Whether or not you’re flying during the holidays, it pays to keep up to date with what airports are doing to serve passengers during what is sure to be another unusual season.
Here are some tidbits we’ve already spotted this week.
PIT has its holiday tree up
Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) won’t be having its annual Holiday Open House this year. And local choirs and bands won’t be offering holiday performances.
But PIT is setting up a holiday-themed selfie station in the Airside Center Core and hosting distanced (instrument-only) performances by local musicians. And there will be terminal visits from the PIT PAWS airport therapy dog team.
The holiday tree is already there. Here’s a fun time-lapse video of it going up. PIT reports that 20 people worked to raise the 26-foot-tall tree over a span of eight hours and that this year’s tree has 538 ornaments, 42 yards of fabric, and 166 strands of lights.
This is the same airfield tour that used to be offered to students, community groups, and others curious about LAX operations before COVID-19 arrived. Now anyone can access the immersive, high-resolution 360-degree video experience online using a smartphone, tablet, computer, or VR headset.
Coat check reopens at MKE
If you’re flying from Milwaukee to Hawaii, Florida, or some other warm spot, you probably won’t need your winter coat when you arrive.
The Coat check program operates in partnership with retail partner Paradies Lagardère and is offered inside the Summerfest Marketplace store, which is located pre-security. Each coat is wrapped in protective plastic and the charge is a very reasonable $2 per day, or $10 per trip.
As far as we know, this is still the only U.S. airport offering this service.
Fresh art at PHX
Fun and games from BWI
New experiences from SAN’s artist-in-residence
And, thanks, LAX for reminding us that it is December. Already.
We’ve been reading some charming and heartwarming stories from airports and airlines this holiday week.
Sweet Virgin Atlantic seat-swap
First, there is a viral post on Facebook by a Virgin Atlantic flight attendant relating the story of a passenger named Jack swapping his business class seat on a flight from New York to London for the economy seat booked by 88-year-old Violet.
“Of the hundreds of flights I’ve operated, I’ve had the pleasure of looking after footballers, supermodels and some Hollywood movie stars but let me tell you about my two favourite passengers EVER!,” wrote Leah Amy, “Jack and Violet 💜 (I wish she was called Vera or Rose 🤣)”
She went on to explain that Jack’s entire family was booked in business class. But Jack decided to swap seats with Violet. He then “sat on the row of seats directly next to the economy toilets and never made a peep or asked for anything the rest of the flight. No fuss, no attention, literally did it out of the kindness of his own heart, no one asked him to.”
A great story, right?
Well, the story gets a bit better. In response to the story of Jack and Violet, Virgin Atlantic announced it will be offering complimentary upgrades to “the most seasoned person” on board all its flights through January 1, 2020.
Birthday treat at Schiphol Airport
Here’s another heartwarming holiday-season travel story. This one from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (AMS) documenting a great birthday treat they were able to arrange for 94-year-old Granny Miep.
And one more.
According to the CBC, when 75 passengers got stranded in Deer Lake, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada on Dec. 25, the community came together in “Come from Away” style.
The town welcomed the passengerw, put together a Christmas dinner and made sure they got on their way.
The CBC notes that what happened in Deer Lake is reminiscent of what happened in 2001, when townspeople rallied to welcome thousands of passengers on planes diverted to Gander – which is also in Newfoundland and Labrador – due to the attacks on September 11.
That real-life story is the inspiration for the Tony Award-winning musical “Come From Away.”
In Deer Lake’s case, a plane full of WestJet passengers left Toronto for St. John’s late Christmas Eve but got diverted by bad weather.
Deer Lake isn’t a regular stop for WestJet flights, so there was little in the way support for the passengers once they were on the ground and sent over to the local Holiday Inn Express.
But this was Christmas Day. So local townspeople responded to a call-out on Facebook and rustled up a Christmas Dinner that included everything from sandwiches and cookies to turkey dinner and gravy and homemade rabbit stew.
All great stories, right?
Here’s to great travel and more heartwarming travel stories in 2020.
