Air Travel

Travel Tidbits for air travelers

 Brazilian restaurant for Miami International Airport

A popular chain restaurant from Brazil – Viena – has opened on the top (seventh) floor of the pre-security MIA Hotel at Miami International Airport.

The restaurant, which replaces the “Top of the Port” restaurant that was in that spot for many years, has a menu featuring Brazilian and European dishes, including salt cod fritters (Bolinho de Bacalau), Pão de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) and the Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail.

In addition to great views, this new restaurant has free Wi-Fi, happy hour, large-screen TVS and electronic charging stations.

Foodie Week at Philadelphia International Airport

 March 12-18 is Foodie Week at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) with seven restaurants in Concourse B offering special entrees at a discount – $12 – throughout the week

  • Baba Bar: Harissa Chicken Sandwich
  • Boule Café: French Onion Grilled Cheese
  • Cibo Bistro and Wine Bar: Shrimp Calabrese
  • Germantown Biergarten: Cheddar Brat Platter
  • Love Grille: Cheesesteak Hoagie
  • Mezzogiorno: Short Rib and Tomato Pizza
  • Noobar: Spicy Chicken Fried Rice

United Airlines passengers can buy a place in line

United Airlines now allows standard economy passengers to purchase Priority Boarding, allowing them to board in group 2.

The cost is $9 per segment and, according to United, the number of passes sold will be “closely controlled based on flight, date, time of day and day-of-week restrictions.”

For those who already have TSA Precheck and really want to move up in the boarding process, this is a less expensive add-on than Premier Access, which offers priority boarding benefits along with other benefit such as access to premier check-in lines and security lanes. Prices for this add-on start at $15 per segment.

Keep in mind: the new Priority Pass option, like Premier Access, is non-refundable and is not available to you if you’ve purchased a Basic Economy ticket.

SXSW bring extra music to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport  

The SXSW mash-up of conferences and festivals is underway in Austin and the airport in the Live Music Capital of the World is doing its part to make sure everyone gets their fill of music.

In addition to the usual 21 live music events it offers each week, Austin Bergstrom International Airport is adding six extra performances during peak SXSW travel days – March 12, 13 and 19.

Of the extra performances, bands will play at the airport’s Asleep at the Wheel State at Ray Benson’s Roadhouse near Gate 10, while extra solo acts will perform at Annie’s and Waterloo. See the full schedule here.

Post Office plus at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports

The Parisian postal service – La Poste – has opened enhanced post offices at both Paris-Orly and Paris-Charles de Gaulle airports, In addition to 24-hour postal machines, these post offices will have gift shops, terminals where customers can make photo postcards, rentable work spaces, and other services, including a key drop.

Your face is your boarding pass

Passengers flying with British Airways from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to London Gatwick can now opt to use their face as their boarding pass, thanks to SITA’s biometric boarding technology, which scans a person’s face and matches it up with the data U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has on that passenger in their files.

The process is already being used with certain JetBlue flights at Boston Logan International Airport and British Airways flights at Los Angeles International Airport.

Going biometric isn’t a requirement to board the flights testing the new technology, but last year’s SITA’s passenger IT survey showed that 57% of passengers would use biometrics instead of a boarding pass. SITA reports that real world rates are even higher than that: nearly 100% of passengers are opting to use the biometric boarding during the trials.

Flying on Valentine’s Day? Cupid may be too.

Charles Lindbergh-themed Valentine

Air travel isn’t romantic unless you’re flying with your sweetie or are on your way to being with them, but this Valentine’s Day some airports and airlines are doing what they can to make the day special.

Shortcut to marriage

The uptick of couples applying for last minute marriage licenses in Las Vegas around Valentine’s Day usually overwhelms the downtown county’s clerk’s office, so this year there’s a pop-up marriage license bureau set up through February 17 in the baggage claim area of Terminal 1 at McCarran International Airport.

Couples will still need to find someone to perform the legal marriage ceremony, but filling out a pre-application and getting a license at the airport can go a long way in streamlining the process. For lovebirds in a rush, keep in mind that the Terminal 1 baggage claim area at the Las Vegas airport also has 24-hour flower vending machines and a to-go liquor shop.

