know before you go: ATL

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Welcome to Atlanta where the players play…it’s that time of year again, when droves of Otolaryngologists flock upon one lucky city for their annual society meeting.  This year, it’s HOTLANTA, so watch out, many  mild mannered surgeons will be heading your way.

The world’s busiest airport, Atlanta Hartfield-Jackson, is like a city on its own.  Luckily there’s a train that connects the terminals because no one would ever make their connections due to the vast nature of the complex.  Speaking from experience x multiple times.

There’s MARTA and SkyTrain transport that can get you to the airport from the city, which is convenient as it is about 10 miles or ~30 minutes in Atlanta traffic.

There are five (count em, 5! runways that serve two terminals, which are where you check in and retrieve your baggage.  The Domestic terminal is further split into a North and South.  South houses Delta, which has its hub at ATL.  North has all other domestic carriers: American, Frontier, JetBlue, Alaska, United, Spirit, Southwest. In between the terminals lay the 209 gates in the seven concourses A-F and T.  T is connected to the Domestic terminal, F is connected to the International side.

You can fly anywhere from this airport.  I’ve gone to Central America, Africa, Europe.  Literally it is a microcosm of the world, as is its dining options (albeit Americanified).  The shopping could be better, but the international terminal does have a bunch of duty free shops.

Remember: ✈️ = stomp the yard to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = ATL

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️ (MARTA, SkyTrain available to domestic terminals)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (there’s a train, but be prepared to walk)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ (every type of fast food you can imagine, all major chains including Burger King, McDonald’s, Chick Fil-A.  There’s Panda Express, PF Chang’s and Peiwei.  Are you thinkin’ Arby’s? Cuz you can because there’s one in there.  There’s a lot of southern fare, too, if you want low country food at high country price)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️✈️  (depends on the concourse, but clean and plentiful)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, good amount of charging)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️  (not a ton of high end shops, although there’s a Sean John store? American, Delta and United have lounges, there are Xpress Spas and art)

 

know before you go: IAD (Dulles)

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Originally the black sheep of the three airports serving the Washington DC-Baltimore Metro area, Dulles International Airport has been coming into its own lately with the rise of more Dreamliner and Airbus 380 transatlantic flights.  Hey, if you’re one of the 9 cities that has gates for Airbus 380 then you fancy.

Dulles takes the share of the International business that comes into this area, but still has less passenger volume than BWI and DCA.  It is located a marathon distance away from the District, so it’s not the most convenient.  But…there’s some interesting features that make this airport stand out. For one, this is one of the last airports to use plane mates.

You heard me. Plane mates are large people movers that carry passengers from the plane to the concourses or main terminal.  They look like transformers or those oil rig grasshopper things.  They are being phased out (nothing gold can stay) for the Aerotran underground train system, so fly United into Concourse D if you want to experience one.

There are ~123 gates in one terminal building and two midfield terminals split into Concourses A/B (all non-United and United Express) and Concourses C/D (United).  Because there is a ton of International traffic to this airport, there are tons of lounges: Air France, Etihad, Virgin, British Airways, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, United.

Remember: ✈️ = dulles to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = funnest, am i right?

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️ (once the metro line is connected it will be a little more convenient, but until then you can really only get there via beltway or bus)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (Any airport that has a Chipotle or a Pei Wei is A+ in my book, I’m a simple person.  There’s also Five Guys, multiple Dunkin’ Donuts and even a Starbucks Evenings (ooh la la), but I’m taking away a star because multiple Potbelly’s)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️ (need more)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, fair amount of charging)

Amenities:✈️✈️✈️✈️ (So many lounges, perfect for the business class traveler.  There’s an interfaith church, lots of pet relief areas, express spas, and a little bit of shopping: Burberry, Tumi, Vera Bradley, Thomas Pink)

 

know before you go: PHL

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if you’re a bird, i’m a bird

Thank goodness another football season is upon us, after what felt like an endless summer of baseball.  At least we had the World Cup to break up the boredom (just kidding, I love you MLB).  NFL kicks off tonight when the Falcons take on the defending champ Eagles. Fly Eagles Fly, to catch the game tonight!

