January 10, 2010 in Travel

Airport attractions can often offer pleasant distractions

Beth J. Harpaz Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

McCarran Airport in Las Vegas boasts nearly 1,300 slot machines.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

With the latest terrorist incident over U.S. skies, air travelers are more on edge than usual and security lines are even longer.

But if you’re looking for something to distract yourself from all the worries and the waiting, a few airports offer unique attractions.

Not that it will make the lines shorter, but checking out the stuffed polar bear at the Anchorage airport, playing slots at the Vegas airport or watching live music at the Austin airport might just bring a smile to your face on an otherwise stressful day.

Detroit: Detroit Metropolitan Airport has been in the news because that’s where the plane landed after a passenger allegedly tried to detonate an explosive device onboard on Christmas Day.

But before that incident, the airport was famous among travelers for something beautiful, not something scary: a fountain designed to represent global travel routes.

The attraction includes 45 water jets choreographed in changing patterns to symbolize airline flight paths. Longitude and latitude lines are marked in black granite.

The water feature, located in Concourse A at the McNamara Terminal, was installed to offer a measure of tranquility in a hectic place. Tranquility is something jittery travelers need even more now than when it opened in 2002.

Las Vegas: You don’t have to go all the way to the Strip to gamble in Vegas; you can start in as soon as your plane lands. McCarran Airport has nearly 1,300 slot machines, and they generated over $30 million in revenue for the airport in the last fiscal year, according to airport spokesman Chris Jones.

Anchorage, Alaska: Ask for directions at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and somebody might just tell you to take a left at the polar bear.

The taxidermied animal, posed in an upright position, towers over passers-by in the North Terminal, and is just one of more than a half-dozen stuffed bears at the airport.

Other wildlife on display there includes a ram, a beaver, several geese, a deer, a fox, two wolves, a salmon and a 400-pound halibut, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

Airport manager John Parrot says the 7-foot-tall polar bear is a “universal meeting point for that building.

A few years ago we even had a couple get married at the polar bear.”

(Longtime travelers will recall the stuffed polar bear at Spokane International Airport from 1985 to 1993.)

Charlotte, N.C.: Pull up a rocking chair, make yourself comfy and sit awhile.

That’s not the usual expectation at an airport, but the atrium at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina is lined with trees and white wooden rocking chairs, just like what you might find on a friendly Southern front porch.

The rockers were first placed in the atrium in 1997 as part of a photo exhibit called “Porchsitting,” but they were so popular that they became a permanent fixture.

The rockers, made by Portico Furniture, have since been installed in 16 other airports, including Seattle, San Diego and Dallas/Fort Worth.

Austin, Texas: If you’re heading to a vacation in Austin, chances are you’ll be checking out the music scene. But you don’t have to wait till you get into the city to hear a local band or singer.

At the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, 11 live music performances are offered each week for ticketed passengers, located on a stage next to Ray Benson’s roadhouse in the center of the terminal building on the concourse level.

Baltimore: The blue crab is Maryland’s official state crustacean. And there’s a big one on the upper level at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, but it didn’t crawl out of the Chesapeake Bay.

It’s a colorful stained-glass sculpture, 10 feet long and 51/2 feet high, designed by Jackie Leatherbury Douglass, and beloved by locals.

Chicago: The House of Blues store in Midway Airport’s Terminal A has a couple of life-size statues of the Blues Brothers, depicting John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

One set of statues shows them dancing in their black suits, sunglasses and hats; the other set shows them seated. Travelers love to pose for pictures with these guys.

International: A few airports around the world have their own unique attractions, from pop culture to high art to traditional culture.

In Taipei, Taiwan, the Taoyuan Airport has an entire gate area designed with a Hello Kitty motif, from the chairs and wall decorations to a children’s play area and shop.

Amsterdam’s famous Rijksmuseum has an annex at Schiphol Airport with a small collection of Golden Age masterpieces and a temporary exhibition that changes a few times a year. Admission is free.

At the Incheon International Airport serving Seoul, South Korea, travelers can visit the Traditional Korean Cultural Experience Zone on the third floor of the passenger terminal, near Gate 31 in the duty-free arcade.

The zone offers demonstrations of crafts such as making fans, kites, macrame and paper art, along with performances featuring traditional dances and instruments like bamboo flutes, harps and drums.

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