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Fancy a fast trip to London & Paris?

Tower Bridge at night

A few month’s back I was invited – actually, challenged – to visit Paris and London in just four or five days.

“Not possible,” I insisted. But I was willing to give it a try.

Here’s a slightly edited version of the story I wrote for Travel + Leisure with some ideas for how to do it.

Getting there and back

To make this fast trip work, fly into one city and out of the other, and book a seat on the high speed Eurostar train to travel between the two.

Plenty of airlines fly between the US and both London and Paris and it is possible to find deals on a one-way or open-jaw ticket using tools on airline comparison sites or a knowledgeable travel advisor.

British Airways currently offers up to 50 flights from the U.S. to London each day, depending on the season, from 26 U.S. gateways and will be adding flights from both Pittsburgh and Charleston to London in April 2019. The airline allows passengers to cut the cost of flights by using Avios points towards payment.

Air France currently offers more than 150 flights a week to Paris from 12 U.S. cities and is adding Dallas/Fort Worth as its 11th U.S. gateway on March 31, 2019. The French flag carrier offers flash fares to Paris (and other destinations) about once a month, so sign up to follow the carrier’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Eurostar trains make the trip from city center to city center, between London’s St. Pancras International Station to Gare du Nord in Paris, in just over 2 hours for a little as $60 each way. Eurostar ticket pricing fluctuates like airline tickets, with the lowest prices usually offered for midweek travel. Be sure to hold onto your boarding pass: it offers 2-for-1 entry to many museums and exhibitions in both cities.

Where to stay; what to do

Coal Drops Yard

In London, there are lots of hotel to choose from right near St. Pancras International railway station, which is steps from the British Library and its many free events and exhibitions. Nearby is the Wellcome Collection, a hip and free science and health-themed museum that markets itself to the “incurably curious.”

Coal Drops Yard, built in 1850 to handle the eight million tons of coal delivered to London each year, has been transformed into the city’s newest trendy destination. Located in King’s Cross, just a few minutes’ walk from St. Pancras, the shopping and dining center boasts more than 50 stores, restaurants and cafés, including the flagship store of Wolf & Badger, which gathers cool offerings from independent brands, and Casa Pastor, serving Mexican-inspired tacos, alongside mezcals, Mexican beers and imaginative margaritas.

For convenience and a hefty dose of the historic, splurge on a two-night stay at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, inside St. Pancras station. The “Seat to Suite” package includes lounge access as well as a concierge escort between your room and your seat on the Eurostar train, which departs from St. Pancras station.

If you’ll be heading back to the states from Paris, choose a hotel in the city center that offers easy access to museums, café and other top attractions.

The newly renovated 97-room Renaissance Paris Vendome Hotel, near the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre in the city’s historic 1st arrondissement is a good option. Book a breakfast-included package (croissants galore!); seek out nearby “hidden gems” suggested by the hotel’s “Navigator”; and let the front desk book you a seat (preferably at the chef’s counter) in the hotel’s popular-with-locals Balagan Restaurant, which serves an ever-changing menu of Israeli-inspired Middle Eastern meals.

You can save time by combining touring and fine dining by having lunch or dinner at (or on) Ducasse sur Seine, chef Alain Ducasse’s new restaurant on an electric boat offering diners a 90-minute cruise on the Seine. Or board the Bustronome, a restaurant inside a double-decker bus that drives by many of the city’s top sights during a three-hour tour. (There’s a London version of this as well.)

You may not get your fill of croissants, baguettes, macarons or other French pastries during a quick two-day visit, but you’ll learn some professional French bakers’ tricks to take home during a gourmet walking tour or a French breach-making class organized by a local tour group such as Meeting the French.

Louisville Int’l Airport to be renamed for Muhammad Ali

Boxing legend and Louisville native Muhammad Ali now has an airport named in his honor.

On Wednesday, January 16, 2019, the Board of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority in Kentucky voted to change the name of the Louisville International Airpiort to Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

The airport’s three letter international identifier – SDF – will remain the same, in part because another airport, Alice International Airport, in Texas, already has the identifier “ALI.”

Muhammad Ali at Heathrow Airport (date unknown)

Citing research showing that Muhammad Ali has much greater name recognition than Louisville, Ky., Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the airport renaming is just one piece of a much broader effort to share and celebrate Ali’s Louisville ties.

As the city of Ali’s birth and the place that throughout his life he proclaimed as “the greatest city in the world,” the Mayor said, “It is our obligation and opportunity to showcase the many stories and complexities that made up the man known as ‘The Greatest of All Time.’”