And the only things that get more air than Matt Ryan and Carson Wentz are the planes coming and going from Philadelphia International (PHL).  See how I tied that up nicely?  Like a pair of cleats.

PHL is an old airport, but it’s undergoing a major renovation/expansion over the next few decades.  It is becoming more of a favored international destination for bargain European airlines, and serves the large Delaware Valley.  There are 7 terminal buildings, A-F with about 125 gates.  A West (Philadelphia, born and raised…) serves American, Lufthansa, British, Icelandair, and Qatar Airlines.  A East is Aer Lingus and American.  B  and C are American.  By now you can probably tell American has its hub here.   D is Air Canada, Alaska, United and Delta.  E is JetBlue, Frontier, Southwest and Spirit.  F is regional American Eagle flights.

Remember: ✈️ = streets of philadelphia to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = philadelphia freedom

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️ (SEPTA trains are pretty cheap to and from the city)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (if you want, you can walk all seven terminals)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ (There’s Chick-Fil-A and Cantina Laredo.  Need I say more?  Yes? Bar Symon, Chickie & Pete’s (crab fries), Chipotle, Dunkin Donuts, Pinkberry and Red Mango, Legal Seafood.  Oh yeah, Geno’s and Tony Luke’s for cheesesteaks 😉

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (will get updated with the expansion, I’m sure)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, lots of charging stations — the kind with actual desks and seating)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️  (typical airport stores, not a ton of luxury brands, but there are minute suites, Admirals, British Airways, Delta and United lounges and rotating art exhibitions.)

know before you go: Las Vegas (LAS)

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Labor Day is the bittersweet holiday that marks the end of the summer, and what better way to commemorate hard workers who have helped this country prosper (?) than to get out of town and party!?!

I’m headed to one of my favorite airports this weekend, McCarran International Airport (LAS) serving Las Vegas, Nevada.  You could not get me to drive on the 15 during a holiday weekend, and so I’ll pick flying to Vegas every time…especially because it is a fun airport.  There’s a lot to do here on a layover, like gamble!  I’m not sure I’ve ever flown internationally from here, but I would say I average 6-8 domestic connections per year.  It’s a huge hub to and from the west coast with 110 gates.

First of all, it’s fairly close to the strip (less than 5 miles), and it’s cool to see Las Vegas boulevard from an aerial view as you start your descent.  This part always gets me pumped.  However, because Las Vegas is hella hot, both takeoffs and landings can be very turbulent.  This part makes me hesitant.  That’s Las Vegas in a nutshell.

The worst thing about flying into Vegas is that inevitably, one of your flight attendants will call it “Lost Wages.”  This is the worst joke, it needs to be retired.  Please.

The confusing thing is that it is split into Terminal 1 and Terminal 3.   There is no Terminal 2.  Not sure if Lance Burton (a Vegas deep cut reference)  made it disappear or what, but it’s not there.  Terminal 1 (concourses A-D) has a lot of domestic, but not all.  Terminal 3 (also D along with E) has international and some domestic.

I love people watching here.  There’s no other airport where the arrivals and departures are so bipolar.  When people get here, they’re ready to party, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed.  And then when they leave…well they look more like Conor McGregor after 10 rounds with Floyd Mayweather.

The security lines are always a bit hairy, and you’ll watch the TSA video featuring celebrity impersonators/Vegas entertainers like a hundred times, but once you’re in, there’s chimes and flashing lights and all sorts of commotion from the slot machines!

