free museums

Free museums & expensive luggage delivery

Photo courtesy Harvard Museum of Natural History via Flickr

I’m a big fan of “free” and a big fan of the Museums on Us program that offers free admission on the first weekend of each month to more than 150 museums around the country to anyone who has Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card.

The list includes museums, zoos and attractions such as Chicago’s Alder Planetarium, where general adult admission is usually at least $12, and the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, Mass. where adult admission is usually $9.

With the money you save, you might want to fly down to New Orleans and hop on one of the new riverboats  now cruising up the and down the Mississippi or buy yourself a meal at the new full-service Wolfgang Puck Express restaurant in Terminal 7 at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), where things like bacon-wrapped meatloaf and oven roasted salmon are now on the menu.

Or use your saving towards the new baggage delivery service being sold by American Airlines and BAGS VIP Luggage Delivery. Beginning Monday, Aug. 6, you can pay ($29.95 for one bag, $39.95 for two bags and $49.95 for three to 10 bags) to have the bags you check at more than 200 U.S. airports delivered to your home, office or hotel instead of having to go pick them up at baggage claim and tote them with you.

Passengers can purchase the service on-line up to two hours prior to departure and, for delivery locations within 40 miles of the airport, expect their bags to be delivered to their destination within one to four hours of arrival.

A good deal? For some, maybe. But keep in mind that the price for Baggage Delivery Service is in addition to the regular bag fees that need to be paid at check-in. And for bags that need to be delivered between 41 and 100 miles from the airport, there is an additional $1 per mile charge and an estimated delivery time between four and six hours instead of one to four hours.

No word yet on whether all fees are returned if your luggage goes missing or if delivery times are not met.

Royal Wedding: alt activities

Not invited to the Royal Wedding?

Don’t worry –Heathrow Airport is rolling out the red carpet for everyone and there are a jolly lot of attractions, museums and special sights that are very inexpensive and many where admission doesn’t cost a penny.

National Gallery

A must-see for most every London visitor, the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square has more than 2,300 Western European paintings from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, including work by Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Georges Seurat and many others.  Admission is free, although there is a charge for some special exhibits.

Museum of London

The Museum of London delivers a punch with galleries exploring the archeological history of London, Roman London, Medieval London and the ever-popular display of fire-fighting equipment, paintings, films and objects relating to the September 1666 fire, the Great Fire, that is London’s most famous disaster.  Admission is free.


Wellcome Collection Napoleon Bonaparte's Toothbruch

Napoleon Bonaparte's Toothbrush

Courtesy: Wellcome Library, London

Sir Henry Wellcome, of the successful pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome & Co, was a world-class philanthropist and a voracious collector who collected more than million items relating to health and medicine. The Wellcome Collection, opened in 2007, has intriguing changing exhibitions, unusual artwork inspired by modern-day health and medicine, and more than 1500 objects from Wellcome’s collection, including a shrunken head, a guillotine blade, a brass corset, Florence Nightingale’s moccasins, a lock of hair said to be from the head of King George III, and Napoleon Bonaparte’s toothbrush. Admission is free.

Brass automated clock in the form of a galleon. Trustees of the British Museum.

It’s possible to spend an entire week at the British Museum, which houses more than 7 million items from cultures around the world. So pick a few exhibits and rooms you want to see before you walk through the door.  The Egyptian mummies are among the most popular exhibits, so put them on your list, but consider visiting some of the smaller and less-visited rooms, such as the Clocks and Watches gallery, which holds hidden treasures such as this automated brass clock in the shape of a galleon. Admission free; there is a charge for some special exhibits.

Museum Monday: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

There are close to 700 aviation and space museums around the country.

Each Monday here at, we feature one of them.

This week: The National Museum of the US Air Force.

This museum has a lot of fans and I took a lot of heat for leaving it out of a recent column – Aviation Museums that Soar – that only had room to mention six aviation and space museums around the country.

So here we go:

USAF Museum Northrop B-2

Northrop B-2 Spirit at the National Museum of the U. S. Air Force

With 17 acres of indoor exhibition space and more than 400 aerospace vehicles in its collection, the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, OH, is the largest military aviation museum in the world.

In addition to an IMAX theater, and more than a half dozen huge galleries filled with one-of-a-kind aircraft and aerospace  vehicles, the museum has  personal artifacts, photographs, documents and exhibits that help tell the Air Force story.

Air Power Gallery National Museum of the US AIR FORCE

The Air Power Gallery at the National Museum of the US Air Force

If you plan to visit, you might have to pick just a few galleries to see.  And choosing won’t be easy.

In the Early Years Gallery, the aircraft, exhibits and artifacts start with the Wright brothers and continue through World War I and the beginning of World War II.

1909 Wright Flyer at National Museum of the US Air Force

Reproduction 1909 Wright Flyer at National Museum of the US Air Force

In the 140-foot tall, silo-like Missile and Space Gallery you’ll find a collection of missiles that can be viewed from the ground level or from a platform that runs around the inside of the gallery. There’s also the Apollo 15 Command Module, Mercury and Gemini capsules, rocket engines, satellites and balloon gondolas.

USAF Museum Missile and Space Gallery

The Missile and Space Gallery at the USAF Museum

And in the Presidential Gallery, for which there are special entry requirements, you’ll see the airplane that served as Air Force One the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as well as airplanes used by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

President Kennedy leaving Air Force One

President John F. Kennedy disembarking Air Force One

There’s more – lots more – so before you visit be sure to poke around the National Museum of the US Air Force Museum website.


SPAD XIII at National Museum of the United States Air Force

The USAF Museum is open daily. Admission is free.

A great time to visit might be during Labor Day weekend (Sept 3-5, 2010) when the museum hosts the Giant Scale Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft Air Show with model jets, helicopters and warbirds doing acrobatics in the sky.

Do you have a favorite aviation or space museum? If so, leave a comment below and we may feature your suggestion in a future Museum Monday on