Muhammad Ali was born on January 17, 1942 and died on June 3, 2016. The Muhammad Ali Center, on Louisville’s Museum Row, explores his life.

*Hat tip to Isaac Alexander, for alerting me to this airport news.

Gov’t shutdown causes closed checkpoints – and pizza – at airports

The partial shutdown of the federal government is taking its toll on airports.

On Saturday, Miami International Airport closed one of its security checkpoints because airport officials were worried there wouldn’t be enough TSA employees on duty to keep all the airport’s checkpoints open.

The airport plans to reopen the checkpoint on Monday morning.

On Sunday afternoon, Houston’s George Bush International Airport (IAH), shut down the TSA checkpoint and ticketing counter in Terminal B. The reason? Concern about staffing issues associated with the partial shutdown of the federal government.

If the government shutdown continues, we can expect more of these checkpoint closures to take place. Passengers will be directed to other checkpoints, where lines will no doubt get very long.

And outpouring of pizza

While long lines are surely frustrating for travelers, there is an outpouring of support for the TSA workers, air traffice controllers and customs and border protection workers who are working without pay.

On Friday, Nashville International Airport sent pizzas to TSA employees at the airport working without pay.

And Canadian air traffic controllers showed their support for their American counterparts by sending pizzas as well.

Elsewhere, there’s a pop-up food pantry for TSA employees at Tampa International Airport.

At Your Gate is offering $10 off and waiving the delivery fee for food delivered to TSA employees on duty at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). The offer will expand to other airports where the service is available (San Diego International Airport, New York LaGuardia Terminal B, JFK and MSP) later this week.

Federal workers working without pay at Ontario International Airport were treated to a barbecue on Friday. Food was supplied by the Ontario Reign Hockey team and other groups in town.

On Friday, Pittsburgh International Airport served lunch to federal workers at the airport and plans to do so each Friday until the shutdown is over.

Seattle Tacoma International Airport will hold its second information fair on Monday to help federal employees working without pay learn about short term loans and other resources that may be available to them.

And, as we reported earlier, Hudson Group, which operates shops in many airports, is offering a 20% discount off food, beverages and many store products to all TSA and customs employees until the shutdown is resolved.

OTG, which operates retail outlets and restaurants in 10 airports, will offer TSA employees a 50 percent discount on food and beverage through the duration of the government shutdown too.

If you learn of any other efforts underway, please let us know.




PIT, SEA and airport vendors offer food, resources to help to unpaid TSA, FAA workers.

PIT, SEA airports offer food, resource assistance to unpaid TSA workers

The government shutdown continues and, at airports around the country, TSA and FAA workers are facing their first scheduled pay period with no paycheck.

Yet, they’re expected to keep on working.

To help out those employees and to show support, the Allegheny County Airport Authority is providing free lunches today to the more than 200 TSA and FAA employees who work at Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County Airport.

Bagged lunches will be provided by Bruegger’s Bagels and will include a sandwich, chips, cookie and drink on all shifts for TSA agents and FAA air traffic controllers.

“We have not seen an impact on operations or lines here in Pittsburgh due to the shutdown, ” said Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis, “We are so thankful to the federal employees including TSA, FAA, Customs and others for continuing to work without pay at this critical time.”

The Airport Authority plans to continue providing the lunches on Fridays to federal workers until the government is reopen.

Help in Seattle

On the other side of the country, The Port of Seattle has put together a resource fair at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The goal: to help federal safety and security employees who are continuing to work without pay during the current federal government partial shutdown.

The fair will run Friday, January 11 and Monday, January 14 and include representatives from providers of short-term loans, employee assistance programs and others to make it easier for federal employees to learn about the services that are available and quickly get help.

If the government shutdown continues, the resource fair may be repeated.

“The federal workers who serve critical functions at the Port—as air traffic controllers, security checkpoint screeners, safety inspectors and other vital roles—deserve to be paid in a timely fashion for the work they do,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner Ryan Calkins, “Until our federal government ends this unnecessary and harmful shutdown, we will do everything in our power to help workers in our facilities find the resources they need to pay their bills.”

More help

Nationwide, Hudson Group, which operates shops in many airports, is offering a 20% discount off food, beverages and many store products to all TSA and customs employees starting today and continuing until the shutdown is resolved.

OTG, which operates retail outlets and restaurants in 10 airports, will offer TSA employees a 50 percent discount on food and beverage beginning Saturday, January 12 and continuing through the duration of the government shutdown.

