Free Stuff

Holiday travelers will find busy airports, but with plenty of free things to do

(This is a slightly different version of a story we prepared for NBC News)

Over this holiday, the Transportation Security Administration is expecting to screen a near pre-pandemic number of passengers.

Many travelers will be visiting an airport for the first time in almost two years but will be pleased to find a wide range of free services and amenities at the ready to help ease the journey. 

Security Checkpoint Reservations

Travelers who haven’t paid for expedited security lane access with a TSA PreCheck or CLEAR membership may still be able to skip the long lines. A handful of airports now host free programs that allow travelers to reserve a time slot for going through the security checkpoint during the busiest hours. Look for the SEA Spot Saver Program, the LAX Fast Lane, DFW’s Fast Pass Pilot Program, Newark Liberty International’s Virtual Lane, and Orlando International Airport’s Reservation Lane, operated by CLEAR.   

Gate Passes

A handful of airports offer free gate passes to non-ticketed visitors who want to meet an arriving passenger, see someone off at the gate, or spend baggage-free time dining, shopping, or plane spotting in the terminal. Pass seekers apply online ahead of their visit and, if approved by TSA, go through standard security screening. Airports currently offering gate passes include  Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA), Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (MSY), Bishop International (FNT) in Flint, MI, and California’s John Wayne Airport. The gate pass programs at Pittsburgh International and Tampa International airports are still on hold due to the pandemic.

Holiday Entertainment  

Many airports have brought back free live concerts, performances, and other forms of entertainment just in time for the holiday season. For example, Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) has a bright red mailbox set up to collect letters to Santa and promises a personalized response to anyone who includes their address.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) has a robust holiday performance series underway, and the 25-foot-tall water feature in Terminal B at New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) is rotating in a holiday-themed show with its signature program

Movies and Games

At Dallas Forth International Airport (DFW) there’s a new, free interactive gaming experience at gate D-18 featuring a 40-foot-long media wall with a touchless tracking sensor.

The free 22-seat Hollywood Theatre Microcinema at Portland International Airport (PDX) has reopened, showing short films by Pacific Northwest filmmakers. (The films can also be viewed online). The free Video Arts gallery in the International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has reopened as well, showing four new films a month every 20 minutes or less in the gallery and online. Free short films are also screened at the See 18 Film Screen Room (by Gate C18) at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP).

Free books and short stories

Reading is a great way to pass the time when traveling and a handful of airports offer passengers free reading material.

In Houston, there are two free Little Libraries at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and three inside Hobby Airport (HOU). Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) has a book exchange corner in Terminal A West and a machine that dispenses short stories between Terminals D and E. Oakland International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport, and Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) in Madison, WI, have short story dispensers too. And at San Jose International Airport (SJC), anyone can access the Pop-Up Library to download and access eBooks from the San Jose Public Library for free.

Free Airport Museums

In addition to permanent and changing art and history exhibits, airports in San Francisco, Miami, Phoenix, Albany, NY, and many other cities have free on-site museums and professional museum programs. For example, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is home to the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum, with its main exhibit up above baggage claim, and Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) recently reopened the Mitchell Gallery of Flight, a free aviation museum open 24/7 in the pre-security area.

More free airport amenities

Look around and you’ll find plenty of other free things to do at airports this season.

Free yoga rooms are available at airports in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, and Miami. American Heart Association kiosks offering free training in lifesaving, hands-only CPR are operating again at many airports. And cute as a button teams of therapy dogs are out in force in dozens of airports this season offering stress-busting visits and accepting free pats and hugs.

Travel Tidbits from an airport near you

Discounts at Boston Logan Airport in honor of the Boston Marathon – plus free socks

To celebrate the return of athletes to Boston for the Boston Marathon, passengers who use the online ordering platform BOS2GO at Boston Logan Airport (BOS) for express pick-up or delivery direct to their gate will receive 26.2% off their order. The discount amount is linked to the length of the marathon – 26.2 miles – and is good through October 13.