Flowers and chocolates

(Courtesy PHL Airport)

As they have in previous years, volunteers at both Philadelphia International Airport and Florida’s Jacksonville International Airport will be handing out Valentine’s Day carnations to passengers.

To celebrate the opening of its automated people mover – called SkyConnect – and its new 2.6 million square foot rental car center, Tampa International Airport will be giving out 1,000 roses to passengers and guests who come out for the first ride.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport caps off its fourth “We Love Our Guests Campaign” on Valentine’s Day with key rings and teddy bears for passengers and photo booths and love-themed music playing throughout the airport.

There will be a “Kissing Booth” distributing chocolate kisses and Valentines to passengers at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) on February 14 and a chance to hug and pose with some of the miniature therapy horses that regularly visit the airport.

The horses at CVG will be decked out in their Valentine’s Day attire, as will the therapy dogs at Los Angeles International, Phoenix Sky Harbor and many other airports around the country. The love-fest will continue February 16, when specially-dressed therapy dogs and team-member Lilou the pig help passengers usher in the Lunar New Year at a photo station in San Francisco International Airport.

Heat-shaped lollipops will be handed out to passengers during Valentine’s Day in many terminals at Los Angeles International Airport and in the Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale International Airport they’ll be celebrating the day with a live entertainment, face painting, and complimentary chocolate roses and candy buffets.

Chocolates will be offered to passengers flying through Austin Bergstrom International Airport on February 14 and, for those who still need to purchase a Valentine’s gift before leaving the airport, they’ll be a booth selling chocolate-covered strawberries from local favorite Amy’s Ice Creams in the bag claim area. Shops in most every other airport will have chocolates, heart-shaped bake-goods and trinkets and other romantic items wrapped and ready to go as well.

Valentine’s Day activities at Heathrow International Airport will include live music, free heart-shaped candies, Polaroid photo ops, complimentary caricature sketches and make-your-own Valentine’s Day card stations. And to insure no Valentine’s Day proposals are inadvertently ruined by a shiny engagement ring drawing the attention of a security officer at the checkpoint,  officials at England’s East Midlands Airport have been offering “secret codes” to travelers who’d like their bags inspected out of their traveling companion’s line of vision.

Airlines offering Valentine’s Day treats for travelers. 

Passengers on Southwest Airlines flights will be treated to a complimentary alcoholic beverage on Valentine’s Day and, at airports across the country, airline employees will be setting up candy and card stations for passengers. Some Southwest flights will be declared “fun flights,” with employees hosting trivia games and giveaways as well.

United Airlines will be setting up Valentine’s Day candy stations in its club lounges on Valentine’s Day, ANA (All Nippon Airways) will be handing out specially-made chocolates to all passengers, and Alaska Airlines will be unveiling a heart-shaped sculpture with a special meaning at San Francisco International Airport.

And Economy and Business Class passengers taking a Valentine’s Day flight from Dubai on Emirates will be served heart-shaped chocolates with their meals.

 

 

Debate over Delta rules on service & emotional support animals

Many travelers are cheering Delta Air Lines’ new, stricter rules for those flying with service or emotional support animals.

But many long-time guide dog users and organizations that advocate for blind Americans and others with disabilities say the guidelines, which require added documentation and pre-planning, are over-reaching, discriminatory and illegal.

Noting that it has “long been concerned with the abuse and fraud of animals purporting to be service or support animals,” the American Council of the Blind said Delta’s revised policy discriminates against those passengers with legitimate service dogs and makes travel more difficult for individuals who rely on their service animals for travel.

The National Federation of the Blind believes elements of Delta’s policy, which goes into effect March 1, violate the Department of Transportation’s Air Carrier Access Act.

“We are particularly troubled by the requirement that guide dog users submit paperwork to Delta forty-eight hours before flying,” the NFB said in a statement, while “Travelers without guide dogs are not required to plan their travel forty-eight hours in advance.”

