Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

When will all airports have free Wi-Fi?

This month, my “At the Airport” column in USATODAY.com is all about airport Wi-Fi.

And all about why more and more airports, including those in Denver, Pittsburgh, Orlando and, just recently, Seattle and Boston, offer this welcome amenity for free – and why some don’t.

Here’s an edited version of that column:

Free Wi-Fi was on Sea-Tac’s to do list for years, but the airport had to wait until its contract with AT&T ran out before making the service free. “It’s almost become a required amenity,” says Sea-Tac airport spokesperson Perry Cooper, “Passengers expect it now. Especially in places like Seattle where folks are very tech-savvy. In fact, it’s been our number one customer service request for years.”

Silicon Valley’s Mineta San José International Airport started offering the service back in May 2008, says airport spokesperson David Vossbrink, because “we serve a high proportion of business travelers and road warriors who have laptops and mobile devices surgically implanted and [they] expect to be able to always be connected.”

It’s pretty much the same story across the country. Everyone wants to stay connected and everyone wants the Wi-Fi at the airport to be free. But how can airports afford to make it free?

Advertising and sponsorship may be the way to go.

At Denver International Airport, which began offering free Wi-Fi in November 2007, between 6,000 and 8,000 travelers now sign on to the system each day and revenue from advertisers help offset the cost of the service. Sea-Tac Airport has asked Clear Channel, which already sells advertising space throughout the airport, to find additional ads to support the new, free Wi-Fi service as well. And at San Francisco International Airport, advertising is being considered as negotiations get underway to figure out how to support a free Wi-Fi program as well. If they can figure out how to fund it, representatives from Nashville International and many other airports say they’d offer travelers free Wi-Fi as well.

Like LAX and the airports in the New York and Washington, D.C. areas, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport still charges passengers for Wi-Fi access. “We know many travelers would love to see free Wi-Fi,” says airport spokesperson Patrick Hogan, “The bottom line is that airports like MSP must generate the funds to cover all airport operating costs…There is no such thing as free airport Wi-Fi. It’s really just a question of who pays to cover the cost of providing the service.”

For the full posted version of this column, read Free airport Wi-Fi takes off in USATODAY.com. And if you’re want to know which airports currently offer free Wi-Fi, the folks at Jaunted.com have been keeping a good tally on their free airport Wi-Fi map.

And if you do use a free Wi-Fi service at an airport, a hotel, a coffee shop or somewhere else, the Wi-Fi Alliance encourages you to use a personal firewall, make sure you have anti-virus software, and keep these other safety tips in mind:

  • Make sure that you are connecting to a legitimate hotspot – those that require a password have more protection than those that do not.
  • Use a virtual private network or VPN, which establishes a private connection across the public network. This may be supplied by your employer, or you can purchase one.
  • Surfing the web and sending e-mail is fine, but doing your banking for example in a public hotspot is not advised.
  • Configure for approved connections: Many devices sense and automatically connect to any available wireless signal. To regain control, simply configure your device to not automatically connect to an open network without your approval.
  • Disable sharing: Your Wi-Fi enabled devices may automatically open themselves to sharing / connecting with other devices. File and printer sharing may be common in business and home networks, but you can avoid this in public networks.

Got that?

Happy Souvenir Sunday from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Each Sunday is Souvenir Sunday here at StuckatTheAirport.com – the day we unpack our bags and take a look at some of the fun, inexpensive things you can buy at airports.

This week: moose-themed items from the Minnesota! shop at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)

This “Hang Moose” keychain was kind of cute,

and so was this Moose-themed game of Farkel – whatever that is.

But my pick for this week’s Souvenir Sunday item is this lip balm called, appropriately enough, Moose Smooch.

Have you found a great souvenir while stuck at the airport? If it’s under $10, “of” the city or region, and a bit offbeat – please snap a photo and send it along. It may show up on a future edition of Souvenir Sunday.

Airports offer contests, coupons and karaoke

Austin - Judy Lee Tap Dancers

The number of people buying plane tickets may be down, but that’s not stopping the nation’s airports from getting all gussied up in their holiday best. And while everyone’s budget is tighter than usual, travelers will still find plenty of airports hosting contests, carolers, karaoke and opportunities for a last-minute heart-to-heart with Kris Kringle.  In my most recent “At the Airport” column on USATODAY.com, I offered a round-up of what’s in store.

Petting zoos, popcorn, and performances

This Saturday, December 12th, 2009, the Indianapolis International Airport (IND) will host Pups, Popcorn & Perfect Pitch in the pre-security Civic Plaza. There will be free treats from Just Pop In! and two “petting” zoos: one with instruments from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) and another with adoptable animals from the Humane Society of Indianapolis.  On December 14th at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), listen for the US Airways Chorus. And on December 16h, look for JJ Jones, the Human Snow Globe, at Nashville International Airport (BNA): he’ll be the one inside a giant inflatable bubble singing wacky Christmas songs.

