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The average traveler is only going to glance at signage around a boarding gate a few times before heading out onto a flight. These signs flash information about connections, upgrades, reminders about rules and regulations, and where you might be on the standby list. Most airlines have had digital flatscreens for years and years, but that hasn’t been the case for Southwest Airlines.
Things are finally changing, and it's all positive for departing passengers. Up first for installations and improvements is Chicago-Midway, as the new gate displays have already started to arrive at the airport.
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Chicago, you're the best.
While many airports focus on installing new wine bars or sticking as many iPads as possible in the faces of passengers trying to grab a bite, Chicago's O'Hare and Midway Airports are refining the basic offering of an airport coffee by opening serious coffeeshops backed by local roasters.
Kiss that calorie-heavy, caffeine-light caramel frappuccino with whip cream goodbye, or at least until you arrive at your destination airport. Chicago will see you off (or welcome you) with a proper fresh cup, made with beans sourced from exotic destinations and then roasted and ground right in town.
First up is O'Hare's Terminal 5, which houses Rick Bayless' airport outpost of Tortas Frontera and has just opened Kofe by Intelligentsia, a European-style stand-up coffee shop past security. In addition to Intelligentsia's regular roasts, Kofe will also feature a monthly special. Right now, according to The Moodie Report, it's a Yirgacheffe coffee "with notes of jasmine and lemongrass from southern Ethiopia." Yes, there will be souvenir mugs and coffee beans for purchase (and Black Cat espresso!).
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Earth Day is in the rearview mirror at this point, but that doesn’t mean we can’t think green throughout the rest of the year. That’s clearly the idea over in Chicago, as both major airports are all about the eco-friendly.
Officials have issued some new rules and guidelines for those restaurants doing business at both O'Hare and Midway airports, as they hope to reduce, reuse, and recycle. The new green concessions policy provides a little bit of encouragement in hopes that the restaurants will do a better job utilizing eco materials and sustainable ingredients.
Hm. So airports actually read comment cards.
One year ago, we published a tiny rant on airport coffee and the severe lack of quality coffeeshops within terminals, despite the recent trend toward adding gourmet, organic burger joints and wine bars and Top Chef-backed sit-down eateries. Where were the pour-over coffee bars and anything-other-than-Starbucks, we asked.
Chicago's two airports have answered.
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Ugh—we love us some free airport WiFi, but unfortunately there’s still plenty of places where we’re asked for our credit card digits in exchange for some access. One of these locations is Chicago, as the airports of the Windy City, both O'Hare and Midway, aren’t yet down with the complimentary WiFi scene. Thankfully things are getting a little bit better—at least for a bit—but it’s still not going to be free of charge.
Google is coming to the rescue, throwing down some cash—probably in exchange for some advertising—to bring cheaper WiFi access to data hungry travelers and passengers. The price is being cut in half for a 24-hour period, with the rates dropping from around $6.95 to just $3.48. The discount will be available to users after watching a 30-second commercial, so just be prepared for a little distraction before getting down to business.
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Long ago, we declared Portland International Airport to be the most bike-friendly airport in all the US. Well, since then, we've gotten around a bit more and would also lay some laurels on both Nantucket Regional and, now, Chicago-Midway International.
One of the really brilliant things about Chicago's two airportsboth O'Hare and Midwayare their easy accessibility by public transportation. We're talking $2.25 on the El Blue Line (to O'Hare) or $2.25 on the El Orange Line (to Midway), total. Last week, while on said Orange Line to MDW, we disembarked at the airport and ran smackdab into the welcome sight of this large bicycle rack.
It's free to park and within the El gates, so it's far safer than your average rack. Bring your own lock, hook up your bike here and take off for a long weekend's vacation (most likely on Southwest Air). Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
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Admit it. You'll ogle aircraft at any available opportunity. We understand. There is help out there for you...in the form of yet more airplane porn from our day at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2012.
In addition to the slew of pro photos and slick video, we of course shot from the hip with an iPhone 4S, uploading to Instagram all the live-long day.
