How to save time, money & sanity at the airport

Rocking chairs at Houston Hobby Airport

To make the most of airport dwell time during the busy holiday travel season, be sure to take advantage of some of these time and money-saving services and amenities.  The list is from a round-up I put together for CNBC Road Warrior.

Free shoe shines

It seems like an old-fashioned service, but many airports still have shoe shine stands staffed by friendly men and women who, for very reasonable fees, can transform scuffed travel shoes or boots into impressive footwear while you relax, read the paper, return a phone call or chat.

At Los Angeles International Airport shoe shines are free (so tip generously) in most every terminal. The Shoe Hospital at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport not only shines shoes, but fixes broken heels, sells shoelaces, fixes zippers, repairs bags, purses and suitcases and, for those who indulge a bit too much while traveling, punches extra holes in belts that they will also shine.

Layover spa days

A little pampering goes a long way when it comes to improving your travel outlook and appearance. Barbershops, spas and salons at an ever-increasing number of airports offer services that range from haircuts, shampoos and shaves to facials, pedicures, manicures and massages at prices generally on par with what you pay for these services in town.

Some services are discounted during a happy hour offering during the first hour of business (usually between 6 and 7 a.m.) at the Massage Bar, which has branches at seven airports. “Upwards of 65 percent of our clients are business people who are always traveling,” said Massage Bar CEO Chris Woods, “and the clientele make-up is almost 50/50 men and women.”

XpresSpa, with branches in about 50 airports worldwide, has a free membership program that gives discounts and special offers and $5 in rewards points for each $100 you spend. And between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Terminal Getaway Spa, with branches at Chicago O’Hare, Charlotte Douglas and Orlando International Airport, will be giving away treatments via Twitter.

Leverage the lounges

An uptick in business travel means airlines and independent operators are adding lounge locations and upgrading décor and amenities at existing lounges in many cities. If you don’t already get access with your frequent flier status, business class ticket, credit card or travel buddy, consider the $50 one-time entry fee a sanity-saving investment if only for the drinks, snacks, comfortable seating and workspace it can get you.

“But beware,” says TravelSkills founder Chris McGinnis. “Many lounges won’t allow walk-ins when they are overcrowded, so you can’t always count on getting in to the one you want to.” The solution? “You can often walk across the hall or to another concourse and try buying entry into another one,” he said.

Doggin’ it

Teams of trained therapy dogs regularly visit many airports and there’s no cost to spend a few stress-reducing minutes lapping up some love from these pups when you see them.

Passengers who need to board their own pets while traveling can save time by using pet hotels located on or near airport properties. Now Boarding at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, for example, boards cats, dogs and a variety of “little critters” and offers parking, airport shuttle rides, multi-pet discounts and frequent visitor benefits. The 24-hour service makes early morning drop-offs and late night pick-ups possible, which can reduce the number of boarding nights you’ll need to pay for.

Stop and smell the roses

Instead of parking yourself at a gate, head to a free airport observation deck to chill out and take a look around. The BWI Observation Gallery in Baltimore is located pre-security and, in addition to great airfield views, has aviation exhibits, children’s play equipment, charging stations and a cocktail lounge. At LAX, the Observation Deck on top of the Theme Building in the middle of the Central Area is open each Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., offering airport and Los Angeles views for free.

There’s an indoor, aeroponic garden at Chicago O’Hare Airport where herbs and vegetables used in many airport restaurant dishes are grown and, the recently renovated Dallas Love Field airport, the pre-security outdoor Moss Lee Love Garden is home to live plants and grasses and artwork that includes 12-foot-tall cast-bronze trees.

Shopping for deals

Shopping can be great therapy and shopping for gifts during a layover can save time and money.

Many airports have a “street pricing” policy that prohibits shops (and restaurants) in the terminals from adding surcharges to the prices. You can avoid sales tax on all purchases when shopping at Oregon’s Portland International Airport and avoid sales on clothing (and shoes) when shopping at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and Pittsburgh International Airport’s AirMall.

And don’t be shy about using coupons. MSP airport regularly updates a long list of downloadable discount coupons good at airport shops and restaurants, and while no expiration dates are listed on the coupons available from San Antonio International Airport, airport spokeswoman Nora Castro says they are updated quarterly to reflect the latest vendor deals.

During the holidays, many airport shops provide free gift wrapping and shipping and gift-with-purchase offers as well.

Souvenir Sunday: showers and sundries at SFO

Every Sunday here at is Souvenir Sunday: a day to unpack our carry-on and take a look at some of the fun, inexpensive goodies you can find for sale at airports.

This week’s souvenirs come from San Francisco International Airport, which is getting to ready to open the new and very much improved Terminal 2 to the flying public.  They will be a grand opening celebration for T2 on April 9th (anyone can go, but you’ll need to sign up for a free ticket). Virgin America and American Airlines begin using the terminal for regular flights on April 14th.

I’ve already posted a sneak preview of the terminal. See SFO T2 sneak peek -Part 1 and SFO T2 sneak peek part 2 – and check back later for more.

When I visited the new T2, the shops were not yet open, so I wandered over to the SFO International Terminal to see what I could find.  Sadly, the Sephora store is gone, but Freshen Up! is still there.