How DFW is upping its customer service game

My most recent “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY explores the “Experience Hub” at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Take a look and let us know if you think this model can make a difference in passenger happiness at other airports.

Like most airports, Dallas-Forth International has an operations center to monitor everything happening out on the airfield.

But for the past two few years DFW has been beefing up another type of behind-the-scenes center.

This one is called the Experience Hub and its role is to keep watch over everything happening inside the terminals, to respond as swiftly as possible to any sort of passenger issue and to solve problems before they happen.

Every airport will tell you it has people and departments to do all that. However, DFW officials believe their customer experience hub is a unique and more effective way to serve its more than 69 million passengers in part because it has centralized many functions that were previously spread out across departments and locations.

“Everybody here has responsibility driven by making the customer experience the best it can be,” said Julio Badin, DFW’s Vice President of Customer Service during a recent tour of the windowless, 7,000-square foot room in Terminal D that houses representatives from just about every customer-facing agency or department at the airport and dozens of monitors streaming data and live terminal feeds.

“This group is focused on all the things that touch the customer from the experience perspective,” said Badin, pointing out staff checking on everything from the weather and airline load factors to TSA lines, baggage room operations, custodial schedules, restroom maintenance needs and mentions of DFW on social media.

The hub, located on the non-secure side of the airport, in Terminal D, is staffed 24-hours a day and has a conference table in the center and low-lit work stations (to avoid monitor glare) for about 20 people around the perimeter.

Two officers from the Transportation Security Administration’s planning department are chatting about what they see on the monitors at their work station. Their job: to study projected passenger numbers from the airlines, observe the wait times at the airport’s various security checkpoints and decide how and when to open additional lanes, move staff around and send in teams of bomb sniffing canines with their handlers to help speed things up.

“The planning team is the guts behind how well the TSA checkpoints work,” said DFW’s Badin, who was pleased that TSA accepted the airport’s invitation to locate this team here.

Sitting nearby the TSA planners are customer care specialists who spend their days answering passenger questions, solving problems for travelers and monitoring and responding to social media messages or mentions.

“People call wanting to know if their car will be towed if their flight gets back late. They want to know where they can get a mimosa at 8 a.m. And, of course, we get lots of calls from people who need help finding lost items,” said Clara Meyer, an Experience Hub Specialist whose shift starts 4:30 a.m.

“We once got a call about a man flying in on a flight from India. He didn’t know that his travel agent had put him on a flight to Dallas instead of [Washington] Dulles and his daughter called us asking for help,” said Meyer, “We sent someone to find him to explain what happened and had them stay with him until he got onto a flight to Dulles. We also helped him on the way home.”

The computer screens at the work station next to Meyers are filled with live streams of messages tagged with #DFW on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media streams.

A hub staff member responds in real time to just about anything that pops up on social media relating to DFW customer service. Sometimes it’s a “Welcome to DFW,” or “Sorry your flight is late,” message. But often the response is a tweet filled with specific information a customer has requested, such as a list of airport restaurants open before 5 a.m. or a shop that might sell a replacement for a left-behind hair straightener.

And because the social media monitoring desk is in DFW’s Experience Hub, if there’s a tweet from, say, a frustrated mom who’s run out of diapers during a flight delay, there’s someone at the next desk who can call or text one of the airport customer experience specialists (ACES) out in the terminals and have them bring supplies over.

Make a playlist and follow it

Back in the hub, each day begins with the building of “playlists,” said DFW Experience Hub Manager Ricky Griffin, “We look at expected passenger loads, weather, and other factors so we can give the ACEs a detailed list of tasks they should complete and check off in the terminals that day.”

To predict the day’s passenger flows and identify areas that might need extra attention, Griffin’s team looks at what TSA has planned for staffing and holds conference calls with American Airlines (which has a main hub at DFW) and other departments at the airport to find out what they may be expecting that day.

“Then we draft an email that goes out to our team to let them know what’s happening,” said Griffin. As the day progresses, everyone in the hub continues monitoring and watching out for everything from such storms in the area to baggage hiccups, unattended luggage, fire alarms, and anything that might cause a glitch in the terminals.

The time, energy and resources DFW is putting into enhancing the customer experience for passengers seems to be paying off.

The airport has won some major customer service awards and in the past year other airports keen to raise their level of customer service, including Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Seattle-Tacoma International and a few international airports have sent teams out to see DFW’s Experience Hub in action.