As a experienced traveler, I know all the right things to do when it comes to making sure you go home with your own luggage. I have a very distinctive red Rimowa suitcase (I’ve never encountered one quite like it), I’ve tied colored ribbons around one handle, and there are some flight and hotel labels stuck on it — so it’s hard to miss.
But last year, after a 10-hour flight from Helsinki and a 1.5-hour wait at Newark’s border control, I was tired and distracted, and when a red suitcase came around the belt, I grabbed it and set off. The wheels were wobbly, which I chucked up to yet another annoyance in an annoying day. Literally 10 steps past the customs agent, I bent down to check out what had happened to the wheels, and that was the moment I knew: this was not my suitcase. It was an absolutely identical model, but there were no ribbons, no decals.
I immediately went back to the customs agent to ask if I could swap the suitcase, but he said, “No can do” (which was understandable). He called an agent from my airline, who told me that I’d eventually get my suitcase back — but because I had cleared customs it would take three or four hours. Hanging around wasn’t a palatable solution, so I anted up about $82 to have it delivered the next day.
I consider the whole affair an $82 learning experience. And I felt badly for the person whose suitcase it really was (and hope she’ll get those wheels fixed someday).
What’s the silliest travel mistake you made in 2012?
How would you like to touch down at Ozzy Osbourne International?
One music exec is calling for this to become a reality, according to the Birmingham Mail. Liverpool is currently home to John Lennon Airport, so why shouldn’t Birmingham, Osbourne’s home town, be renamed after the Black Sabbath rocker? The proposal comes from Jim Simpson of Big Bear Music, who discovered the band.
“The message that would carry is instantly international, confident, powerful, unforgettable and says ‘Hey World, we are proud of our own,'” said Simpson in the Birmingham Mail.
“Ozzy might not always have been a paragon of virtue, but he is a genuine flesh and blood Brummie.”
Whether this will come to fruition is anyone’s guess — but, of course, it got us thinking about other airports that could carry a musical moniker. How about adding Bruce Springsteen’s name to New Jersey’s Newark Airport? Or giving Elvis Presley top billing at Memphis International? Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, so surely we could leave his name on the airport. And with all due respect to Prime Minister Trudeau, perhaps Montreal‘s airport could be renamed after Celine Dion.
Which airports and musicians do you think would make a good duo?
Traveling is a pricey proposition, and flying adds even more nickel-and-dime expenses to your tab. Checked baggage fees. Extra leg room fees. In-flight movie fees. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get someone else to pay for your airport parking while you globetrot?
FlightCar, a new company based in California, may soon match up travelers looking for rental cars with travelers who have cars sitting, unused, in long-term airport parking lots.
According to the company’s Web site, the idea hasn’t yet come to fruition, but the service is slated to launch later this year in Oakland and San Jose.
What’s in it for renters? Cars rented through FlightCar will supposedly be up to 50 percent cheaper than cars rented through standard rental companies like Hertz, Avis or Enterprise.
What’s in it for rentees? Your car will be earning you money — instead of costing you — while you travel. Plus, FlightCar will even clean your vehicle for you, pre- and post-rental. When you register online, you can set the daily rate and the mileage limit, and each car is insured up to $1 million, according to the company’s Web site.
For more info, check out the video:
What’s your take? Would you let a stranger drive your car while you’re out of town? Share your comments below.
People who discover that I travel often, long-haul mostly and for weeks at a time, say, sagely, during cocktail chat, “You must be a genius at packing.” Actually … no. I’m a graduate of the school of “But what if I need…”
As a packer, I’ve cut back on the books, thanks first to Kindle and now to iPad, though not so much when it comes to movies (Netflix doesn’t transfer out-of-country). Fashion-wise, I have found ways to maximize variety while minimizing outfits. But I’ll confess: Give me too much time in an airport and all hell breaks loose.
On a recent vacation jaunt from Newark to Helsinki, which took a whopping 22 hours thanks to late departures and missed connections, my most egregious problem was neither sleep deprivation nor travel annoyance. It was the extra time for shopping.
Once I got bored with sitting in the Newark lounge, it occurred to me that I could buy presents. In the airport’s expansive mall, I found a slinky New York-themed T-shirt for my teenage niece, a Big Apple-decorated onesie for the latest addition to my spouse’s Finnish family, and a couple (okay, a bulky wodge) of magazines to support me through the three-week-long English-language desert that is a vacation in Finland.
And that was just Newark. Once we arrived in Frankfurt, where we’d just missed our connecting flight and had four bleary hours to kill, the airport’s liquor stores offered quite the bargain-hunger’s justification. Finland’s taxes on alcohol make otherwise reasonable prices for wine, vodka and Champagne ridiculously expensive, so we loaded up. My husband’s impulse purchase of German sparkling wine put us over the top.