Use the code RUNBOS at checkout on the BOS2GO website or scan the QR code on the dedicated signage. Anyone who chooses delivery instead of pickup will also receive a pair of complimentary BOS2GO branded athletic socks.

Colorful Canopies at ATL in honor the Pride Flag

Animated art tour of Dallas Love Field

Here’s a short video tour of some of the art at Dallas Love Field. It seems to be designed for kids but anyone will enjoy seeing and learning about some of the great artwork at DAL Love Field.

Free foam glider & free outdoor movies at Lincoln Airport (LNK)

This red Arrow Sport, one of only one of six known to still be in existence, was built by the Arrow Aircraft Company, of Havelock, Nebraska and now hangs in the terminal at Lincoln Airport (LNK) in Nebraska.

If you stop by the airport’s customer service desk, they will give you a free red foam glider plane in honor of the Arrow Sport.

LNK is also celebrating Halloween with free movies and a costume contest.

On Thursday, October 14, and Friday, October 15, LNK will be featuring the movie Hocus Pocus at its outdoor movie event. There will also be a Halloween costume contest.

Something happening at your airport? Let us know.

Free flights to Tennessee? That sounds good.

Travel is back in motion. And now cities, states, and countries are going to all out to get your attention – and your travel dollars.

Case in point: Tennessee.

Just 35% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But over the weekend Tennessee states officials and country superstar Brad Paisley kicked off “Tennesse on Me,” a campaign to promote tourism.

The campaign is alluring.

“On me” offers 10,000 free airline vouchers to four key Tennessee airports – Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. All travelers have to do is purchase a 2-night stay at TennesseeOnMe.com.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s budget puts aside $2.5 million to promote tourism through $250 digital gift cards from Delta Airlines, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines for travel to Tennessee. The promotion aims to give away 10,000 digital gift cards to visitors who book a 2-night hotel stay in NashvilleMemphisKnoxville, or Chattanooga. More than 60 hotels are participating in the promotion.

Here are the details:

  • Visitors must book a 2-night minimum stay at participating hotels, including at least one night of the stay between Sunday-Wednesday.
  • Visitors can choose their destination city (Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga or Knoxville), their hotel of choice in the city, and which airline voucher they prefer (Delta, American or Southwest Airlines).
  • Book between now and July 5 – September 15, 2021. Travel between July 11 – December 30, 2021.
  • All promotion reservations can be booked through www.TennesseeOnMe.com, which details FAQs, restrictions and additional information.
  • All hotel package reservations are pre-paid at time of booking and are non-refundable.
  • One airline voucher is available per hotel package (not per person). Other terms and conditions apply.

Have fun. Let’s hope more states roll out campaigns like this. And let’s hope more people in Tennessee get vaccinated.

Travel Tidbits for future flights

Courtesy UW Digital Collections

Going skiing? Save your Alaska Airlines boarding pass

If you’ve checked the rules and restrictions and feel safe flying to a ski resort this season, keep in mind that you may be able to ski for free once you arrive.

As it does each winter, Alaska Airlines is once again partnering with a variety of ski resorts to offer free ski passes on the day of arrival to travelers who show their boarding passes and IDs. Offers and deals will vary, of course, but there are offers for ski resorts in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Washington.

Deals with the My Emirates Pass too

Emirates is resuming many of its flights to and through its Dubai hub and just announced it will resume non-stop service to Seattle starting February 1 and to Dallas and San Francisco, starting March 2.

Flights to/from San Francisco will operate four times weekly on Emirates’ Boeing 777-300ER. Flights to/from Seattle will operate four times weekly and flights to/from Dallas will operate three times weekly.

Emirates also announced a refreshed My Emirate Pass, which offers a wide variety of discounts and deals for travelers who show their boarding pass in over 450 restaurants, leisure destinations, and retail outlets across the UAE.

Will airlines bring back more free stuff?

The Alaska Airlines ski pass and My Emirate Pass programs have been offered before but, given the times, we’re especially glad to see they’re back.

Which makes us wonder: as airlines try to win back travelers, might we see more bonus items offered with our tickets?