Big, Big, Big Ideas from—and for—the Friendly Skies

November 19, 2019 § 2 Comments

I got an idea!!!

There’s something about flying that inspires me creatively. Maybe it’s the altitude. Maybe it’s the soda and snacks. Maybe it’s the inflight magazines and pretending that I belong to their target audience.

Whatever the cause, ideas come to me when I’m up in the air. What kinds of ideas, you ask? Well, they’re great ideas, amazing ideas, Shark-Tank-winner-million-dollar ideas. Understand that I have no plans to bring these to fruition—no, I’m just an ideas guy—but I do want to be on the record for creating these when someone else puts them in production. . . and changes the world of travel as we know it. And if you find out that someone has already come up with anything like these, I simply don’t want to hear it (fingers in ears, LA LA LA LA).

So without further ado, here they are, the fruit of a recent flight:

  • Out o’ My Way Beeper: A small speaker system that you wear on your belt that emits the high, sharp beep used by airport carts. Use one of these and everyone will clear the way for you as you hurry to your gate. By the time they realize they’ve been had, you’ll be long gone. I saw a man driving a malfunctioning, silent cart through an airport once. He called out “Beep, beep, beep,” as he drove. He could have used one of these.
  • Mag Pillow: Maybe you have a neck pillow that takes up too much room in, or hanging onto, your carryon. Maybe your pillow fills with air, but you have to blow it up for each flight. If either of these is true, you need the Mag Pillow. It’s a hollow, zippered pillowcase that you fill with the wadded-up pages of your inflight magazine. I know: brilliant.
  • EarThing I: A fake Bluetooth earpiece that screams “I’M SUCH A BIG DEAL!” as you yell such things as “WHEN IT GETS TO 2 MILLION I WANT YOU TO SELL!” or “I DON’T CARE HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN CEO! CLEAR OUT YOUR OFFICE NOW!” You’ll get the respect you deserve without having to pony up for a real Bluetooth system. And, yes, those sideways glances you’re getting are looks of envy.
  • EarThing II: This one’s an earpiece connected to a coiled cord that leads into your collar . . . and goes nowhere. You’ll get all sorts of attention: “Are you a pilot? Are you a sky marshal? Are you important?” A slight shrug of your shoulders and a finger to your lips is your answer.
  • The One-and-Only Luggage Ribbon: Have you put a red ribbon on your luggage to make it stand out only to find that five other people on your flight had the same idea? Get a One-and-Only Luggage Ribbon and that will never happen again. Your luggage tag will be 100% unique. Billions to choose from! No one will every have your color and pattern because no two One-and-Onlies are the same. Guaranteed! In fact, if you find two that are identical, you’ll get a free, um, Mag Pillow.
  • I Heart Kiosk: This is not only a product but a place for selling it, too. You can set up this shop in any airport, but it works best in the small, regional, last-stop variety. Ever arrived home and realized you forgot to pick up a souvenir for that special someone in your life? Don’t worry—Look, there’s an I Heart Kiosk over there. It’s stocked with taffy, peanut brittle, pork rub, golf balls, teddy bears, and the kinds of et-ceteras that you can find in any locale. But the secret sauce is in the stickers that come with them, stickers printed with “I ♥ [name of a city of your choice].” And you don’t even have to visit a city to show your loved ones that you thought of them while you weren’t there.

[photo: “I got an idea!!!,” by Ky0n Cheng, public domaibn]

Airport Voices: Two Friends Who Help You Get Where You Want to Go

March 29, 2016 § 2 Comments

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I know of a man who has an airport ministry. All day long he tells traveller’s that The End Is Near. You’d think that the authorities would silence him, but not only is he tolerated, he’s openly encouraged. In fact, airport officials around the world let him use their PA systems.

Of course, “The End” that Jack Fox is talking about isn’t the Second Coming. It’s a much more mundane finale. Close you’re eyes and imagine a voice saying, “Caution. The moving walkway is ending.” That’s him. Jack’s is the calm, helpful voice behind the announcements in hundreds of airports across the globe.

Why do I call it a ministry? Because Jack does. When he prepares for a recording session, he tells The Verge, “I picture someone standing on a moving sidewalk and I’m talking to that person with a friendly quality to my voice, so it won’t be so cold and sterile.” And then he adds, “My father was a minister, and I think of this as my airport ministry.”

Fox is not alone in his airport exhortations. His good friend, Carolyn Hopkins, has been lending her voice to announcements even longer than he has. Both work for Louisville’s Innovative Electronic Designs (IED), which supplies computerized paging systems for airports and other transit systems the world over. The Verge article describes them as “two cheerful, church-going retirees who also happen to be longtime buddies.”