Suddenly, we were carting seven bags of carry-on stuff onto an airplane (these in addition to the two very chunky suitcases, full of American gourmet items, DVD’s and other necessities, that we’d already checked). Boarding the two-hour flight from Frankfurt to Helsinki, I felt like — to paraphrase my Finnish husband’s charming interpretation of American aphorisms — one of the “Beverly Hilly-Billies.”
So no, I am not a great packer. I will invariably have too much of one thing and not enough of another. But I can offer one silver lining: the things you scramble to buy because you don’t pack well will be the souvenirs you remember the most.
When vetting flights and possible layovers, I take my options for connecting airports very seriously. What’s the distance between connecting gates? How speedy is immigration? Can I find something halfway decent to eat and a quiet, clean spot to sit and wait?
The availability of ultra-hip technology never entered the picture for me, until I recently discovered two airports where it’s actually fun to have a layover.
LaGuardia International Airport, New York City
Mention LaGuardia, and you can pretty much be guaranteed a grimace, wince or groan. But perhaps no longer. LaGuardia has Botoxed its image with the installation of 2,500 iPads throughout Terminals C and D. Tall tables with stools (like those you’d find in a bar) are anchored with iPads that are free for anyone to use.
Scroll the Internet, post on Facebook, play games, monitor your flight — even order a fancy cured beef panini and a beer and have them delivered directly to your table from a nearby eatery. The iPads are a great way to kill time.
(Good news for Minneapolis and Toronto: They’re both scheduled to see similar iPad installations in the coming months.)
Changi Airport, Singapore
Changi is a techie’s dream. The airport won the 2012 World Airport Award for best leisure amenities from Skytrax, a British airline data compiler that runs an annual airport passenger satisfaction survey in 160 countries. The Wi-Fi is free and signals are Speedy Gonzales fast. More than 500 free Internet stations are sprinkled throughout the concourses and gates.
But what’s happening in Terminal 2 is the main attraction. The terminal houses an entertainment center where you can distract yourself with Xbox 360’s, Playstation 3’s and other gaming stations. There are also free, 24-hour movie theaters (in Terminal 2 and also in Terminal 3).
It can be tough to escape the drudgery of an airport layover, especially for seasoned travelers who’ve seen and done nearly everything imaginable. Sure, you can hop a train or take a taxi to the city center for a little sightseeing (time permitting, of course). But honestly, sometimes that’s just too much effort after an eight-hour flight. Do we really have to resign ourselves to spending hours in a rock-hard chair listening to the same songs on our iPods over and over again?
Virgin Atlantic doesn’t think so. The airline, which is known for its less than traditional approach to flight service, recently installed an industry-standard recording studio in its Clubhouse lounge (open to Upper Class passengers and Flying Club Gold members) at London Heathrow. Musically inclined passengers can record, edit and mix a tune before e-mailing or uploading it to record companies, broadcasters, producers, etc., all while waiting for a flight.
After hearing about this out-of-the-box service, we couldn’t help daydreaming about other swanky amenities that could make an hours-long layover more pleasurable than painful. As we noted in Best Airports for Layovers, there are already some pretty neat options out there.
At Hong Kong’s International Airport, for example, passengers can step outside to play a few rounds of golf at the USGA-approved nine-hole Sky City Nine Eagles Golf Course. Travelers at Singapore’s Changi International Airport can also soak up some vitamin D before boarding as they stroll the airport’s five themed botanical gardens, which are home to a variety of flora as well as more than 1,000 live butterflies. At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, travelers can brush up on Dutch culture at the Airport Library, which features about 1,250 books, including Dutch fiction that has been translated into 30 languages. And in Zurich, the airport rents bicycles, inline skates and Nordic walking poles so passengers can explore the surrounding areas while they wait.
With airports like these setting a precedent for innovation, we can’t help but hope that one day they’ll all be the standard rather than the exception. And while they’re working on it, maybe they could think about featuring dine-in movie theaters, bowling alleys, cooking classes and or even roller coasters.
Which amenities would you add to our airport wish list?
Ugly architecture, crazy traffic patterns and parking in the hinterlands. Confusing signage, endless corridors, torn carpeting and uncomfortable seating. Not to mention endless delays, lost baggage and I-have-to-take-a-what-to-get-there gates. Airport terminals can seem soulless, sapping the joy from a trip. And the biggest offenders have made it onto Frommer’s list of the 10 worst airport terminals.
At the top of the list (or should we say the bottom?): JFK Airport’s Terminal 3 in New York City. Built in 1960 and now Delta’s international hub, the eyesore is set for demolition. Frommer’s describes it as having “a sense that the cleaning crew gave up in despair a while ago.” Perhaps they were given a different tear-down date.
Smack in the middle of the worst list is Amman Queen Alia Airport. Tell me how an airport named for a woman can receive such a bad rating for bathroom cleanliness. Sad but true: Skytrax, a global consulting firm, ranked it low on such basic necessities.