They have good fast food options, it’s easy to get from one concourse to the other (although from the Southwest C gates takes half your life).   You have to take a tram from the gates to baggage, but it’s quick.  The baggage claim area is huge.  Their rideshare waiting area can be tricky to get to (have to cross the street into a parking structure whose elevator levels have the weirdest designations–random mezzanine level, huh?). But overall, if you had to have a layover here, it wouldn’t be a complete loss (unless you do get tempted by the shiny machines with the flashing lights).

Remember: ✈️ = lost wages to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = viva, las vegas!

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (good signs, it’s a long walk)

Convenience of security lines: ✈️✈️ (get there early)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (mostly fast food, great hours, and there’s Coffee Bean and Starbucks)

Bathrooms:✈️✈️ (always crowded, need more)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️ (free wifi available, not enough charging stations in the gate areas, but have designated areas that are always packed)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (Gaming facilities.  People watching can occupy you for hours.  Only a few lounges (AmEx and United), some Xpress Spas, weird B list mall stores, no luxury purveyors because I think they want you to spend the money in their casinos instead)

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know before you go: SMF airport

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Flying out of Sacramento, California (SMF) airport is probably the fastest experience of any airport.  It’s impressive.  I’ve flown out of here dozens of times and it has literally never taken me more than 15 minutes from parking to gate, and this is even on holiday weekends.

The airport is about 15 minutes from Downtown Sacramento, so depending on the time of the day, you could be stuck in infamous California traffic, so plan accordingly.

There are two terminals: A & B with 32 gates total.  A is home to American, United, Delta, Jet Blue.  B has Southwest, Alaska, and Hawaiian.  I appreciate when airports have multiple options for coffee shops, and while they are still chains such as Starbucks and Peet’s, at least you have options.  The unique thing about Sacramento is that the food offerings are almost exclusively local Sacramento restaurants, which is an extra nice touch for people to get the local flavor of the town if you only have a layover.

Other than security being fairly efficient and fast, the airport is clean, has a lot of outlets for charging your devices, and has plentiful restrooms.  Downsides, there are not any lounges, but as there are not too many direct international flights, you’re probably not going to have too long of a layover or need to shower here.

Remember: ✈️ = old sac to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = sac kings

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️ (it’s pretty far from downtown, even though the traffic isn’t usually terrible)

Security: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️:  super efficient, especially if you have pre-check

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (Dos Coyotes, Burgers and Brew, Iron Horse, Paesano’s, Cafeteria 15L, and Squeeze Inn are all local restaurants, which is nice if you don’t end up leaving the airport)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️ (clean facilities)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, charging available both in common areas and at the gates)

Amenities:✈️✈️ (no lounges, not a lot of shopping, a somewhat out of place Asian Pacific Californian exhibit?)

 

know before you go: JFK

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I have a complex relationship with JFK, as I do with LAX.  Being the two most populous international arrival airports, they should be more inviting and welcoming than they are.  Instead, customs lines are long, people aren’t the friendliest, and they both could be cleaner for sure.  Plus, at JFK, you have to leave security to go terminal to terminal!  There’s no way that’s not confusing to a foreign visitor, or even to a local for that matter.

Perhaps we’re trying to give foreign visitors a picture of what America’s truly like?  Confusing and crowded and sweaty.  At least it’s still better than LaGuardia?

JFK is located in Queens, about 16 miles south of Manhattan.  There are 6 terminals with about 128 gates.  Terminal one serves a bevy of international carriers (Air France, Korean, Lufthansa, JAL, Turkish, Norwegian, WOWAir, Alitalia, Air China, China Eastern).  Terminal 2 is for Delta, Four is for Delta and Skyteam (including Aeromexico, China Airlines, China Southern, KLM; JetBlue, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore and Virgin amongst many others).  Terminal 5 is a club in NYC and it also serves JetBlue.  Terminal 7 has British Airways, Alaska, LOT, Icelandair and Qatar.  Terminal 8 is for American.

