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.

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.

Airport Tidbits from Here and There

Facebook and Instagram may have been down on Monday, but Twitter was there for airports to share news and fun tidbits. Here are some items that caught our attention.

Not vaccinated yet?

Please get with the program so you can travel safely. Many airports around the country make it easy to get the jab.

Airports are celebrating National Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month

We love airport freebies. Don’t you?

Air & Space Museums to visit free on Museum Day

Most museums around the country are open again and waiting for your visit. And while you will still want to wear a mask and keep your distance from other patrons when you do stop in, on Saturday, September 18 you may be able to visit your favorite museum for free.

Saturday is Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day, when many museums, attractions, and gardens around the country offer admission for free to anyone who has downloaded a free ticket.

For The Points Guy site, we put together this list of Air & Space museums on the free-ticket list that are certain to please avgeeks. You can read more about the museum in the article and search the Museum Day website for a participating museum near you.

Seattle, WA:  The Museum of Flight (regular adult admission: $25) welcomes Museum Day ticket to the museum’s new exhibit, Stranger Than Fiction – The Incredible Science of Aerospace Medicine, and everything else in their vast collection.

Titusville, FL: American Space Museum (regular adult admission: $10): Exhibits include everything from spacecraft parts to astronaut suits and Soviet cosmonaut mementos.

Hutchinson, KS: Cosmosphere (regular adult admission: $24.50) In addition to having the largest collection of Russian space artifacts outside of Moscow, this museum boasts a collection of U.S. space artifacts that it claims is second only to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

Dallas, TX: Frontiers of Flight Museum (regular adult admission: $10). This museum on the southeast corner of Dallas Love Field and has more than 40 air and space vehicles, 20 galleries (including the Braniff Gallery, the Golden Age Gallery, and a gallery devoted to the history of Southwest Airlines).

New York, NY: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (regular adult admission: $33) is a legendary aircraft carrier and a National Historic Landmark that is big enough to house 28 aircraft, the space shuttle Enterprise, a British Airways Concorde, and Growler, the only guided missile submarine open to the public.

Airport Lobster and other great amenities

Airports are still spending lots of time and energy reminding passengers to wear their masks, wash their hands, and observe social distancing protocols.

But we are pleased to see that airports are also getting back to the business of promoting (OK, showing off) some great, unusual, and much-appreciated amenities.

Here a few that popped up on Twitter just today:

*Free goodies, including historic postcards from Jacksonville International Airport (JAX):

*The return of lobster for sale at Canada’s Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ);

*A two-fer from Sacramento International Airport (SMF) – a reminder of their “Flying Carpet” offering a birds-eye view of the area and their convenient CVS vending machine:

*And the news from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) that the Flight Path Museum will be reopening August 7.

Know of a great airport amenity we could be celebrating? Drop a note in the comments section and we’ll check it out.