Chicago’s Midway Airport, which the U.S. Bureau of Transportation recently ranked as the nation’s worst for on-time departures, was only 10th on the Frommer’s list. (They decided the Windy City’s notorious winter weather should take the lion’s share of blame.)
Except for three hours stuck on the tarmac in Philadelphia with a stranger squeezing my hand (she was seriously afraid of flying and her meds had worn off), I’ve had fairly good luck in airports. I do remember nearly missing a flight out of Orlando International Airport years ago, just barely catching that ridiculous train to the gate in time. While the airport’s Web site insists it’s only about a 68-second ride, it seemed interminable as I worried that my attempt to reach my flight in time would be, well, terminal.
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As if long security lines and full airport parking lots weren’t enough, there’s another hurdle facing Turkey Day travelers this year: nasty weather. Relentless rain and heavy thunderstorms have already caused flight delays in Northeastern and Midwestern airports this week, and the outlook is still looking a little shaky today.
How can you make your Thanksgiving trip go more smoothly? As Ed Hewitt advises in Winter Travel Tips:
“Check weather at your connecting cities as well as at your departure and destination airports. We all want to know what the weather is like for the departure and arrival airports (particularly if we’re traveling on vacation), but you’ll want to know what is going on at your connecting airport as well. If the weather looks very bad, you may want to contact your airline to see if it can reroute you; it may be in its best interest to do so.
“If it does look like you will need rerouting, your chances of getting on a different flight will be greatly enhanced if you’ve already done the research yourself to determine which alternate flights might work best.”
We recommend programming your airline’s 800 number into your cell phone, as well as the contact info for any other airlines that also serve your route. And, of course, you’ll want to arrive as early as possible at the airport and check flight status frequently. Web sites like FlightStats.com can help; many airlines also let you sign up for flight status alerts to be texted or e-mailed directly to your phone.
Most airports tend to blur together in my mind into a haze of fluorescent food courts, gray walls and dull-eyed passengers — but every now and then I walk into one that actually makes me want to stay a while. On my last trip, it was Vancouver International. Airy, modern and impeccably clean, its terminals offered a few perks I wasn’t expecting — like recycling bins for bottles and paper, and armrests with cupholders on many of the seats in the gate areas. (I wondered why all the seats didn’t have them until I saw a woman stretched out for a nap across three of the cupholder-less chairs. Aha — smart planning.)
Even Vancouver’s bathrooms were a step above the airport norm. The spacious stalls offered plenty of floor space to maneuver a carry-on or two, and there were multiple hooks on the wall for purses, shopping bags and other paraphernalia. I once had a laptop bag crash down onto the bathroom tiles at the Philadelphia airport when I tried to hang both it and a coat on the only available hook — so you can bet I appreciated the extra wiggle room.
And don’t forget the free Wi-Fi. (Yes, Vancouver has that too.) When we recently asked our Twitter followers which amenities a great airport absolutely must have, that was the top response. “FREE Wi-Fi is a MUST!!” opined @BlkChickOnTour. “To charge for it is just plain greedy.” (See our Airport Internet Tips for more on this topic.)
Another techie traveler weighed in with her own, somewhat related preference: “Outlets! [My] pet peeve is finding [the] only outlets in [the] terminal snagged by people watching movies on [their] computer,” said @CAMillsap. While I didn’t see any in Vancouver, many other airports (such as Philadelphia International and Toronto Pearson) have added special charging stations to help travelers keep laptops, cell phones and other gadgets juiced up when they’re on the go — without having to huddle on the floor beside an inconveniently located wall outlet.
But good design and modern amenities can only take an airport so far. “The perks are the people!” said @johnmill79. “Give me good, clean customer service.” On this one, Canada wins again. I couldn’t believe how friendly the airport security folks were in Toronto, and even the customs person was almost — almost — cordial.
What do you find most essential for a great airport? Vote in our poll:
I’ve never missed a flight. I say this with a deep fear that, upon uttering such a bold statement, I’ll jinx myself and end up late for my next departure (which happens to be this afternoon). I’m fixated on arriving at the airport three hours or more before departure — whether for a domestic or international flight — and so far traffic jams, snaking security lines and ill-timed airport parking lot shuttles have been no match for me.
I think it’s inevitable that every avid flier will miss at least one flight at some point in his or her travel career, and I’m determined to thwart fate as long as possible. But I have to admit, I admire those dauntless travelers who stroll into the airport 45 minutes before departure and never run into any problems. How do they stay so calm? After all, arriving at the airport less than an hour before departure is not exactly the recommended check-in protocol.
In What to Expect at the Airport, we suggest the following: “For domestic flights, you should be at the airport at least two hours before your flight is scheduled to leave if you’re planning on checking luggage. If you’re bringing just a carry-on, allow at least 90 minutes. If you’re flying to Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands or an international destination, arrive at least two hours early. During peak travel times, allow even more time at the airport — perhaps an extra 30 to 60 minutes.”
What’s your take? Are these rules meant to be broken?