airports

Don’t leave your stuff at the TSA checkpoint

Resolved to fly more in 2020? How to keep your stuff.  

In 2019, airline passengers tried to take hundreds of thousands of prohibited and banned items through airport security checkpoints in the United States.

Transportation Security Administration officers found hatchets, inert grenades, fireworks, firearms (most of them loaded) and so many knives that the TSA doesn’t even keep a count.

Instead, the agency boxes them up, weighs them and hands pallets of knives and other “voluntarily abandoned” property over to state agencies to be sold as surplus property.

TSA officials say passengers who don’t want to leave a banned item behind at the checkpoint have a few options:

If the item is approved for checked baggage, a passenger can put the item in a carry-on bag and go check it in or ask the airline to retrieve an already checked back and put the item in there.

Another option: Airport Mailers and some other companies have kiosks set up near security checkpoints at many airports where travelers may package up items and pay to mail them home.

But it’s not just items on TSA’s “no fly’ list that get left behind at airports.

Each month, TSA also collects and catalogs 90,000 to 100,000 other items that are perfectly legal to travel with, but which are inadvertently left behind at airport checkpoints by harried and distracted travelers.

Those items range from scarves and sunglasses to laptops, smartphones and some odd “How did they forget THAT?” items such as bowling balls, violins, gold teeth and urns and boxes filled with human cremains.

On a post-holiday tour of TSA’s Lost & Found room at Reagan National Airport, we spotted plenty of those items, as well as multiple bags filled with left behind IDs.

We also saw shelves lined with ballcaps, CPAP breathing machines, winter coats, car key fobs that will cost $200 or more to replace, car seats, canes and fully packed carry-on bags.

It’s easy to see how hats and scarves get left behind in the bins, but what about laptops, entire carry-on bags and other essential items?

Besides the “people are in a rush,” factor, TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein has some theories:

“When it comes to laptops, many brands are grey and the same color as the checkpoint bins, so it can be easy to overlook your laptop,” says Feinstein. “Also, if a bin has an advertisement in the bottom, travelers’ eyes may be drawn to the ad and cause them to miss the driver’s license and keys still in the bin.”

The number of bins people use may also contribute to the pile-up in the Lost & Found. If you’ve scattered your stuff across multiple bins (coats here, electronics there, a flat laptop and an ID in another bin), you may overlook items in the last bin as you rush to take your stuff out and stack up the used bins.

The pile of canes?

“It’s not that we have so many miraculous recoveries at TSA checkpoints,” says Farbstein, “I think attendants and family members helping wheelchair users who also have canes often forget to pick up the canes once they’re through the checkpoint.”

Keeping your stuff out of Lost & Found

TSA keeps items left behind at security checkpoints for a minimum of 30 days and posts phone numbers on its website where travelers can contact the Lost & Found department at each airport.

(Keep in mind that airports and airlines will have their own lost and found procedures for things left in the terminals and on airplanes.)

To improve your chances of getting your stuff back – or not losing it in the first place – Farbstein offers these tips:

  • Tape a business card or some other form of ID to your laptop or smartphone. “So many models are alike, so this can make all the difference in getting yours back,” said Farbstein.
  • Before you get to the checkpoint, or while you’re standing online, take time to consolidate all your miscellaneous items (i.e. scarves, hats, gloves) and take everything out of your pockets (keys, phones, wallets, etc.). Instead of putting small items in a bin, put them in your carry-on in an extra plastic bag you’ve packed just for that purpose. If you don’t put loose items in the bin to begin with, you eliminate the chance of leaving anything in the bin on the other side.
  • Pay attention to everything you put in the bins, including things that may have a high emotional value. “A laptop may cost thousands of dollars, but I can assure you that an old beat-up stuffed animal that a child has left behind is valuable to the parent who is now dealing with a crying child,” says Farbstein.

Help is on the way

Looking forward, as part of a $96.8 million contract awarded last year to Smiths Detection, in 2020 most large and major airports in the United States will be getting computed technology 3D X-ray scanners at the checkpoints. This new machinery will allow travelers to keep their electronics in their carry-on bags and reduce the chance of so many laptops and other gadgets getting left behind.