Remember: ✈️ = ny i love you but you’re bringing me down to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = welcome to new york (it’s been waiting for you)

Transportation to the airport:  ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (metro, bus, taxi, car, airporter, lots of options)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️ (just the fact that you have to exit and re-enter security sucks)

Convenience of security lines: ✈️✈️ (it goes as fast as it can with the sheer volume of passenger traffic; customs lines can be brutal here)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (there’s lots of options, but it’s inconsistent; like some terminals have McDonald’s and Starbucks, some don’t.  Some have Peet’s and don’t get me started, eesh.  7-Eleven in a few, and Terminal 4 has two Shake Shacks while the others don’t have any.  Some have Dunkin Donuts and Buffalo Wild Wings/Panda Express!  Why so cruel, JFK?  And since it’s NY, so I’m kind of expecting elevated dining, but there isn’t much beyond fast casual)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️ (please don’t judge us by the bathrooms in this airport)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️ (free wifi — didn’t always used to be the case)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️ (again, inconsistent luxury shopping between international terminals.  Tumi, Cartier, Hermes, Mont Blanc — do people need last minute fountain pens as gifts? Good luck in Terminal 2, there’s like a Best Buy kiosk for shopping and that’s it.  Lots of international flights means lots of lounges {except for the last one shutting down in Terminal 5}, but don’t expect any yoga or meditation/prayer rooms in this airport, there’s no real estate for that)

know before you go: London Gatwick (LGW)

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London Gatwick may be my favorite airport in London (only because Heathrow is the LAX of London.  Sure, no American carriers are there, but it’s quaint and manageable. Even though it’s a smaller scale, it still has tons of amenities.  A sizeable Harrod’s!  A lot of seating! A Nandos, which is HUGE!

It’s located about 30 miles south of central London, but the Gatwick express will get you there from Victoria station in a jiffy (for about £20).

There are two terminals, North and South that are connected pre-security by a people mover.  There’s 115 gates split amongst both terminals.  North serves EasyJet, Air Canada, Emirates, Virgin, West Jet and Icelandair.  South serves British Airways, and everyone else (Norwegian, Cathay Pacific, Aer Lingus, etc).

Remember: ✈️ = london fog to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = london calling

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️ (Gatwick express is speedy, but spendy. i got to the train early and still didn’t have a seat either)

Security: ✈️ (if you print your boarding pass there, be forewarned, it probably won’t work too well in the self-check first security gate)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ (5 planes for Nandos.  I love Nandos, and the fact that they serve their take away in containers making it easy to eat on the go is SO convenient –sorry seat mates on plane, I’m eating my pitta. There’s also Starbucks, Jamie Oliver Italian, wagamama, and wetherspoon)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (for some reason, never encountered a line)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, fair amount of charging)

Amenities:✈️✈️✈️✈️ (a bunch of lounges, British Airways and Virgin especially; Harrod’s, multi-faith prayer rooms, on site hotels and conference centers)

know before you go: SFO airport

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I left more than my heart in San Francisco (SFO).  Mainly, my patience.

Honestly, SFO is never my airport of choice to fly into or out of, and there’s one reason for that.  The morning fog that chills the air…turns out I DO care, Tony Bennett.  I care because I’ve never had a morning flight that was not delayed due to nature’s wet blanket.

But, it’s one of the busiest airports in America as it is a gateway to the East and Europe, so sometimes its inevitable. It’s about 13 miles from Downtown SF, which is basically a year away, approximated for traffic.  The exterior reminds me of NY JFK, and the interior is also reminiscent.  That’s not a compliment for either airport.

There are 4 terminals and 7 concourses with about 85-90 functioning gates.  Terminal 1  (Delta, Frontier, Southwest); Terminal 2 is Virgin and American, Terminal 3 is United, and then there’s international (for some reason Hawaiian and JetBlue are grouped in here) which is another ballgame.

The thing I do appreciate, however, is the dining and shopping options.  There’s a real focus on local brands amongst the national chain restaurants, and lots to see in the duty free shopping portals (2 Gucci stores!  Most cities don’t have one Gucci store!).  There’s a Three Twins Ice Cream, which almost makes up for the delays… almost.  Of course, as a huge international hub, there are 17 airline lounges.

