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)

 

know before you go: (HAM) hamburg

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hamburg fish market

When you go here, you’re literally GOING HAM. (!)

Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city.  I know, I thought it was Munich, too!  But, Hamburg edges it out at ~ 1.8 million people, and attracts many more as it is a very popular destination for tourists.

Despite having more people, HAM is only Germany’s fifth busiest airport.  It seems like every international airline in the world operates flights to and from this airport, from the common like British Airways and United to the obscure like Iran Air and Air Malta (although United in the only American airline represented,  and that’s only seasonal flights from Newark). There are two terminals, 1 services most of the airlines in Oneworld and SkyTeam alliances.  Terminal 2 houses Lufthansa and its Star Alliance partners.

Remember: ✈️ = hamburglar to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = hamburger helper

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (located 5 mi from the city center and easily reached by train or Deutsch Bahn)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (McDonald’s, Starbucks, and a lot of bakeries, which allows an extra ✈️)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (clean, of course, it’s Europe)

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

Amenities:✈️✈️✈️✈️ (Lufthansa, Emirates and AirBerlin lounges, brands popular with Germans like Gant, Desigual, Moleskine, Ray Ban; there’s also a pharmacy, acupressure massage and a dental office! Gotta love German efficiency.)

know before you go: Las Vegas (LAS), Stanley Cup Final edition

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Ovi here

The Stanley Cup final returns to Las Vegas for Game 5 tonight, and I’m hoping that luck will be a lady bing trophy to the Golden Knights so they can extend this series!

McCarran International Airport (LAS) serving Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of my favorite airports through which to fly.  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 makes me very excited.  However, because Las Vegas is very 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.

Southwest, I’m talking to you…

The confusing thing is that it is split into Terminal 1 and Terminal 3.   There is no Terminal 2.  Not sure if David Copperfield 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 they’ve been cross-checked by TJ Oshie.

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: San Antonio (SAT)

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When I heard there was a rhesus monkey that somehow got loose in the San Antonio airport, I thought to myself, that’s so San Antonio.  He was probably just jonesing for some Raising Cane’s (IMO, the best food vendor in the airport).

One of the fastest growing cities in the US, San Antonio is a strange place, often overshadowed by its hip neighbor Austin.  It seems to be a nice place to live and work, and for some reason there are always conferences there.  I myself, have been to San Antonio several times and thus have passed through the airport where said monkey wreaked havoc yesterday.

Located about 8 miles from downtown/River walk, this airport has 24 gates split into two terminals.  Terminal A offers service from Aeromexico, Alaska, Allegiant, Air Canada, American, Delta, Frontier, and Southwest. Terminal B serves American and United flights and there’s a USO for the large military presence in SA.

Remember: ✈️ = Old Man Riverwalk to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = The Big Fundamental

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️ (not too far and pretty easy to get to from the touristy Riverwalk area)

Security: ✈️✈️✈️✈️:  there’s a steady flow

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Raising Cane’s.  There has been a vast improvement since the first time I visited years ago, but taking off a plane for no whataburger)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (fairly well dispersed for a smaller airport)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available)

Amenities:✈️✈️✈️ (there a few mall stores, duty free, United lounge, USO)

know before you go: STL

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name a more iconic duo…i’ll wait

Really, the only thing you need to know is that Lambert International Airport (STL) serving St. Louis, Missouri has Ted Drewes custard machines.

This alone should give it a top rating.  These babies serve 6 concrete flavors, ice cold, smooth and creamy deliciousness, I would book a flight there today just for that.  Bold statement coming:  you have not lived until you’ve had Ted Drewes custard.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Lambert Airport (named after a famous STL Olympian and aviator) is one of more historic airports in the country, as it is the site of the first use of air traffic control, and it had close association with Charles “Spirit of St. Louis” Lindbergh.  It has two terminals, Terminal 2 is made up of Concourse E for Southwest and international travel, with WOWAir starting this month to Iceland.

Terminal 1 is slight into 4 concourses:  A serves Delta, United, Air Canada Express, B is vacant and used for events; C is used by American, Frontier, Cape Air and Air Choice One (question mark?), D is mostly vacant except for those renamed as E gates and used by Southwest.  Because many gates are vacant right now, it’s hard to tell how many are actually in use, but probably ~40 active gates.

Remember: ✈️ = E.I. E.I uh-oh to  ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = meet me in st. louis

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️ (about 14 miles from Downtown, it’s not that close, but it does sit quite prominently on i-70)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (it’s all one long connected strand)

Convenience of check in/security lines: ✈️✈️✈️ (better than most)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️  (five ✈️ for Ted Drewes; if you’re eating anything other than a concrete from one of the three vending machines in this airport, you’re just being unnecessary…although I can make an exception for a Schlafly at one of the two brewery locations).

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (can use a little updating, but usually clean)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available for 60 minutes)

Amenities: ✈️  (Well, you didn’t come here to shop.  There’s an American Airlines Admirals’ Club and a Wingtips common use lounge, but otherwise just find a Ted Drewes to keep you occupied)

know before you go: PHX

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Phoenix SkyHarbor has to be one of the most connected through airports to the West. A hub for Southwest, I feel like I’ve flown into here or Denver a million times.  It’s a nice airport to have a layover, there are a lot of casual dining options and there’s a lot of space to stretch out and relax, although I wish things were open later. Recently in the news for its newest feature, an Urgent Care, it’s a huge facility that has a lot of interesting amenities.

There are 3 terminals (2, 3 and 4) comprised of 116 gates.  There are people movers, but the distance between the concourses is vast.  Terminal 2 serves United, Spirit and Alaska.  Terminal 3 is the home of Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian and JetBlue.  Terminal 4 serves American, British Airways, Southwest, Volaris and WestJet.  Almost every domestic carrier is represented here.

Remember: ✈️ = from the ashes to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = phoenix rising

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️ (it’s a little bit of a trek, and driving around in the airport loop can be tiresome)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️ (would be impossible without people movers)

Convenience of check in/security lines: ✈️✈️✈️ (not the worst, not the best)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️  (it’s a large airport, so there’s lots of food: from McDonald’s to Cartel Coffee, Panda Express and Pei Wei, Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Peet’s).

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (they could have more, but usually clean)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️  (Urgent Care, airport lounges for each of the  major carriers, FitPHX trails, XpressSpa, a lot of Native American themed shops)