(My story: “How to avoid leaving stuff behind at the TSA checkpoint” first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version)

Airports & airlines sacking single-use plastic

Our story about airports and airlines getting rid of single-use plastics first appeared on CNBC.

Business and leisure travelers concerned about climate change and “flight shame” may do their part by purchasing carbon offsets and adjusting the number of trips they take on airplanes.

Airports and airlines are trying to save the planet too with a wide range of sustainable initiatives that include cutting down the use of single-use plastics and making reusable water bottles essential travel amenities.

BYOB at SFO Airport

In 2019, San Francisco International Airport (SFO), launched an ambitious Zero Waste Concessions Program designed to significantly reduce the amount of single-use disposable plastics used at the airport.

Noting that in 2018 nearly four million slow-to-biodegrade plastic water bottles were sold at the airport, in August 2019 SFO became the first airport in the nation to ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles.

SFO now actively encourages each passenger to bring their own reusable water bottle with them to the airport and get free water from one of the hydration stations in the terminals.

Bottled sodas, teas and juices are currently exempt from the policy. And bottled water is still being sold, but only in approved packaging made from recyclable aluminum or glass, or in compostable packaging.

Single-use plastics banned at other airports too

Airports in a growing number of other cities in the United States, and around the world, are getting serious about sustainability projects that are good for the environment and, in some cases, the bottom line.

“Whether through their participation in the Airport Carbon Accreditation program, implementation of more sustainable business practices, or even by the elimination of drinking straws and other single-use plastics, airports are taking a variety of approaches to be good neighbors in their communities,” said Scott Elmore, Vice President, Communications & Marketing for Airports Council International – North America

In February 2019, Glasgow Airport offered all 5,300 people working in an around the airport free, reusable bottles.

In September 2019, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) announced a campaign to phase out all single-use plastic straws at the airport.

In October 2019, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) announced that at least 55 airports in the country had banned single-use plastic items such as straws, plastic cutlery and plastic plates.

And January 1, 2020, is the deadline for Dubai’s two airports, Dubai International Airport (DBX) – the world’s busiest airport for international travelers – and Dubai World Central Airport (DWC) to be entirely free of single-use plastics such as plastic cutlery, drinking straws, meal packaging and bags.

“Along with our partners, including global brands such as McDonalds, Costa Coffee and Starbucks, we are committed to not only removing single-use plastics but in their place providing appropriate and importantly sustainable alternatives,” said Eugene Barry, Dubai Airport’s Executive Vice President – Commercial, in a statement.

Barry says finding replacements for plastic bottles remains a challenge for the airports, so for now bottle recycling efforts are being beefed up.

Going forward, a bill passed by the Atlanta City Council and waiting for the mayor’s approval is set to ban single-use plastics in the city and at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) by the end of 2020. Following the new law shouldn’t be too much of a reach: ATL’s guidelines for increased sustainability already seek to divert 90% of the airport’s total waste from landfills.

Not all airports are nixing the plastic water bottles, though.

In its food court, Portland International Airport (PDX) eliminates a great deal of plastic with its Green Plate Program that gives travelers the option of having meals served on reusable plates with reusable utensils.

But the airport’s environmental team hasn’t pressed to impose a ban on plastic bottles because “not every traveler chooses to tote around what can sometimes be a very expensive refillable bottle,” said PDX spokesperson Kama Simonds, “Further, what if travelers to our airport were unaware of the ban? This could have unintended consequences of either leaving folks with less hydration and/or potentially having a sugary drink as the option, which isn’t healthy.”

Airport vendors and airlines doing their part

HMSHost, which operates dining venues in more than 120 airports around the world, says it is on track to honor its commitment to eliminate plastic straws in its North American operations by the end of 2020.

The company has already eliminated plastic cocktail stirrers and currently only provides straws on request in its casual dining restaurants.

In September, Alaska Airlines kicked off a “FillBeforeYouFly” initiative, asking passengers to help reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles inflight by bringing their reusable water bottles to the airport and filling them at airport hydrations stations before their flight.

