This Week’s Top 5 Travel News Highlights

Qantas' fleet of A380s are still grounded for inspections (Photo: Tamsin Slater via Flickr)

There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the travel news world this week… here are the top 5 stories you might want to know about:

1. Free Wifi This Winter

Google is partnering with three major U.S. airlines to offer free wireless Internet access on domestic flights this holiday season. The free Wi-Fi will be available for travelers on AirTran, Delta and Virgin America from Nov. 20, 2010, to Jan. 2, 2011, according to a blog post by Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google. This is awesome news for anyone flying home this holiday season!

2. Hotels Are Ditching The Front Desk

You read right – some hotels are cutting costs by removing the front desk. Andaz, a boutique brand owned by Hyatt, now has kiosks to check-into your room. MSNBC reports “Traditional front desks, however, may be destined for a scrap heap teeming with bygone lobby fixtures like key boxes, desk bells and hat racks. Some mid-market chains already are dumping imposing check-in counters for cozy, one-on-one welcomes or for virtual check-ins through kiosks or mobile devices.”

Hotels are saying they want to lure in a “younger, more tech savvy consumer”, like the wonderful readers of ChronicWanderlust. So what do you think about this automation in hotels?

3. National Parks are FREE This Thursday (Nov. 11th)

In honor of Veterans Day, national parks will not be charging any entrance fees on Nov. 11. It’s one of several fee-free days the park system has offered this year. Some outfitters, shops and lodges based in the national parks offer two-for-one deals and other discounts in conjunction with the fee-free program; details at http://www.parkpartners.org/Special-Offers-for-2010.html.

4.  JetBlue Comes to D.C.

Traveling to Washington D.C. just got much easier… JetBlue Airways launched service Monday at Washington’s Reagan National Airport with daily flights to Boston and Florida. Great news for snowbirds, lobbyists and school groups.

5. Qantas A380’s Still Grounded

Qantas has grounded its six Airbus A380s for at least 72 more hours, following a discovery of oil leaks in three engines, says a report by the Associated Press Monday.

Engineers from the Australian carrier conducted tests on the double-decker jets after an engine burst on a flight last week over Indonesia’s Batam island. The Sydney-bound flight returned and made an emergency landing in Singapore. No one was hurt.

Layovers: The Best & Worst Airports to Kill a Few Hours

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Flying nonstop isn’t always the cheapest choice, so you are eventually bound to get stuck sitting around an airport. Layovers don’t have to be bad, in fact, some airports are fun! Here’s my list of the best and worst places to get stuck at… If you have an airport you want me to add to one of the lists, leave me a comment!

Waiting at the airport doesn't have to suck (photo: Robert S. Donovan)

– – – Best – – –

Baltimore crab cakes at Obrycki's... highly recommended!

Baltimore Washington International (BWI) – If you fly Southwest, you’ll probably get the option to pass through BWI airport, one of their home bases. BWI isn’t exactly centrally located, it’s a 20min train ride to anything, so don’t bother hitting the town during your lay over. Even though it’s fairly isolated as an airport, there are a ton of places to eat inside security. don’t bother leaving security, there isn’t much to see or do outside. BWI has a large food court with your typical fast-food joints, but also has a sit-down Silver Diner and an Obryki’s crab restaurant… how can you go to Baltimore and not eat a crab cake?

TSA's split-lane security lines at Orlando

Orlando International Airport (MCO) – Orlando’s airport is huge… massive! You will be overrun with Disney characters and little kids running around on leashes holding balloons. Don’t let the madness put you off, MCO is actually a nice place to hang out. Within security, you have typical dining choices, but outside security, you have dozens of options in their food court (ESPN Zone bar, Disney Store and a Harley Davidson shop). Inside the main atrium, there is a hotel with a glass elevator. Weasel your way onto the elevator and work your way up to the 8th floor, where there is a wonderful sitting area with panoramic views of the runway. (just don’t let the hotel employees catch you, they’ll make you go back into the airport). Security at MCO tends to be a breeze as well, they were the first airport to institute separate screening lines for passengers with children, normal passengers and “expert passengers” who know the drills. If you consider yourself an expert, than you can get through quickly.

One of the many boutique food shops in Schipol Airport... can you say Gouda?!

Amsterdam Schipol International Airport (AMS) – There are two great things about Schipol; it has a ton of activities and it’s close to town. If you have a 4 hour layover, you can easily grab a coffee in Amsterdam and make it back in time for your flight. They have high speed trains running on 15min intervals. Inside the airport, you have a plethora of options to eat, sleep, dine or even check out an art museum or get a massage. There are a couple dozen duty-free stores selling everything from tulip bulbs to giant boxes of cigarettes. The famous Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam set up a free mini-museum inside the airport, featuring a small exhibit of famous Dutch painters. There is also a pod hotel if you are trying to catch up on sleep. If nothing else, you can wonder this place for hours.

DFW from 3,000 feet up... it's a massive airport!

Dallas Ft. Worth International (DFW) – Texans joke that DFW airport is so big, “you land in Dallas and taxi to Ft. Worth”. Delays are abound at one of the busiest airports in the nation. As American Airline’s hub, you will see hundreds of AA flights being delayed (AA sucks). Dallas has a ton of dining options, such as steakhouses and great Mexican restaurants. DFW is massive and has a free monorail connecting the multiple terminals, giving your sweeping views of the airplanes landing and taking off. It’s fun to just ride the tram around and check everything out… word of advice, don’t eat a burrito before an international flight.

