TRAVEL: Minneapolis-St. Paul airport makes a delay there more a respite than a pain
MINNEAPOLIS -- For many travelers, being told to arrive at the airport two hours before a holiday flight is a ticket to boredom. What do you do after you've survived the jostle through security? Plenty, if you're at Minneapolis-St. Paul Internati...
MINNEAPOLIS -- For many travelers, being told to arrive at the airport two hours before a holiday flight is a ticket to boredom. What do you do after you've survived the jostle through security? Plenty, if you're at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Passengers who make a beeline to their gates haven't realized that MSP is now a legitimate shopping and dining destination, and that it offers travelers a host of services and diversions.
The Airport Mall has been open since 1998, when the Metropolitan Airports Commission made MSP one of the first airports in the country with a shopping mall linking its terminals. But only in the past few years has it developed a sense of place and become worth a good, leisurely look.
Local restaurants such as Ike's, Axel's Bonfire and French Meadow have replaced generic HMS Host venues. Home-grown retailers such as Creative Kidstuff and Red Balloon children's bookstore and most recently Surdyk's give Twin Cities travelers a reason to call the airport a destination instead of a checkpoint on the way to a gate.
"It's one of the nicest airports around," said Jerry Seymour of Brooklyn Park, Minn., a frequent traveler who had lunch at Axel's Bonfire recently while waiting for a flight. "If you're stuck here, there is plenty to do."
Not that anyone wants to get "stuck" due to, say, an 18-inch snowfall or mechanical delays, but if you do, here's a guide to making the most of your time coming and going.
The conventional wisdom that everything at the airport is more expensive might be true at restaurants but not at retail shops. Sale and clearance items were common a couple of weeks ago. Some of the sales even beat specialty stores' prices. At Hugo Boss (Airport Mall by Checkpoints 2 and 3; (612) 727-1699), for example, all men's jeans were 30 percent off two weeks ago. Department stores rarely, if ever, discount current styles of Boss jeans.
Anyone shopping for cosmetics and fragrances is in for a nice surprise. Many of the cosmetics at World Passage (Airport Mall near Chili's Too; (612) 355-4755) are cheaper than at department stores. "I save $5 buying my Lancome mascara at the airport instead of the department store," said Delta flight attendant Jeanne Maumus. While Estee Lauder and Clinique prices aren't as competitive, one employee said, many of the brands are 10 to 15 percent less.
There are many places to buy last-minute gifts at the airport, but if you need a greeting card, try either Zozo location (Airport Mall near Checkpoint 3 and on Concourse F near Gate 8; (612) 727-1880), a gift shop with a small but nice card selection.
After-Christmas sales will bring some additional markdowns even at the airport, but most merchants don't follow the typical retail markdown calendar. The biggest sale of the year at the Airport Mall happens during MEA weekend in October, when retailers have a captive audience of family and business travelers. If you're buying something this week that you can't squeeze in your luggage, ask about free shipping or having an item held until you return.
No Groupon or Restaurant.com dining coupons are redeemable at the airport, but you won't need one with the "Eat, Shop, Relax" coupon booklet, which is free at airport information desks or can be printed at www.shopsatmsp.com . Most of the dining coupons are for $1 off at fast food restaurants but T.G.I. Fridays (Concourse C, near Gate C12; (612) 970-7800) has a $5 off food purchases of $20 or more. (There are discounts on retail products too.)
Several restaurants have specials, no coupon necessary. Axel's Bonfire (Airport Mall near Checkpoint 3; (612) 355-4632) offers three: $1 off its popular walleye on Wednesdays, kids under 5 eat free on Saturdays with a paid adult entree, and happy hour drink specials all day Thursdays. Houlihan's Restaurant & Bar (pre-security near Checkpoint 1; (612) 727-1785) has a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. daily and 5 beers for $20 during any football game. Houlihan's is located outside Security Checkpoint 1, so those picking up passengers can kick back there before meeting their party at baggage claim.
Expense account partiers toasting the holidays can hoist a glass of 18-year-old Macallan's scotch for $30 at Ike's Food & Cocktails (Airport Mall, near Checkpoint 1 and Concourse F, near Gate F3; (612) 355-4642). Pricey, yes, but a second shot is only $5 extra.
Diners looking for a departure from bar and fast food can get healthy, organic fare at French Meadow Bakery and Cafe (Airport Mall, near Checkpoint 1; (612) 355-4641). French Meadow also offers vegan stromboli and chili and a few gluten-free choices. For fast food choices, try the Southwestern black bean salad at Caribou Coffee or the smoked tofu burrito at 360 Gourmet Burritos (Airport Mall food court).
The airport's newest addition is also its hippest. At Surdyk's Flights wine shop/deli/bar (Airport Mall near Checkpoint 2; (612) 727-2323), the waitresses sport pale blue pencil skirts, neck scarves and pillbox hats. Customers can nosh on Neuske liver pate while choosing a bottle of wine as a present for family, friends, business associates or clients. The selection is small (about 180 bottles), but prices are equivalent to the store in northeast Minneapolis. More than a dozen wines are discounted through New Year's Day, including three excellent values on J Vineyard Cuvee sparkling wine for $19 (regular $35), Tierra Alta Sauvignon Blanc for $13 (regular $17) and Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet for $13 (regular $18). (You can carry onto a plane any liquids purchased after the security checkpoint.) Flights also sells wines by the glass and exquisite cheeses, fruits and deli meats for sit down or grab and go.