In November, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) introduced sustainable meal packaging that includes paper with a coating made of organic plant-based plastic instead of oil-based plastic as well as cutlery made of plant-based plastic.

And earlier this year, Air New Zealand removed individual plastic water bottles from its Business Premier and Premium Economy cabins and switched to compostable plant-based coffee cups made from paper and corn instead of plastic.

The airline is encouraging passengers to bring their own reusable cups on board aircraft and into lounges. And, in a truly tasty move, ANZ is running a test program to serve coffee and ice-cream in edible, vanilla-flavored cups made by New Zealand-based twiice.

Stuck at the Airport? Lucky you!

Here are some new airport amenities that might make winter travel fun. Or less of a hassle.

Here’s a round-up I put together for USA TODAY of some new amenities you’ll find in airports this season.

Airport ice-skating

Denver International Airport (DEN) has brought back its free outdoor skating rink for the fourth season.

The rink opens will be open through January 20 and is in the pre-security area on the DEN Plaza between the airport terminal and the Westin hotel. Skate rentals will also be free.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily through January 20, 2020. As a bonus, on Friday afternoons there will be hot chocolate, hot cider and a variety of winter activities, including live entertainment.

More airport ice-skating

The TWA Hotel, across the road from the JetBlue terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport will also be setting up an ice-skating rink.

This rink opens November 30 adjacent to the hotel’s 1958 Lockheed Constellation Connie airplane-turned-cocktail lounge and will stay open through February.

Free skating shows are planned, but if you want to get out on the ice admission will be $15 for adults and $10 for kids under 12. Skate rentals will be $10; $8 for kids under 12.  Hours: Monday to Thursday 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Even more airport ice-skating

If you find yourself at Germany’s Munich International Airport this holiday season, you’ll find free ice-skating (and a curling rink) too.

For the 21st year, the large roofed open space between Terminals 1 and 2 at Munich Airport has been transformed into a winter wonderland, with a winter market, more than 45 Christmas trees, live music, activities for kids and adults, a pine forest and a free ice-skating rink. Skates can be rented for a small fee.

Germany’s Dusseldorf Airport has ice-skating too.

“Airport on Ice“ offers passengers and visitors free ice-skating from November 30 until January 5. Skate rental is also free. Hours: Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays: 11 am to 7 pm.

Free short stories

The list of airports where hurried passengers can pick up a free short story is growing.

In October both Oakland International Airport (OAK) and Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) in Madison, WI installed short story dispensers in their terminals.

The dispensers, by French Company Short Edition, are slim kiosks that invite curious readers to push a button to request a short story that will take an estimated one minute, 3-minutes or 5-minutes to read. Stories print out on eco-friendly paper and there’s an option to request kid-friendly stories.

You’ll also find short dispensers at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL); Ohio’s Akron-Canton Airport, in Lansing, Michigan at the Capital Region International Airport (LAN).

Canada’s Edmonton International Airport (YEG) has a short story dispenser, as do several French airports, including the Paris- Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Free beer or beer koozie

Colorado has a robust craft brewing scene and there are plenty of places to order a local or regionally brewed beer at Denver International Airport (DEN).

The airport even has a Beer Passport you can use to score a free pint.

Here’s how it works:

Pick up a beer passport at an airport information booth or at one of the four participating airport brewpubs, which include: the Tivoli Brewery (pre-security inside Tom’s Urban); Breckenridge Brewery (Concourse A, by Gate A71); New Belgium Brewery (Concourse B, by Gate B30); Great Divide Brewing Co. (Concourse C; by Gate C32).

Order a beer at each of the four brewpubs and be sure to get your passport stamped when you order.

Once you have all four stamps, swap the passport for a free pint at any of the participating breweries.

No need to drink all four beers in one airport visit: the free Beer Passport program runs through April 1, 2020.

At Nashville International Airport (BNA) your beer crawl can score you a free beer koozie.

Cuddle a cat before your flight

More than 70 airports around the country now have programs that invite certified therapy animals and their owners into the terminals to hang out with and help de-stress travelers.

