If you saw my story in the Travel section of The New York Times last month, you might get the impression I’m eager to get in and get out of airports as fast as I can. That would be wrong.
My affection for airports goes back to the days when my dad would throw the plastic webbed lawn chairs in the back of the pickup truck and he and mom and the four of us kids would all go down to Miami International Airport and have a picnic at the end of the runway. We would watch planes take off and land until it was too dark to see much of anything.
When I had children of my own, I took them to Westchester County Airport which has a lovely little observation deck. That is how I met my friend Steve Ferguson, an executive at the airport and the man who took my little ones for a close-up look at the Fuji Film blimp when it was housed at the White Plains airport back in the late 1990s.
Now I travel a lot, and while I don’t linger when I’m headed home, I’m happy to arrive a few hours early on departure and wander around the airport, snapping photos of airplanes and all the other stuff that one sees at an airport and that I still find thrilling.
So the story running in today’s Times gives a better picture of the grown-up-geek who enjoys few things more than checking into a hotel room perched right over an airfield so I can watch the planes all night long.
I’ve written about my exceptional 24 hours at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport Hilton. And it is included in my 1,400 word story in today’s Times Business Travel section. But even at 37 column inches, the story isn’t long enough to include all the details about my favorite airport hotels.
Here are some you might not have read about in the newspaper but are definitely worth a visit. Just. Go.
Okay, first of all you can’t get closer to the airplanes than from the room where I spent the night this past February at the Detroit Airport Westin. Had I a paper towel and the inclination, I could have Windexed the windshield of any one of the dozen Delta jets lined up at Concourse A
And if that’s not enough, they’re just as easy to watch from the hotel spa. My son Joseph and I soaked in the whirlpool as the planes came and went.
Other benefits to a stay at the Westin include, a beautiful, spacious and tranquil lobby bar and restaurant in a macro bamboo forest beside an indoor pond. Joseph loved the whipped cream-topped waffles. I opted for the more sensible breakfast burrito, the second half of which was my inflight meal on my trip home.
Guests who are eager to find out if airports are really offering market basket pricing or just can’t get enough of Hudson News can get a pass from the front desk to access to the airport shops. When it is time to check out and say farewell to Detroit, there’s a no-lines (and I am not making this up) security check point right in the lobby.
Access to the gym and spa is available to non guests for $15. Rooms are available from six a.m. to six p.m. if available for $150.
Full disclosure, its been years since I stayed at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott. From the photos on the website, it doesn’t look like much has changed. BIG windows in every room. The decore is “classic” as in my grandma was a classy lady and this could be her living room. Take that as confirmation that it’s a little dated but not necessarily in a bad way. The hotel is excellently located right beside terminal 1 with a view of runways 9R and 27L and there’s a direct entrance to the airport check in counters.
Okay, you know Philadelphia is home to Boathouse Row, a picturesque and historically significant collection of rowing clubhouses on the Schuylkill River. Marriott takes the rowing theme and races with it at its riverboat-inspired Riverbend Bar and Grill. Yeah, seafood. Cute.
The health club is big, I liked that. The Ballroom is too. I didn’t care, but apparently meetings and weddings at airport hotels is the next big thing.
Last September while changing planes in Atlanta, my flight to New York was cancelled and Delta nicely offered to put me up for the night and get me back home the following day. This I accepted, and boy-oh-boy was I delighted when I arrived at the Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway just one quick stop on the Marta rapid transit train from the airport. (Now the fact that you can’t actually walk from the airport to the hotel makes this hotel a little iffy as an entrant in the category of hotel on airport property, but I’m bending the rules here, because it’s my blog.)
The lobby is gorgeous. Full stop. But it is not just a one-off beautiful lobby, it is part of what Matthew Carroll, a senior director at Marriott calls the lobby of tomorrow.
“Gen X and gen Y, their idea of productivity is different than the baby boom business travelers”, he told me. “They want lobby space that is very flexible. We see them living a highly-blended lifestyle, conducting business, relaxing or checking emails and talking.” Hence, Marriott is creating what they call “great room” lobbies and the Atlanta airport is just one example.
I didn’t have too much time to explore the hotel. I didn’t warm my hands near the outdoor fireplace by the pool (drats!) but the bed was cushy and comfy and breakfast was delicious. All too soon I was back at the airport for my flight home. Don’t do as I did. Take some time to enjoy this hotel.
Once again, bad weather turned a lay-over into a stay-over when a freak October blizzard cancelled flights to the northeast. I was with my sons, Antonio and Sam and frankly, we couldn’t believe our luck. Stranded in sunny Florida while back home in Connecticut our entire neighborhood was without power and heat. My sons might have wished to be more centrally located, but once we were in the room with a balcony and view of the Southwest Airlines gates, even these car-focused boys started to appreciate the excitement inherent in airports.
For starters, the Orlando Hyatt is one of the only hotels I have ever seen that shares a lobby with an airport. If travel were a religion, this would be the tabernacle. I mean, just look at it.
Plane spotting is fun enough. At this hotel you can people watch too. When you’ve had enough of that, there’s car mayhem to be witnessed. We saw a big SUV crash into a cab.
The hotel has a gym, a pool, and the Hemisphere restaurant on the 9th floor, one wall of which is entirely made of glass. The restaurant and lobby bar and grill are open to transiting passengers, but to use the pool, one has to pay a day rate of $89.
I was surprised to learn that here – in the number one tourist destination in the world – this airport so far from Disney World, Sea World and all the other “worlds” does so many conferences. Patricia Engfer, the general manager told me it is because so many airlines offer reasonable airfares and direct flights to Orlando. “The beauty of that is business travelers can come for meetings and bring their families if they want and do pre and post vacation trips, or both.”
Let’s just say Ms. Engfer is selling the product. Anyone with an early morning flight ought to spend the night before at the hotel, she told me, “I walk downstairs, and I’m at the security lines. It’s the best.”
I’m blown away by swimming pools that look out over an active runway. From the rooftop pool at the Grand Hyatt DFW one can see all seven runways and they’re busy day and night. The Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport is after all, one of the top ten busiest airports in the world. The Grand is the upscale, pricer, big-brother of two Hyatts located at the airport.
The entrance is via an escalator by Terminal D that, truth-be-told, is a little difficult to find. The lobby is small, just the reception desk followed by a bright, welcoming casual-feeling restaurant and bar. The food is very good and that is apparently not just my opinion. The general manager Lance Marrin tells me the hotel makes as much money on the food and beverage side of the business as on the rooms. Now with Jean Claude Plihon as the hotel’s new executive chef, the Grand is adding cooking classes as part of a weekend Epicurean Studio package. Imagine going to a hotel at an airport to learn how to cook. What will they think of next?
The Hyatt corporate slogan is “You’re more than welcome” and in the case of the Grand Hyatt that means that air travelers who are not guests of the hotel but who have time to fill waiting for their onward flight are welcome to use the hotel facilities for a small fee. Thirty bucks gets access to the aforementioned pool with a view, the gym, the sauna and showers.
For airport hotels like this one, I’m more than thankful.