holidays

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.

Airports, airlines have Valentine’s Day treat for travelers

Whether you’re winging your way to a sweetheart or on your way to a boring business meeting on Valentine’s Day, airports and airlines have some treats on tap to sweeten the journey.

Marriage licenses at the Las Vegas Airport

To accommodate all the lovebirds who want to get married in Las Vegas around Valentine’s Day, the Clark County clerk’s office will once again set up a temporary office February 13-16 in the baggage claim area of Terminal 1 at McCarran International Airport.

Couples who fill out a marriage license pre-application online receive a reference number to present (with $77 and proper identification) at the airport pop-up clerk’s office after their flight.  From their it’s an easy trip into town for a marriage ceremony presided over by Elvis or some other “only in Vegas” officiator.

Kissing Booths, free chocolates and live music

At Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) in North Carolina, pups from the Paws for Passengers team of therapy pets will staff a “Smooches from Pooches” kissing booth in the terminal and out at by the gates. Travelers can get stop by to get pictures taken with one of the therapy dogs and pick up Valentine’s-themed (people) treats and other giveaways.

Games and more to win your heart

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport passengers are invited to play Valentine’s Day Plinko and the “Snag A Valentine” game in various spots in the terminal on Valentine’s Day to win cookies and candy prizes. Random passengers seated in gate areas will also be surprised with gifts of heart-shaped box of chocolates or oversized Hershey Kisses.

As part of its 1000 Acts of Kindness Campaign, on Valentine’s Day airport food service company HMSHost will set up its “Share Your Love” message board at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH).

Travelers may pick up “Act of Kindness” cards with directions for performing “kindness missions” such as giving a rose to an airport employee or buying a coffee or meal for another traveler. HMSHost will provide the item needed (i.e. a rose or a gift voucher) for each traveler to carry out the assigned task. In addition, passengers who add cards to the message board will receive a premium dark chocolate bar and Valentine’s Day card, plus a 15 percent discount offer at participating HMSHost dining locations.

Songs of love and free cards

Passengers at Fresno Yosemite International Airport in California will receive sweet treats throughout Valentine’s Day and be serenaded by master violinist Patrick Contreras.

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Sarah’s Candies will be sampling Godiva Chocolates between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Valentine’s Day and, at Chicago Midway Airport there will be live entertainment (a Tiny Suitcase Concert), plus free Valentine’s Day cards (“Love From Chicago”) distributed to passengers during the midday.

From February 12 to 14, London Heathrow Airport will be celebrating Valentine’s Day with live music, a roving caricaturist to sketch travelers and Valentine’s Day card-making stations in all terminals.

Travelers doing last-minute Valentine’s Day shopping will find complimentary treats and special deals on jewelry, gourmet chocolates and other gifts in airport shops in Baltimore, Phoenix, Chicago and elsewhere.

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, for example, several shops will be offering Valentine’s Day samples of “Unreal” Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupsand Tammie Coe Cakes (in Terminal 4 near Gate A25) will be gifting customers heart-shaped versions of its Famous Sugar Cookies with every purchase.

At Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, staff will be handing out Valentine cards individually signed by airport employees, sweet Valentine treats and a souvenir magnet.

In the air: free drinks, free chocolates and, maybe, a free flight

As is its tradition, Southwest Airlines, whose stock ticker code is LUV, will serves customers 21 years of age and over one free premium drink (beer, wine, cocktail) during Valentine’s Day flights.

Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) plans to give out 150,000 complimentary chocolates to passengers on Valentine’s Day. First and Business Class travelers on America, Europe and India routes will receive “Orangette” chocolate from chocolatier Pierre Hermé Paris, while domestic and international passengers traveling in all classes will receive chocolates from Japan’s Meiji THE Chocolate. 

And, if you or your traveling companion is named Valentine, WOW air wants to give you a free flight to Iceland from Boston (BOS), Baltimore (BWI), Newark (EWR) or Detroit (DTW).

The offer is good on roundtrip bookings for two passengers through February 14 for travel February 10 to 19, 2019. Passengers who mail Wow air post-flight proof of being named Valentine will be eligible for reimbursement of the outbound portion of their flight. Read the terms and conditions carefully before breaking out the champagne. 

Virgin Atlantic clearly has something up its sleeve for Valentine’s Day –

Emirates has stocked its first and business-class lounges with decadent Valentine’s Day treats for travelers and is offering a companion fare sale through February 17 for travel from Februrary 21 through April 14, 2019 from 12 US gateways.

And for those who would rather take their sweetheart on a train instead of the plane, look for a special sweetheart deal from Amtrak to post on Valentine’s Day.

Even more last-minute gifts to buy at airports

Getting ready to travel for the holiday? Do you have all your gifts? Yesterday, Stuck at The Airport  shared a list of great gifts you can buy at airports shops.

Here are some more, from Jacksonville International in Florida and Hollywood Burbank Airport in California.

At Jacksonville International Airport, Made in JAX, located in the pre-security courtyard, offers a variety of items crafted by Northeast Florida artists and artisans from Jacksonville, Amelia Island and St. Augustine.

Amelia Island Marketplace, modeled after one of Northeast Florida’s most popular tourist destinations, has a variety of souvenirs for beach lovers and apparel from local sports teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp , Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles. 

At Hollywood Burbank Airport, there are adorable pet-themed gifts at Up, Pup ‘N’ Away in Terminal A. 

Have you found some great holiday gifts in airport shops this year? Share a photo if you can.