The 48-hour ‘intent-to-fly’ requirement means guide dog users will no longer be able to fly on Delta for family, medical or other emergencies,” said the NFB and adds an unnecessary layer of inconvenience for some passengers.

“We stand with NFB,” said Eric Lipp, Executive Director of the Open Doors Organization, “People with properly trained service animals are being punished by Delta.”

Citing a significant increase in the numbers and types of “comfort” animals passengers bring on planes and an 84 percent increase since 2016 in reported animal incidents such as urinating/defecating, biting and attacks, Delta announced last week that certification of a flyer’s need for an animal and proof of an animal’s training and vaccinations will be required for both service and emotional support animals.

“I sympathize with the airlines,” said Pat Pound a disability consultant who is blind and travels with a guide dog, “More people are cheating. Airlines are trying to maintain the system. But I don’t think Delta’s new policies will address the problem. And, as a person with a disability, I’ll end up being penalized.”

An on-line petition with more than 75,000 signatures is asking Delta not to make it harder for people to travel with emotional support animals, but other airlines are exploring following Delta’s lead.

“We agree with Delta’s efforts,” American Airlines said in a statement, “We are looking at additional requirements to help protect our team members and our customers who have a real need for a trained service or support animal.” The carrier said from 2016 to 2017 it saw an almost 15 percent increase the number of customers traveling with emotional support animals.

United Airlines is reviewing its existing policy on service and emotional support animals, said airline spokesman Charles Hobart. “This is something that is important to our employees and to our customers, including those with disabilities and those who do not have disabilities,” he said, “We understand this needs to be resolved soon.”

The Department of Transportation had planned to draft new rules on service animals by July 2017, but those guidelines have yet to be released.

Going forward, “I suspect there will be legal challenges to Delta’s policy on service dogs from individuals and from organizations,” said disability consultant Pound, “This is how an airline is deciding to interpret the law, but a court may have a different idea about what that the law intended.”

(My story about the debate of stricter rules for flying with service and emotional support animals first appeared on NBC News in a slightly different format.)

Pushback on Delta’s decision to regulate emotional support animals

 

Last week Delta Air Lines announced that, come March 1, it would be changing the rules on the documentation required for bringing emotional support animals on planes.

“Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more,” Delta said in a statement, “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”

While recognizing that some passengers do abuse the rules, there are some groups that are not comfortable with Delta’s actions.

The National Federation of the Blind, for one,would have liked to be consulted.

“Blind people have safely and successfully used guide dogs for decades, but this policy fails to make a clear or practical distinction among guide dogs, other  ‘service and support animals’ (as Delta puts it), and pets,” the group said in a statement, “Onerous restrictions on guide dog handlers do not resolve anything and violate the principle of equal access for passengers with disabilities. Furthermore, we believe that elements of Delta’s policy, as currently articulated, violate the Air Carrier Access Act.”

The group says it is particularly troubled by the requirement that guide dog users submit paperwork to Delta forty-eight hours before flying.

“Travelers without guide dogs are not required to plan their travel forty-eight hours in advance. Furthermore, guide dog users will no longer be able to fly Delta in family, medical, or other emergencies. We believe that this forty-eight hour requirement is both unnecessary and unlawful.”

The group is asking for a meetingwith Delta to work out a better system.

Free things you can get at airports

Flying during the holiday season can be a stressful and expensive, once you add up ticket prices, baggage fees, parking and a meal with a drink (or two) in the terminal before your flight.

But from ping-pong and yoga to water and other top-notch entertainment, many airports in the U.S. and abroad offer a wide variety of amenities for free. Some are available year-round, while others may be tied to a certain season or event. Here are a Baker’s Dozen you can take advantage of now.

Free phone calls

At Denver International Airport and both Washington Dulles International and Reagan Washington National Airports, travelers can make free phone calls year-round.

In Dulles and Washington Reagan airports, local and long distance calls are free to anyplace within the 48 contiguous United States for the first five minutes from marked courtesy phones located both pre- and post-security in the main terminal and in each concourse.