Air France's cushy Terminal 2E at CDG

Paris Charles De Gaule (CDG) – Air France’s terminal brings a whole new meaning to luxury! Their new terminal is brilliant, bright, clean and comfortable. They have comfortable wide seats, some reclining, some prone and all in funky colors. My personal favorite part during my 3 hour wait, were the FREE Playstation 3 consoles dotted around the terminal. You don’t get many dining options, but there are a few nice souvenir and boutique food stores.

– – – Worst – – –

Kansas City (KCI) – Kansas City is an aging, small airport without many dining or shopping choices. Security is located at the gates, so once you go through, you are stuck without any restaurants or stores. The one good thing is that security lines tend to be very short because most screening stations only deal with 3-5 gates. If you are looking to bring back a bottle of KC BBQ sauce, think again, because you’ll have to check your bag. I was more than bummed out to leave KC with nothing but a pair of postcards and a bag of trail mix. In their defense, KCI does offer free wifi (which is actually pretty decent).

Lots of excitement in Kansas City...

Las Vegas (LAS) – You can gamble here! Ok, so if you aren’t playing the slots, you have nothing else to do. LAS has highly contrasting terminals; Southwest’s terminal is small, dingy and smelly, while the big airlines have a nicer terminal. All the food is very overpriced… you better hit the jackpot if you want to eat dinner. At least you can hop in a cab and get to the strip in 10 minutes.

Las Vegas' madness carries over into the airport

Washington Dulles International (IAD) – Dulles is a nice airport, like any big city international airport. The international terminals are pretty nice, but all the other ones are aging. Most of the shops close very early, so if you have an evening flight, enjoy sitting and staring out the window. The shuttle bus system is slowly being replaced by an underground tram, but it isn’t working yet. Security lines get very long because all passengers must go through one small door. Plan on giving yourself an hour just to get through security. My biggest pet peeve with Dulles is their HORRIBLE customs zone… I’ve never made it through there in less than one hour… usually worse for foreign citizens. If you are flying into the US, pick another airport.

Dulles' ultra-slow "mobile lounges" connecting terminal

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) – Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world! For the past few years, it has put out more passengers than any other airport in the world. Every terminal has a few places to eat and shop, but the underground trains tend to run slowly and security lines are insane. The airport is no where near downtown, so don’t plan on leaving the airport while you’re waiting. If you like crowds, crowds and more crowds, then Atlanta is the place to be!

If you like standing in line, you'll love Atlanta

Birmingham Airport (BHM) – Plenty of Delta regional flights stop through Birmingham because of it’s central location in the American southeast. Inside the airport, there is basically nothing. It’s old, it’s smelly and there’s nothing to do but sit and read. I was stuck there for over 4 hours and was ready to gouge my eyes out from the lack of stores, internet, food and AC plugs. Awful.

A whole lot of nothing at Birmingham's airport

– – – Free WiFi – – –

Some airports are giving out free WiFi in their terminals for passengers waiting for flights… plenty of airports offer wifi-by-the-hour sales, but a select few give it out for free.

Anchorage Airport – Alaska

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport – Arizona

Tucson International Airport – Arizona

Long Beach Airport – Long Beach

Oakland Int. Airport – Oakland

Palm Springs International Airport – Palm Springs

Sacramento International Airport – Sacramento

San Diego International Airport – San Diego

Mineta San Jose International Airport – California

Santa Barbara Airport – California

Colorado Springs Airport – Colorado

Denver International Airport – Colorado

Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport – Florida

Southwest Florida International Airport – Florida

Gainesville Regional Airport – Gainesville

Jacksonville Airport – Jacksonville

Key West International – Key West

Orlando International Airport – all public areas and the “Cell Phone” parking lot – Orlando

Palm Beach International – Palm Beach

Tallahassee Airport – Florida

Tampa International –  Florida

Honolulu Airport (Gate 13) – Hawaii

Indianapolis International Airport (new terminal area) – Indiana

Louis Armstong International – New Orleans

Bangor International Airport – Maine

Logan International Airport – Boston, Mass

Kansas City International Airport – Kansas City

McCarran Airport – Las Vegas, NV

Reno-Tahoe International Airport – Nevada

Atlantic City Airport – New Jersey

Albuquerque International Sunport/Airport – New Mexico

Albany International Airport – New York

JFK (JetBlue Airways – Terminal 6) – New York

Long Island MacArthur Airport – New York

Rochester Airport – Rochester

Syracuse International – Syracuse

Cleveland Hopkins Int. Airport – Ohio

Tulsa Int. Airport – Oklahoma

Portland International Airport (Main Level) – Portland

Philadelphia International Airport (look for ATT WiFi signs) – Philadelphia

Pittsburgh Airport – Pittsburgh

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

Charlotte-Douglas International Airport – North Carolina

Greenville/Spartanburg Airport – South Carolina

Myrtle Beach Airport – South Carolina

Sioux Falls Regional Airport – South Dakota

Lubbock International Airport – Lubbock

San Antonio International Airport – San Antonio

Salt Lake City Airport – Salt Lake City

Burlington International Airport – Vermont

Bellingham International Airport – Washington

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – Washington

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