SFO showers

Located right next door to the Airport Travel Agency (on the Departures/Ticketing Level of the International Terminal, near the entrance to Gates G91-G102) and open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., this no-frills spot offers shower rooms, massage chairs, a place to iron your clothes and a wide variety of travel-sized items at surprisingly reasonable prices. 

SFO Freshen Up sundries

In addition to things like toothpaste, diapers, shaving cream and other sundries they also stock underwear, socks, shirts, pantyhose and other items travelers might find useful when they’re stuck at the airport on a long layover or while waiting for that delayed flight.

SFO FRESHEN UP -underwear for sale

A 20 minute shower at Freshen Up! will cost you $11. A 30-minute “deluxe” shower is $15 and includes shampoo, lotion, shower shoes a towel and nice soap. Store your bags at the travel agency next door and they’ll give you a coupon good for an upgrade from the standard to the deluxe shower.

Now that you’re clean – go shopping!

And if you see a great airport souvenir that’s inexpensive, ‘of’ the city or region and, ideally, a bit offbeat, please snap a photo and send it along. If your souvenir is featured on Souvenir Sunday, I’ll send you a special travel souvenir.

Tidbits for travelers: lost luggage, found privacy, & contests

A little bit of this ‘n that today.

Blackpool Suitcase

(No one is walking off with this bag!)

The story out of Phoenix about a couple who managed to steal more than 1,000 pieces of luggage from the baggage claim carousels at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is alarming, for sure.

But we shouldn’t be surprised.  While many airports have some sort of security in the bag claim area, the job of making sure passengers walk off with only their bags is the responsility of each airline. And in most airports, airlines haven’t been actively monitoring bag match-ups for years.


I’m working on a story about this for my column next week on, and would love to hear from you if you have any first hand experience to share.

In the meantime, here are some other travel tidbits you might find useful:

Through November, the folks at 3M are once again hosting “privacy havens” at several busy airports around the country.

This year, you’ll find these quiet spots at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and in Terminal 8 at New York’s JFK International Airport. (Exact locations here).

On the busy days right before and after Thanksgiving, these “privacy havens” will also be offering free massages and free Wi-Fi.

And two sweepstakes you may want to enter:

Up in the air

To coincide with the new movie “Up in the Air,” with George Clooney, American Airlines is having an auction and a sweepstakes.  You’ll need to use AAdvantage miles to bid on travel, movie and “experience-” related items in the auction, but entering the contest, which has prizes that include a trip to Los Angeles and 260,000 AAdvantage miles, is free. You’ll just need to watch the trailer and then enter your details.  (Auction bids and sweepstakes entries must be in by Jan 5, 2010.)

And Hilton (which seems to have a part in the Up in the Air movie) is also having an Up in the Air sweepstakes.  You can enter by booking a Hilton stay, but if you’re not heading out on the road before January 18, 2010 you can enter for free by “sending your hand-printed name, address and phone number on 3” x 5” paper to Hilton “Up In The Air” Sweepstakes Alternate Entry, P.O. Box 8600, Westport, CT 06888”

Good luck!

Greetings from Changi Airport: butterflies and free coffee

I had loads of fun touring Singapore’s Changi Airport today and wanted to share a few photos of the some of the fun, unusual, and very useful amenities this airport offers.

In addition to free wireless Internet access and more than 500 free Internet terminals, Changi Airport has five lovely and restful gardens, including a cactus garden, a fern garden, a sunflower garden, an orchid garden and, my favorite, a butterfly garden:

Changi butterflies

There are napping areas throughout the airport, including some lounge chairs that include alarm clocks (!)  and I found these ladies enjoying some of the airport’s complimentary foot and leg massage machines.

Changi leg massage

And, in case you’re not quite awake, I guess, this giant coffee cup is around to remind travelers that on Monday mornings through mid-February, there’s free coffee for everyone.

Changi - free coffee

Souvenir Sunday: panda hats from PEK airport

Happy Souvenir Sunday!


Shopping is always a great way to spend some time when you’re stuck at an airport. You just never know what you’ll find.

That’s why here at Stuck at The Airport we celebrate Souvenir Sunday every week.

PEK - panda hats

This week: cute panda hats from China’s Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK). The photo is courtesy of Michael Crockatt (left), from Canada’s Ottawa International Airport Authority (left) and Carol Hutchins (right), from the Edmonton International Airport.

PEK LOGOPEK airport seems huge  – Terminal 3, which opened for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, is the second largest airport terminal in the world – but not boring.

According the airport Web site, an entertainment center at the airport offers:

“…Chinese tea ceremony, beauty saloon [I think they mean salon, but a beauty saloon seems intriguing],  hairdressers, foot care house and so on. …There is time-meter hotel in the first underground floor,  …You can also go to the cinema hall to enjoy the latest films or go to enjoy Chinese massage.”

All that sounds great, doesn’t it?

But this is Souvenir Sunday, so let’s celebrate those panda hats (and the brave models) and let me invite you to send along your photos of a fun souvenir you’ve found at the airport.

There are just a few rules: to be featured on Souvenir Sunday, an airport souvenir needs to be under $10, “of” a city or region and, if possible, just a wee bit offbeat.

Like those panda hats!