Dogs make up the bulk of the animal team members but there are a few exceptions, including Stiches, an 11-year-old, 13-pound mixed-breed cat that recently joined the Animal Ambassador program at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP).

This holiday season keep an eye out for some of the other non-canine therapy animals that visit airports. Denver International Airport’s CATS program (Canine Airport Therapy Squad) includes 100 dogs and a cat named Xeli. LiLou the pig is an official member of San Francisco’s International Airport’s Wag Brigade. And miniature therapy horses from Seven Oaks Farm are occasional visitors at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

In Boston, arrive by boat, skip the TSA line

Boston Logan International (BOS) is serious about its commitment to reduce congestion and encourage passengers not to drive to the airport.

Their latest incentive is as creative as it is unusual and fun. 

Passengers who take a ferry operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) or commercial water taxi service to the Logan Airport Boat dock are given an orange “Ticket to Skip” pass when they board the free Logan Airport shuttle from the dock to the terminals.  Passengers can then give that orange pass to a security checkpoint officer to get preferred lane access and move ahead of the line.

The MBTA ferry and the water taxis run year-round and serve the Boston waterfront as well as the nearby Hingham and Hull communities.

More airports add gate pass programs

At first it sounds counter-intuitive: why would someone who is not flying want to go through the security checkpoint hassles just to hang out inside an airport?

Especially during the holidays.

But it can be a real bonus if you want to have a send-off meal or drink with a friend or family member, accompany them to their gate or be there to greet them when they step off their flight.

Through the holiday season (until January 5, 2020) Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) is testing the DTW Destination Pass program. The program invites non-flying guests to apply for day passes to visit the airport. Passes are issued for both DTW terminals, Tuesday through Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Two other airports, Pittsburg International Airport (PIT) and Tampa International airport (TPA) have permanent gate pass programs in place.

The number of passes issued each day is limited at each airport, but on December 7, Pittsburgh International is inviting the community to come by for a Holiday Open House, which will include dining and shopping specials, live music and other entertainment and, of course, visits with Santa.

And officials at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) promise that a 7-day a week gate pass program will be rolled out “in the coming weeks” for the brand new MSY terminal.

First look: new terminal at New Orleans International Airport

Airport employees, passengers, and meeters and greeters joined a second line parade through the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) on Tuesday night, November 5.

The occasion: a celebration and a last goodbye to the old terminal in anticipation of the opening of a brand new terminal Wednesday morning, November 6.

The old terminal, with its low ceilings, worn seating areas and multiple ticketing lobbies for different airlines, was closing down as the parade marched by.

The last flights of the night were boarding and the Lucky Dogs stands were wrapping up business.

During the day on Tuesday, workers hurried to put finishing touches on restaurants and concessions.

There were speeches and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

And, of course, cake.

The new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport terminal is a beauty.

There are 3 concourses, a central security checkpoint, stages for live music, a Delta Sky Club with views of the airfield activities and oodles of restaurants and shops that represent the charm of the city.

Here are some snaps from a pre-opening tour.

Entrance to the Delta Sky Club

Stuck at the Airport will be on hand for the first flight out of the new terminal at 5:00 AM on Nov 6, so stay tuned for more snaps and stories.

Food festival today at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Int’l Airport

If you’re passing through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) today (Oct 29), be sure to head to the Domestic Terminal Atrium for a fun food festival.

ATL is holding its fifth annual Taste of Hartsfield-Jackson event today.

The pre-security event gives travelers and locals a chance to sample dishes from more than 30 airport eateries.

Participants range from One Flew South, Cat Cora’s Kitchen, Atlanta Chophouse and Brewery, Atlanta Braves All-Star Grill and Paschal’s to Piece of Cake and Krispy Kreme.  

Tasting tickets are $15 for a book of 10 and you’ll need to hand over 1 ticket per taste.

You can purchase tickets on-site and 100% of the proceeds will benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank, a local nonprofit that distributes millions of pounds of food to community kitchens, shelters, senior centers, food pantries and more throughout the year. 

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and includes music and a cooking competition with two airports chefs competing for the title of Taste’s Top Chef 2019,