Understanding that not everyone has Instagram (get it & get it now!) and it can be trying to keep up with all images in a constantly flowing stream of visual candy, we've included most (but not all!) of our Oshkosh Instagrams from this past weekend. Check 'em out:
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Oshkosh, Wisconsin's Wittman Regional Airport has no regularly scheduled flights. And yet it manages to rack up over 90,000 landings every year. It has no impressive passenger terminal. And yet it counts visitors in the millions. What OSH does have, you see, is EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, a massive aviation celebration that swamps the tiny town for one week every summer.
At 8am this past Saturday we landed right in the thick of things, arriving on one of Southwest Airlines' newest, shiniest Boeing 737-700s after a quickie flight up from Chicago-Midway International. Here we could type a slew of fawning adjectives to describe our day (not even a full day!) spent zipping from the expansive cockpits of military transports to reclining in the slim leather seats of private props, but luckily a simple worda word we maybe whispered and shouted a thousand times at OSHsums it up: awesome.
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If there's that gets us as excited about modern air travel, it's retro air travel. You know we're nerds for airplanes of any era really, so when we run across vintage in-flight magazines, as we did recently with United's Mainliner, we just have to share. It was in the June 1962 edition that we first heard about a photographer who specialized in getting those glamorous, movie-star-exiting-the-jet images at Chicago's Midway Airport and now, we're hearing about Mr. Mike Rotunno again.
Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune wrote an article on the man, because as it turns out, there's a full-fledged book"When Hollywood Landed at Chicago's Midway Airport: The Photos and Stories of Mike Rotunno" by Chicago author Christopher Lynchcoming out on Rotunno's life as the original airport paparazzo and his mob ties.
Still, his run-in with Al Capone isn't as interesting as one little story about a certain celeb who had airport habits similar to our own: Katharine Hepburn:
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Chicago’s getting a brand new airport! It’s number three to be exact, and they broke ground on it over the weekend. Just hold up a second first, because though the ground's been dug with a celebratory shovel, the plans are still all on paper with plenty of arguments and debates left before planes will be able to do their thing to someplace other than ORD and MDW.
Mostly the concern is that Chicago doesn’t really need a brand new airport, and opponents especially feel that all the city needs is updates at Chicago-O’Hare. Even the CEO over at the new United feels that another airport isn’t really necessary, but of course that could be simply because he has a pretty decent stake in the operations at O’Hare.
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You step off a plane and into the terminal, to the smell of fresh-baked Auntie Anne's pretzels and the bing-bing-bing sounds of slot machines. Where are youLas Vegas, right? If it's a few years from now, that answer could be Chicago-O'Hare instead. The Illinois House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday (yes, they were working on Memorial Day!) to bring casinos to Chicago. The idea is for the casinos to open not just anywhere in Chicago, but in heavily touristed places like the lakefront and both O'Hare and Midway Airports.
Guess who's totally down with the new casinos plan? Chicago's fresh-faced mayor Rahm Emanuel, who supports the development of gambling establishments within Chi-city limits for the all-American goals of job creation and raking in more moolah. How much more moolah will Chicago casinos bring in to the state, exactly? Oh, just a billion dollars a year. Maybe they'll even take some of those zeros and make O'Hare less of a giant suckfest.
We were traipsing through Chicago's Midway Airport and came across the perfect cheesy Chicago photo op: life-size statues of the Blues Brothers.
Tucked away in the airport's Concourse A, near the House of Blues kiosk, there's a Jake and Elwood pair getting down, and another pair relaxing in chairs and watching jet-setters go by.
Since the city had a starring role in The Blues Brothers flick, it was fun to see a reminder of old Chicago greeting travelers into the Windy City in the form of John Belushi (Jake) and Dan Aykroyd (Elmwood) replicas. It sure beats the sometimes boring airport displays we've seen. We just wish there were some blues tunes blasting in the background to give the full effect.
One more pic of the Bros, after the jump