After opening in July, revenues are double what was projected, said Jim Surdyk. "Businesspeople tell me they're leaving earlier just to come to the airport and enjoy a glass of wine before a flight."
Soon there will be other reasons to spend a few extra hours at the airport. A Regis Express salon and spa will open early in 2011. If a glass of wine doesn't soothe your travel experience, maybe a massage will.
Where to pause before your flight
• Concourse C: View the employee art show along the wall through the end of February.
Red Balloon: Story time at the children's bookstore in Concourse C (inside Authors Bookstore) is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
• Armed Forces Service Center: This all-free stop for active-duty military personnel has bunk beds, sofas, showers, TVs and snacks (pre-security on the mezzanine level of the ticketing lobby above drop-off door 1; (612) 726-9155).
• Conference Center: The conference center can accommodate one to 100 people with eight executive-style rooms and four individual workstations with computer data ports, telephones, copy/fax machines, computer and Internet access, notary services and postage stamp sales. Private work rooms rent for $20 per hour or $100 per day. Larger meeting rooms are available for $40 to $125 per hour. Laptops rent for $25 an hour, including the room. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays (Airport Mall on the mezzanine level near the entrance to Concourse F; (612) 794-4500).
• Family stops: Kid-friendly play areas are located on Concourse C near Gate C12. A private room for nursing moms is located on Concourse C near Gate C12. Request access to the locked room at the Travelers Assistance Desk across from Gate C12 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
• Quiet seating area: Take a holiday break in a calm area with overstuffed seats on the mezzanine level, overlooking the airport mall, near Chili's Too. Go to the entrance to Concourse F near Chili's Too, and take the stairs or elevator up one floor. Turn left, go through the glass door and enter on the right. A second location is above Ike's Food and Cocktails.
• Shopping and eating: The main shopping mall after passing through security contains most of the stores and restaurants. Concourse C has the second highest concentration of shops, followed by Concourse F.
The inside scoop
Q. Is there a way to mail prized contraband instead of sacrificing it to the security gods?
A. Go to U.S. Bank (pre-security on the ticketing level near Checkpoint 5; (612) 727-1725). It will mail back, free of charge, items such as pen knives that get refused by airport security. Items must fit in the Postal Service's priority flat-rate box, which is not much larger than a DVD case. The service is available to anyone, not just U.S. Bank customers. Closed Sundays.
Q. How can I find my way to shops and gates?
A. New touch-screen directories and mobile applications for iPhone and Blackberry devices can map your way to the gate, show shops, restaurants and services along the way and predict how long it will take to get to each. Filters can help you find specific foods, merchandise and services. The mobile application GoHowAirport is a free download and will soon be available for Droid phones. The touch-screen directories are located at either end of the airport mall.
Q. Can I get a pass to crash in the Delta Sky Club?
A. Yes. A day pass costs $50 and a 30-day pass costs $90. A Delta Sky Club is located near gate C12; a second one in the Airport Mall near Chili's Too restaurant is slated to re-open Jan. 18. Perks include Delta gate agents who can assist with ticketing, including seating, rebooking or new travel plans. Other amenities: comfortable seating, snacks, bar drinks, Wi-Fi, satellite TV, newspapers and magazines but no showers or places to lie down. Sign up at the Sky Club location or online at http://tinyurl.com/3xolzz6 .
Q. My pet sitter canceled. Got any pet sitting options?
A. Try Now Boarding (6002 28th Av. S., Mpls.; (612) 454-4850, www.nowboardingpets.com ), an affiliate of the Animal Humane Society. Park at the facility for $11 per day (a good value), drop off Fido, take the free shuttle to the terminal and pick up your animal and car when you return. Boarding, grooming and training services are offered. (All spots are filled for the holidays.)
Q. Can anyone hop on one of the carts to get to a gate faster?
A. The carts are intended primarily for persons with disabilities, but anyone can hail one. Still, drivers are supposed to travel at walking speeds, so shouting "Step on it!" won't help. Travelers going to or from gates on Concourses A, B or C can use the tram to save time.
• AIRPORT AID: Call (612) 726-5555 for general airport information between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Seven customer information desks are staffed by volunteers throughout the airport. For assistance, call 201 on any blue airport assistance telephone throughout the terminal.
• LOG ON: www.shopsatmsp . com, www.twitter.com/msp airport and www.facebook . com/mspairport.
• HOURS: Most stores and restaurants are open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. McDonald's and Subway are open 24 hours.
• PARKING TIP: Save $4 per day at the MSP Value Parking ramp at the Humphrey Terminal ($14 vs. $18 a day). It's adjacent to light rail, which is free between terminals.