And, looking ahead a bit, if you’re flying on Alaska Airlines on December 20 and own a holiday sweater, this is your chance to wear it.
December 20 is National Ugly Sweater Day and, for the third year in a row, Alaska Airlines will be offering flyers wearing any kind of holiday sweater (because “ugly sweater” is in the eye of the beholder) priority boarding on Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air flights.
And, ugly sweater-fan or not, keep an eye out for the Alaska Airlines “Snowplane” with a fun, winter livery.
See something festive in an airport? Or have something planned?
Flying somewhere this Thanksgiving? Here are tips to keep sane.
A lot of turkey wishbones – and travel records – are set to be broken during the Thanksgiving holiday this year.
AAA expects 54.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home over the holiday, a 4.8 percent increase over last year and the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005.
For the 48.5 million Americans expected to travel by car over the holiday, the best advice is: leave early. INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts that in the country’s most congested cities the Thanksgiving drive over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house could take four times longer than it might on a ‘normal’ travel day.
Traffic at airports and in the skies will break records as well.
For the holiday period, which officially begins Wednesday, November 21 and runs through Sunday, November 25, the Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 25 million people at U.S. airports, a 7 percent increase over last year.
Looking a bit broader at the 12-day Thanksgiving air travel period already underway, Airlines for America (the airline trade organization) predicts a record 30.6 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines.
That’s up from the estimated 29 million passengers who flew during Thanksgiving last year.
Flying over Thanksgiving? Travel tips for the airport
As with driving or going anywhere over the holiday, the key advice for flying is: leave for the airport early.
That not only helps reduce stress, but builds in extra time for all those things that can go wrong, such as discovering your favorite airport parking lot is already filled up or there’s a hiccup with your airline ticket.
Transportation Security Administration officials say new screening technologies, coupled with an additional 80 passenger screening canine teams and more than 1,200 TSA officers will help with the increased volume of passengers at airport security checkpoints this year. But there may still be long, slow-moving lines at many airports.
To make sure you’re not the person holding up the line, take some extra time when prepping and packing to make sure your carry-on items are checkpoint-savvy.
*Dress for success: Transfer small items, such as wallets, phones and keys, from your pockets to your carry-on before you get to the checkpoint. Wear shoes or boots that are easy to take off and put back on.
*Download and print your boarding pass. Putting your boarding pass on your mobile phone means one less paper to keep track of. But a paper version is good back-up in case your phone loses its charge while you’re waiting on a long line, or if the checkpoint scanner can’t read the downloaded version of your pass.
*Review the rules. If you’re an infrequent traveler, find a quart-sized clear bag and take a moment to read TSA’s primer on the liquids rule.
If you’re traveling with food to eat during your journey or with a turkey or something else destined for the Thanksgiving table, you will likely be asked to take it out of your bag and put it in a separate bin for a ride through the x-ray machine.
TSA allows turkeys, turkey sandwiches, pies cakes and other baked goods through the checkpoints, but foodstuffs that are liquid, such as jellies and cranberry sauce, need to travel in checked bags.
Unsure if your food it a liquid or gel? TSA’s “What can I bring” tool, available on line and as an app, can help and you can send a question about a specific item to @AskTSA on Twitter.
Here are some other tools and tips that might help smooth out your Thanksgiving flying journey.
*Charge up your phone and other travel gadgets, including one or more back-up chargers, before you leave home. While airports have added more power ports, finding an empty one can still be a challenge. Show up with a power cord with extra plugs, and you’ll be a hero.
*Download the apps for your airline and all airports you’re traveling through and sign up for the alerts for each of your flights.
*Get numbers. Make a list of all the phone numbers you might need for your trip. The list should include not only your airline, but also the rental car or shuttle company you’ve booked with, your hotel, the person picking you up and the person who dropped you off (in case you left something behind). Put those numbers in your phone and on paper.
*Pack extras. Bring along snacks, a hefty amount of patience, and your sense of humor. Add a stash of ‘mad money’ to your wallet. That way, if something goes wrong despite all your planning and preparation you’ll be prepared to buy yourself or your family a stress-busting treat.