JJ Jones - Human Snow Globe

On December 21st, the Judy Lee Dancers (dancers are all 60 years old and up) will perform at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), And on December 23rd, a choir made up of local Austin-based TSA employees will present a medley of traditional Christmas carols.

Contests and Coupon Books

Like many other airports, there’s a full schedule of holiday entertainment at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), where you can also pick up a coupon book filled with 80 coupons that can be used at MSP’s stores and restaurants.  The booklets are available at information booths throughout the airport and on-line at ShopsatMSP.com.

Throughout December, you’ll also be able to find coupon booklets at Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and in the Central Terminal Building at New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA), where The Food & Shops at LGA will also be raffling off one pair of diamond earrings from Taxco Sterling (value $2,000.)

SAN Wrapping paper

As in past years, many retail shops and volunteer organizations will be offering free, post-security gift wrapping stations at various airports. Look closely at the paper being used at the San Diego International Airport (SAN) December 18th through December 23rd: the artwork is by students in The New Children’s Museum’s After School Program.

Concourse Karaoke

Housto IAH Karaoke

Karaoke was big at George Bush International Airport (IAH) last year and it’s back again this year on Saturday, December 19th.  Karaoke is also on the schedule at Detroit Metro Airport (DTW).  Their karaoke fundraiser takes place in the McNamara/Delta Terminal from Sunday Dec. 20th through Wednesday, Dec. 23rd.  Anyone (or any group) stepping up to the microphone will be asked to make a $5 donation to a fund that will be split between two local charities. Participants will have their names entered in a drawing for a gift basket filled with items from Delta Airlines and airport vendors.

More airport freebies – for people & pets – for Thanksgiving travel


It may be stressful traveling this week through the nation’s airports, but there are some freebies and special events being rolled out that you may find useful and entertaining.

In addition to the events we listed yesterday at Boston’s Logan International Airport and Detroit Metropolitan Airport, you’ll find:

valet parking icon

Two days of free valet parking at Kansas City International Airport (MCI). To get a coupon for the free parking, fill out this form.

MSP Spoonfuls of Stories

Through Wednesday, November 25, 2009, you can stop by any Travelers Assistance Info Booth at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and pick up a free children’s book, courtesy of Cheerios and The Spoonful of Stories program. The books include: “Junkyard Fort”, by Jon Scieszka, “Tea for Ruby”, by The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, “Sleepyhead”, by Karma Wilson, “Ballyhoo Bay”, by Judy Sierra, and “What’s Under the Bed?”, by Joe Fenton.


And don’t forget that many airports around the country have opened on-site dog relief parks.  The latest to open is at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), which now has a dog park with two sculptures by Doug Makemson of Commerce, GA, who says:

“The model for “Abby” was my beloved yellow lab, Abby, who was always willing to strike a pose. She had a full life and a mercifully rapid demise a few weeks after the sculpture was completed. She was the world’s best dog; I miss her. The sculpture is made mostly from parts of a backhoe and a bulldozer, and the stone is Gneiss, a type of granite, from an old quarry near Glade, Georgia. For me, “Abby” the sculpture will always make me remember Abby the dog, the most loyal friend I ever had.

You can see the sculptures – and a happy dog in the park – in this cute one minute video ATL airport posted to celebrate the opening of the dog park.

Happy Thanksgiving – more airport freebies tomorrow!


Tidbits for Travelers: New link to SEA and new dining and discounts at MSP

Great news for travelers heading to or from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) this holiday season:  The Airport Station of Sound Transit’s Link light rail system  between downtown and the airport will open at 10 a.m. on December 19, 2009.


That means that instead of getting shuttled by bus between the airport and a light rail stop a mile or so away, passengers can now hop on and off the light rail right at the airport.

Well…not right at the airport: the airport station is in the airport garage and passengers must walk about a quarter mile to the terminal.  But at $2.75 from downtown vs. a $25 or $30 cab ride, it’s a great deal.  So travelers will probably be skipping along that walkway and not even notice the distance.

SANTA fruit label

Also, just in time for holiday travel, there are two new food offerings in the Lindbergh Terminal at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP). There’s now an Arby’s in the main food court and, more impressive, on Concourse F there’s a spinoff of Ike’s Food & Cocktails, a downtown Minneapolis favorite that’s already a hit in airport with a white-tablecloth branch in the airport mall.

Even better: MSP’s Jingle, Jingle Savings Days Coupon Book has discounts for these new spots and dozens of other shops and restaurants throughout the airport. Get a copy here.