It’s not the worst and it’s not the best place to have a layover, depending on the area.

Remember: ✈️ = basically alcatraz to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = bae area

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️ (it’s the largest airport in CA, larger than LAX which is HUGE)

Convenience of security lines: ✈️✈️ (there’s a lot of people which slows things)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (so many local options: Gott’s, Dogpatch, Gordon Biersch–from Palo Alto, Boudin, 24th & Mission–but, at local prices)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️ (as with any major airport, could be cleaner)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️ (free wifi but it is shotty at best)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (yoga rooms, kids areas, museums, airline lounges, Xpresspas, a Ghiradelli store, luxury shopping–which is very good in International, did I mention there’s 2 Gucci stores?)

know before you go: Bali (DPS)

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Bali is an otherworldly oasis, tucked away in the pacific island nation of Indonesia.  It’s paradise found for many who flock there for romantic getaways and family vacations.  To get there can be tricky, but there is an airport that serves this area: Ngurah Rai airport (DPS).  Named after a Balinese hero who fought the Dutch, this airport is about 12 km from Denpasar (the capital of Bali) and about 2.5 km from Kuta, a main resort area.

It is Indonesia’s third busiest airport, although a share of passengers has been shifted away to Lombok Airport.  There are two terminals (split into Domestic and International) with about 25 gates serving mostly Asian and Australian carriers and destinations. Domestic mostly serves Garuda, Batik, Indonesia, Citilink NAM, and Siriwaja.  International carriers include Cathay, China, China Eastern and Southern, Emirates, Qatar, KLM, Korean, Qantas, Thai and Virgin Australia.

Remember: ✈️ = bally total fitness to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = bally’s las vegas

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ = not too far, but as in any Asian country, beware of swindlers and pickpockets.  Taxis are notorious for overcharging and cheating tourists, so get a shuttle to your hotel if possible or take the bus transport.

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ : some western options (McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza hut, Haagen Daz, Hard Rock Cafe), but take this opportunity to explore some interesting Asian eateries with the best names: The Duck King, Beard Papa, Coffee Club.  The traditional Indonesian fare looks amazing: Kantin Modern, Singgalang Jaya, Bakso Lapangan Tembak Senayan.

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️ : tidy, could have more

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ : free wifi, but not a ton of charging areas

Amenities:✈️✈️✈️: balinese architecture is beautiful, these decent dining options, Garuda Executive lounge, spa, the shopping could be better and more luxurious

 

 

know before you go: Palm Springs (PSP)

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Palm Springs, formerly the hotbed of older celebrities: Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby.  Now still pretty well used by the jetset for quick getaways (and Coachella).  Located about 2 hours from LA, this small regional airport gets its mileage from the tons of events that happen year round…and its proximity to some top desert resorts.

There are only 20 gates, and two runway, but there is a lot of sun in its open floorplan.  There is a main terminal, but the gates are split into Sonny Bono and an unnamed concourse.  Sonny Bono was the former mayor of the city, and congressman…also he was a half of Sonny & Cher, duh. American, Allegiant, Alaska, Delta, United and Westjet all fly regular flights out of this airport. Air Canada, Frontier, JetBlue and Sun Country fly seasonal flights in the winter.  Who knew Canadians came down here so often?

Remember: ✈️ = the beat goes on to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = i got you babe

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ = 2 miles away from downtown Palm Springs, and security is a breeze

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (they know their audience: 2 starbucks, golf themed restaurant and a winery; Celebrity Bistro has a beautiful, prime location in the center of the courtyard)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (clean, not very notable)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️ (free wifi available, not as much charging, but it’s a small airport)

Amenities:✈️✈️✈️ (PGA store, some sundries shops, mainly you’re here for the peaceful outdoor courtyard)