Like Fox, Hopkins started in radio before joining IED, and like Fox, she was influenced in her career by a parent: “I got into it because my father had a magnificent, deep voice,” she tells the Bangor Daily News (she lives in Maine, now). “I loved to listen to it, so I liked doing that kind of thing. I would practice. I would create radio programs, with intros and segues. I did voices. It was a lot of fun.”

Below is an audio clip of Fox from his interview with The Verge. I couldn’t find him in a video that I could embed, but if you’d like to see the face behind the voice, there’s a news clip featuring him from WDRB in Louisville. The first video below is a “CBS This Morning” story on Hopkins.

Now that I know who these two are, I’m going to appreciate their suggestions more the next time I’m thinking about parking in the unloading zone.

Jack Fox and Carolyn Hopkins:two of the best-known yet least recognized people in the world . . . kind of like these two:

(Lesley Anderson, “The Speakers: How Two People Became the Voice of 110 Airports and the NYC Subway,” The Verge, July 18, 2013; Abigail Curtis, “From a Tiny Studio in Maine, Her Voice Is Heard around the World,” January 11, 2016)

[photo: “Faces in Dublin Airport,” by Giuseppe Milo, used under a Creative Commons license]

Remember when We Wore Our Sunday Best to the Airport and Had Manners to Match? Yeah, Me Neither

March 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

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We’ve all seen people with poor etiquette at airports. Of course, you and I would never be guilty of such boorish behavior. I do have a friend whose cousin knows someone who does that kind of stuff. I hope he gets to see these JetBlue videos below.

You might like to watch them, too, just for fun. You’ll enjoy them more if you’re comfortably seated—but don’t get too comfortable.


[photo: “Airline ticket counters, Washington National Airport, Washington, D. C.,” by Boston Public Library, used under a Creative Commons license]

Airportisms: New Words for Your Travel Lexicon

February 23, 2016 § 8 Comments

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Following up on my Modest List of Invented Expatisms, here are nine new terms to help you describe your traveling experiences. So the next time you’re in an airport, remember

Do not leave your bags unattended.
Do not stand on the toilet seats.
And do not let your words fail you.

Here for your vocabulary building . . . airportisms.

duffling
Upon hearing that your checked bag is three pounds overweight, you feign frantic action by grabbing zippers, patting your pockets, turning in circles, and saying things such as “I could . . . ,” “Well, I . . . ,” and “What can . . . ,” hoping that the ticket agent will take pity on you and say it’s OK. Be careful that your duffling isn’t too aggressive or the agent will actually let you follow through on solving the problem.

terminal fowliage
Birds that have somehow gotten into an airport and fly around amongst the rafters and indoor trees. Birds stuck inside a place where people come to fly. Sense the irony?

flaggle
A flaggle of tourists is a group of middling to senior travelers, led by a tour guide with a flag and bullhorn. The flag is akin to the kind I and my friends used to bolt onto our banana-seat bikes when we were kids. Oh, if only we’d had megaphones, too. You can tell that the flaggle is on the return leg of their trip when you see them bringing home food and souvenirs packed in large, branded gift bags or boxes with tied-on handles.

making a this-line’s-not-for-you-turn
After standing patiently in a line for fifteen minutes and realizing that it doesn’t lead where you need to go, you nonchalantly walk away—as if standing in lines is simply your hobby and you’re now looking for another place to queue up for more pleasant amusement. (Aren’t you glad you came early?)

shuftle
The standing-room-only shuttle bus at some airports that shuffles passengers on the tarmac from plane to airport terminal (or vice versa). This word can also be used as a verb.

Sadow-Plath effect
Happens in the moment when you accidentally kick a pulled carry-on with your heel and it flips onto one wheel and mo.men.tar.i.ly balances before flipping completely over or wobbling back to both wheels. This brief pause at the top of the carry-on’s arc is actually a tiny breach in the space-time continuum, caused by the rapid upturn of the luggage in combination with the forward motion. The effect is named after Bernard D. Sadow, inventor of the wheeled suitcase, and Bob Plath, creator of the rollaboard.

glizing
Glizing is the act of experiencing the wonderfully smooth exponential forward motion as you stride confidently on a moving walkway. This only happens when you’re not in a hurry, in part because, as studies show, the walkways do little to speed you up, and often slow you down.

BlackNSquare
When you try to describe your piece of luggage at the lost-luggage counter, all you can remember is that it’s part of the BlackNSquare line made by the Yuno company. Question: “What Kind of luggage do you have?” Answer: “Yuno, BlackNSquare.” Yuno also makes the upscale models BlackNSquare with handle and BlackNSquare with wheels.

preseating
To sit down, with plenty of time before boarding, able to relax because your bags are checked, you’re definitely at the right gate, and a quick look shows that your passport is right where it’s supposed to be. You take a deep breath and contemplate the hopeful possibilities of your trip. You can charge your phone, read, or people watch. You’re free to walk about and might grab a cup of coffee, browse the bestsellers in the bookstore, or window shop expensive luggage and watches . . . and on the way, you can go glizing.