Denver International Airport has ad-supported phones offering free domestic calls and 10 minutes of free long distance calling

Free yoga studios

A pop-up (pay) yoga studio is operating for a few months at Denver International Airport, but there are a handful of airports around the country, including San Francisco International, Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway, Miami International and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airports, where travelers can make use of yoga rooms for free. Most have complimentary loaner mats available as well.

Free shoe shines

A throwback to the days when people actually dressed up to fly on an airplane, at Los Angeles International Airport, Denver International Airport and Missouri’s Kansas City International Airport travelers can set their own price or just simply leave a tip when getting a complimentary shoe or boot shine at an airport shoe shine stand.

Free movies

Free movies by local filmmakers are offered to travelers in the post-security 17-seat Hollywood Theatre micro-cinema at Oregon’s Portland International Airport, the pre-security Video Arts room at San Francisco International Airport and in the post-security See 18 Film Screening Room (by Gate C18) at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Free first run films are offered at two 24-hour movie theaters at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Free personal shopper

Passengers traveling through London’s Heathrow Airport can book ahead to tap the complimentary services of the airport’s team of personal shoppers, who make no commission but make it their point to know the all the latest trends and the current stock available in all the shops. There is no minimum spend and consultations take place in a private lounge where free champagne is served.

Free art and history and games

 

SFO Museum Exhibition

San Francisco’s SFO Museum offers no fewer than 20 free exhibitions inside the airport at any one time, while airports in Miami, Albany, NY, Minneapolis, Portland, St. Louis and elsewhere offer a rotating schedule of free museum-quality art and history exhibits throughout the year.

Austin-Bergstrom International and Seattle-Tacoma International airports each present more than 20 free music performances each week and, at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, passengers can play ping pong for free.

Free water: bring your own bottle

Buying a bottle of branded water can set a traveler back $5 in many post-security airport shops, but travelers who bring their own empty bottles can fill them up for free at complimentary water bottle refill stations now located in airports in San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago and many others cities.

Free city tours

Fliers with long layovers can take advantage of free city tours at some airports.

Passengers with layovers of two hours or more at Salt Lake City International Airport can get a free shuttle ride to and from Temple Square, where they can join in a free tour of the thirty-five acre historic site. Free city tours are also available to travelers with varying lengths of layovers at Singapore’s Changi Airport, South Korea’s Incheon Airport in Seoul, Tokyo’s Narita Airport, Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, Qatar’s Hamad International Airport in Doha (with Qatar Airways), and Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei.

Free ride to the city

Travelers who land at Boston Logan International can ride the Silver Line bus from the airport into the city for free. The bus picks up at every BOS terminal and offers free connections to the Red Line once in town. (Rides from the city back out to the airport, however, are not free.)

Free CPR training

At a growing list of airports, passengers can learn to save a life while waiting for their flight by taking a free course on an interactive hands-only CPR kiosk. A “how-to” video is followed by a practice session on a rubber manikin and a 30-second CPR test.

Airports with hands-only CPR training kiosks currently include: Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Indianapolis International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, Orlando International, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Harrisburg International in Pennsylvania and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA.  In many cases there are multiple units at each airport.

Free trading cards

They look like sports trading cards, but at more than 60 airports throughout the country, passengers can stop by information booths and tourism booth to pick up a free, collectible, airport-themed trading cards featuring a photo of the airport on one side and geographic and historic tidbits about the airport on the other.

Animal encounters

To ease the stress of modern-day travel, dozens of airports now have specially-trained therapy animals regularly mingling with passengers in the terminals. Most airports have dogs on their pet-therapy teams, but San Francisco International Airport has a pig on its team, Denver International Airport has a cat, and miniature therapy horses visit the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport twice each month.

Free travel item

Customers of Google’s Project Fi can use their phone to get one free item a week from Project Fi vending machines located in airports in Baltimore, LaGuardia, Chicago Midway and O’Hare, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, Seattle and San Jose. Free items include bottled water, playing cards, fuzzy socks, eye masks and luggage tags. Travelers who aren’t Project Fi customers can also get free items by playing a trivia game on the machine.

Did I miss anything?

(My story about free things at airports first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different form.)