the Egyptian-themed toenail clipper, he purchased and actually uses. “Each time I’m clipping my toes like an Egyptian, I’m reminded of an evening spent hunting for just the right souvenir,” Lansky told NBC News from his home in Sweden. Others he carefully (and sometimes surreptitiously) photographed and left behind on the gift shop shelves.

“It started when my wife and I would threaten to buy each other crazy things from the SkyMall catalog on airplanes,” said Lansky. “It then spilled over into airport gifts shops and out into the streets to souvenir shops near tourist attractions.” Lansky said he often didn’t have room in his suitcase for all the souvenirs he wanted, “but I’d go from shop to shop looking for the kitschiest stuff I could find.”

Through the Crap Souvenirs website, travelers shared photos of some of their favorites, and Lansky picked about 150 to feature in the book. He added corny captions and bits of souvenir trivia, such as the fact that souvenirs — good, bad and crappy — are a $15 billion worldwide commercial industry.

“Nothing is really bad,” said Lansky. “But some, like some of the shot glasses and the salt and pepper shaker holder from Austin with a 7-inch lizard wearing a bandana, cowboy hat and cowboy boots, are so kitschy and tacky that they’re good.”

Travel is considered an extraordinary experience, said Kristen Swanson, a merchandising professor in the School of Communication at Northern Arizona University. “So the souvenir helps us remember the extraordinary when we have to go back to our ordinary lives.” She doesn’t believe that tacky souvenirs are necessarily purchased because they’re tacky, but simply to cherish an experience. “And, at that moment, it most clearly represents what the tourist is trying to capture and remember in the fleeting touristic experience,” she said.

With so many tacky souvenirs out there, Lansky did have to narrow down his search. For an item to be a true crap souvenir, Lansky decided it had to be: for sale for between $2 and $15; created as a souvenir; and somehow tied to a place. “It’s great if it says, ‘Greetings from Texas’ or wherever it was purchased, but things like alligator claws made into ashtrays don’t need that. Those are clearly from Florida,” said Lansky.

After sifting through thousands of crap souvenirs, Lansky does have some favorites. In addition to that Egyptian-themed nail clipper, Lansky has a soft spot for souvenirs that are unlikely combinations of things, such as the Empire State Building that’s also a pencil sharpener, the ceramic alligator that’s also a thermometer and a miniature version of Mount Rushmore that’s also a lamp. “Sometimes the randomness of an item will just make you shake your head,” he said.

Lansky also likes the Benadictaphone, which is a tiny bust of a pope on a keychain that can record messages, and a tie made of cane toad skin and sold to tourists in Australia.

“The cane toad is an invasive pest there and people are allowed and encouraged to kill it,” said Lansky. “The tie is not only made out of toad skin, but the knot in the middle is the toad’s head staring out at you.”

With so many classic, kitschy, creepy, wacky and sometimes off-color souvenirs out there, how did Lansky ultimately sift out the just plain terrible from the terribly cool?

“I just know a great crap souvenir when I see it,” he said.

(All photos copyright Doug Lansky, from the book Crap Souvenirs)