stuck at the airport

Tips for sailing through airports. Any day or busy days.

It is a stay at home holiday for some people today. But a travel day for millions. At that means some people will end up stuck at the airport.

It can happen anytime, of course. But as the busy summer travel season kicks into gear, I’ve been asked to work up some airport travel tips for the Weather Chanel audience.

Here are my notes for my appearance, currently scheduled for early Tuesday. Please feel free to add your notes too

Practice. Seems silly, but often in the rush to get to the airport we forget that we’ll have to partially unpack at the security checkpoint.

Make sure you’re wearing socks without holes, shoes that are easy to take off and put back on. And have your potions and lotions and electronic gear easiy accessible in your carry-on bag. 

Leave your guns at home.

TSA finds about 100 guns – most loaded – at checkpoints each week. I’ve given up wondering why people need so many guns. But if you carry a gun around town, check to see that you’ve taken it out of your purse or briefcase before you head to the airport.

Don’t miss the fun.

Look at the “passenger amenities” or “services” section of the airport website. (And subscribe to StuckatTheAirport.com).

Many airports have art or history exhibits, a unique shop or restuarant, even a special observation deck you may miss if you just get to the airport and stick by your gate.

Bring a wide mouth refillable water bottle. You don’t have to buy an overpriced bottle of water. More and more airports have bottle refill stations. Spend your money on something else.

Charge your phones and gadgets before you leave home.

Yes – there are more outlets in more places in airports. But someone else always seems to be using them when you’ need them.

And often they don’t even work. (Expert tip: check to see if that bank of chairs with outlets is plugged in before you use a chair outlet.)

To be a hero bring along a power cord with extra plugs so others can share.

Check to see if there are mobile apps – such as GRAB – you can use to order food ahead that you can just pick put at airport restaurant instead of waiting in line. 

An increasing number of airports have At Your Gate and Airport Sherpa – which allow you to order food (and even neck pillows) and have the order delivered to you anywhere in the airport. 

Bring snacks. You never know when you’re going to be delayed at the airport. Having something in your bag will keep you from getting cranky and from overspending at the airport and on the airplane, where free snacks can be limited or non-existent.  

Shortcut the customs and immigration line.

If you’re traveling out of the country and don’t have Global Entry (a paid program) download the free Mobile Passport app for when you’re coming back through customs.

Either program allows you to shortcut your way through that often very long customs line. Look for the signs or ask the folks stationed along the lines for where to go as the Mobile Passport sign is often not easy to spot.

The Mobile Passport app lets you answer the customs questions on your phone before you even leave the plane and sometimes you can breeze right by the folks who have to wait on a line to fill out those questions at the Global Entry kiosk. Hah!

Bring mad money.

I carry a $10 bill – sometimes $20 – to use as mad money in case I end up stuck somewhere mad and frustrated. I buy myself a treat; a cocktail, some candy, an overpriced coffee drink, a silly souvenir. I deserve it.  

Have a tip to add to this list? Please include it in the comments sections below.

Pittsburgh Airport getting a swank makeover

Pittsburgh International Airport is getting a $1.1 billion makeover that includes a new terminal with 51-gates, a modern check-in concourse and a new bag-claim system.

The pictures look so appealing that when the new terminal opens in 2023, they may have to seriously consider trading in the PIT airport code for something, well, prettier.

The new airport terminal will be built next to PIT’s current airside facility, between Concourses C and D, and is designed by award-winning architect Luis Vidal, who designed Heathrow Airport’s T2, and by San Francisco-based Gensler.

While some things may change as the project gets underway, airport officials say the new terminal building will have an emphasis on sustainability, with both indoor and outdoor green plazas and gathering spaces.

The new terminal brings together check-in, ticketing, security and baggage operations into one facility, with a separate level for departing and arriving passengers. There will also be an expanded TSA checkpoint, shorter walking distances and additional space for artwork, concessions and other amenities.

“This new terminal, inspired by the beauty, tech renaissance and people of our region will integrate seamlessly into the great design of the existing Airside Terminal,” said Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis. “In considering this design, we looked at function first, then form, to construct a building that will be both iconic, practical and affordable and that can be easily adapted as the technology and transportation needs of our community change.”

Let’s just hope PIT keeps the dinosaur, the Calder mobile, the shrine to Mister Rogers and the other amenities that make PIT a bit quirky and endearing.

(All photos courtesy of Pittsburgh International Airport)

Alaska Airlines will build a new lounge at SFO Airport.

Courtesy Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines plans to build a new 8,500-square-foot top floor lounge in Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) .

The lounge will offer guests great views of the airport runway activities and of San Francisco Bay. It is expected to open in 2020.

To celebrate the announcement, Alaska Airlines is offering flyers traveling through SFO’s Terminal 2 today (February 20, 2019) a chance to win a free Alaska Lounge membership for the entire year.

To enter, stop by Gate 54B.

Alaska will be offering a demo of the upgraded lounge experience and handing out giveaways. There will also be special appearances by San Francisco Giants mascot Lou Seal and San Jose Sharks mascot S.J. Sharkie.

Travelers who take a picture of themselves enjoying the lounge experience (maybe with one of those mascots) and who then post the picture to Twitter and Instagram will be entered in the contest. (Use the tags @AlaskaAir and the hashtag #MostWestCoast.)

“SFO is our second largest hub with an average of 150,000 passengers flying on a daily basis, and we want to ensure airport visitors can rest, relax and enjoy our wide array of lounge offerings.”  said Annabel Chang, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of the Bay Area.

In addition to a great view, the new lounge will offer guests complimentary fresh food options, including salads, soups and tapas.

The lounge will also offer made-to-order meals available for purchase, including Asparagus and Goat Cheese Omelet with roasted potatoes or a Korean Rice Bowl with steamed vegetables and gochujang sauce.

Alaska Airlines is on a mission to upgrade and expand its lounges.

The Seattle-based carrier opened its first East Coast lounge in April 2018 at JFK International Airport. A new flagship 15,000-square-foot lounge at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is expected to open in June.

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.

PHL Airport has a short story dispenser

Here’s a great contender for Airport Amenity of the Week: Philadelphia International Airport has a short story dispenser.

PHL short story dispenser

Courtesy PHL Airport

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)’s newest amenity is a Short Story Dispenser.

The five-foot tall, screen-less, translucent glass kiosk is now in the airport’s ‘Virtual Library’ (in the D/E Connector) and prints a free fiction story that can be read in one, three or five minutes.

To get a story, users press one of three buttons indicating which length of story they prefer and then  the machine delivers a story printed on eco-friendly paper.

The stories are drawn from a catalog of stories submitted to and edited by Short Édition, a French community publisher that developed the dispenser. Some stories dispensed are short works by classic authors such as Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf, but Short Edition says it has work submitted by 9,000 authors in its database and pay royalities to authors every time their work is accessed in a Short Story Dispenser.

PHL is the first US airport to get a Short Edition Story Dispenser, although the machines debuted a year or so ago at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and are also installed at Canada’s Edmonton International Airport and about 150 other non-airport locations out in the world.

courtesy Short Edition
PHL has had a Virtual Library since 2014 that is designed to bring the city’s Free Library’s vast electronic resources to passengers. In addition to the short story dispener, travelers can log on to PHL’s free Wi-Fi to access the Library’s e-books, nearly 1,200 author podcasts, and other digital content.

A great airport amenity!