[photo: “Opportunities | Airport Moment,” by John Ragai, used under a Creative Commons license]

Airport Chocolate: The Triangle and the Sphere

December 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

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For me, they’re the airport candy: Toblerone and Ferrero Rocher. If you forgot to pick up a souvenir on your travels, you could always impress the kids with exotic chocolates from the airport. Even now that you can get them at Wal-Mart and Walgreens, to me they’re still the airport candy.

Toblerone
According to the Toblerone website, in 1900, a confectioner in Bern, Switzerland, Jean Tobler, handed his chocolate factory over to his son Theodor. Eight years later, Theodor, along with his cousin, created Toblerone, a chocolate bar made with honey and almond nougat and formed into a distinctive triangular shape. The name comes from Theodor’s family name and torrone, Italian for the type of nougat used in the bar.

Toblerone is now owned by the US company Mondelēz International, formerly Kraft Foods.

You can impress your friends by showing them the bear hidden in the picture of the mountain on the candy’s package. The bear has long been a heraldic symbol on the Bern coat of arms.

Ferrero Rocher
When it comes to chocolate, Ferrero Rocher has its own distinctive shape. Wrapped in golden foil, each candy is a small sphere made of a hazelnut, chocolaty cream, a crisp shell, and milk chocolate, sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts—in order, from the center out.

Italian confectioner Pietro Ferrero began selling chocolates in 1942, and the Ferrero company was founded four years later. But it wasn’t until 1982 that Ferrero Rocher was born. The Ferrero Group, now headquartered in Germany, has grown to become the third-largest producer of chocolate confectionaries, behind Mars and Mondelēz, and before Nestlé.

In the forty years before Ferrero Rocher was born, the Ferrero company was anything but dormant. During that time it introduced Nutella and Tic Tacs, as well as the Kinder line of candies. Kinder, of course, includes the Kinder Surprise, or Kinder Egg, an egg-shaped chocolate candy with a hollow center that contains a small toy.

While Kinder is also a staple of many airport stores, don’t make the mistake of trying to bring them into the US. If you do, and you’re caught, the candy will be confiscated, and you could get tagged with a fine. That’s because they’re considered a choking hazard and are banned in the States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that in 2011 they seized more than 60,000 Kinder Eggs coming in with travelers and in international mail.

(“The Chocolate Industry,” International Cocoa Organization, January 23, 2015; “Don’t Be ‘Surprised’ by Kinder Eggs: Seizures Double,” April 5, 2012)

Airport, Sweet Airport

April 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

I have a friend who spent many years overseas as a missionary and learned the ups and downs of bridging cultures. She said that the place she felt most at home was on an airplane. Well, my legs are longer than hers, so it’s hard for an airplane seat to offer me any sense of “home.” But an international airport? That’s my kind of place. Now I’m not saying that I’d actually like to live there*, but airports sure do a good job of catering to travelers’ short-term needs (though it’s not the cheapest place to spend a day). And the walkways and waiting areas vibrate with the echos of goodbyes, the anticipation of hellos, and . . . transition.

So if you like airports—or if you detest them and want to decrease your pain—where should you plan your next layover? What are the best airports in the world? Well, the public has voted, and on April 19 the Global Airport Awards were handed out by Skytrax. Ladies and gentlemen, the top-ten airports are

  1. Incheon International Airport
  2. Singapore Changi Airport
  3. Hong Kong International Airport
  4. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
  5. Beijing Capital International Airport
  6. Munich Airport
  7. Zurich Airport
  8. Kuala Lumpur International Airport
  9. Vancouver International Airport
  10. Central Japan International Airport

If none of these are on your scheduled routes, go to Skytrax for their full rankings of the top 100 and list of winners in key categories. Surely you’ll find someplace among their recommendations that matches your travel plans.

*Though I enjoyed watching Stephen Spielberg’s The Terminal, I don’t expect that actually living in an airport would turn out so well. Seems that Spielberg’s inspiration for the movie came from the real-life story of the Iranian-born Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who lost his refugee documents in France and ended up stuck at Charles de Gaulle Airport—for 18 years. And from what I’ve read, Nasseri’s story didn’t turn out as happily as The Terminal. Nasseri left Charles de Gaulle in 2006 and now lives in France. Maybe things would have turned out better if he had been in a different airport: Charles de Gaulle ranked only 78th on Skytrax’s list.

To get Nasseri’s full story, you can read his autobiography, Terminal Man, or you can get a much shorter version in the article “Mehran Karimi Nasseri” (h2g2, May 28, 2008)

[photo: “Resting in Red,” by OakleyOriginals, used under a Creative Commons license]

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