holidays

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.

Put your name on Helsinki Airport. Plus more airport & airline news.

Want an airport named after you? It’s easy. In Finland

Dulles International Airport. John F. Kennedy International Airport. Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

It’s a big deal to have an airport named for you.

In Finland, though, anyone can have Helsinkin Airport named for them. At least for a few moments.

Finavia Corporation, which manages Finland’s airport network has created a way for anyone to have their name put on the front of the Helsinki Airport terminal buildl long enough to snap a selfie or two.

Here’s how to make it happen for you.

Go to www.myhelsinkiairport.fi, put your name in the form, and hit submit.

Your entry will be reviewed to make sure it’s not off-color or inappropriate. And then, depending on how many requests are in ahead of you, your name will appear over the Helsinki Airport sign on the front of the terminal.

We tested it out and filled out the form early morning Finland time from Seattle. Then we watched on the website as our name popped up on the airport sign within seconds.

Unfortunately, of course, we couldn’t get a selfie with our sign because were weren’t standing out in front of the airport in person. But we’re determined to get there so we can get that snap.

In the meatime, we’re declaring this Airport Amenity of the Week. Agree?

Holidays at Airports and in the Air

We’re gathering up news of holiday events and amenities being rolled out by airports and airlines.

Here are a few to round out the week.

Let us know what we’re missing at your airport.

Airports mark Int’l Air Traffic Controllers Day

On October 20, airports around the country – and the world – gave thanks and shared great photos in honor of International Airport Traffic Controllers Day. See how many towers you recognize. And read till the end so you can see a very cool airport control tower tattoo!

Let us know if we missed your airport and we’ll add it in.

And look at this new tattoo!

The above tattoo is of the old air traffic control tower at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Here’s a photo of that, courtesy of Carolyn Russo, from her great photography book Art of the Airport Tower.

Airports, landmarks, attractions shine green for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day will arrive on March 17, but some airports, attractions, hotels, bridges, castles, and iconic buildings are already shining green for Tourism Ireland’s annual Global Greening event.

The event began 11 years ago in Australia when the iconic opera house was illuminated in green on March 17, 2010. Now the list of participating Global Greening sites is incredibly long and includes returning classics such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls, the ‘Welcome’ sign in Las Vegas, the London Eye, the Sky Tower in Auckland, and the Prince’s Palace of Monaco.

Here are some of airports and other places we found that are already turning on the green lights. If you know of an other airports that will be joining in, let us know and we’ll add them. Take a look, too, at some of the green-lit landmarks in the St. Patrick’s Day video below narrated by Liam Neeson.