CLEAR opening in Baltimore and Miami – Get three months free!

A card reader at the CLEAR kiosk.

A card reader at the CLEAR kiosk.

If you live in Baltimore or Miami, now is a great time to sign up for CLEAR.  CLEAR is open in Baltimore now and opens on May 20th in Miami.  If you are not familiar with CLEAR, think of it as your personal escort through the security line.  Even if you have TSA PreCheck this can save you lots of time at busy airports in the mornings.  To sweeten the offer, CLEAR is offering three months for free, so give it a try and see how it works for you.  You don’t need to live in either of those cities to get the three free months either, so give it a try.

Be sure and check out my complete review on CLEAR for more details!

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Parking challenges continue at Dallas Love Field

When the Wright Amendment expired last October, I don’t think Southwest or Dallas Love Field realized how much demand there was going to be for flights to these new non-stop destinations.  Traffic is up by nearly 40% for Southwest alone.  With the addition of Virgin America, demand is even higher.  As a result, the parking facilities at Love Field are struggling to keep up.  The current A and B parking garages feature Tolltag-enabled parking to 7000 available spaces.  For mid-week travelers though this often means arriving to find both the A and B garages nearly at capacity if not sold out all together.  Luckily, they have already started on a new parking garage bringing an additional 4000 spaces to the airport.  That’s good new in the long term but it doesn’t help you now.

What can you do now?

  • First, give yourself extra time – I used to be able to park in the same spot in Parking Garage A and make it to my gate in a matter of minutes.  Not any more.  Plan ahead and give yourself more time to find a spot.
  • Use Valet Parking – Valet parking, provided by Sewell, can be found on the right as you are approaching the terminal.  I used this last week and it worked great.  The price is a little higher at $24 per day, but well worth the trouble.  They even can fill your car up on gas or wash your car while you are gone for an extra charge.  Just know that sometimes the valet lot fills up as well, so this may not be an option.
  • Reserve a spot at a third party garage – Garages like the Parking Spot are only $10.50 per day and you can guarantee yourself a spot for $4.95.  You can also try, the Parking Spot 2 and Best Parking.
  • Get dropped off – for the business traveler, this is rarely practical.  If it’s an option though, have someone drop you off so you don’t have to worry about it.
  • Follow @DallasLoveField on twitter and check before you go.  When the parking garages are nearing capacity, the Dallas Love Field twitter account will post details about it.  It’s always a good idea to check this on your way out.

Southwest also recommended using public transportation such as DART, a taxi, or a car service.  While this may work for some of us.  For the vast majority of us in the metroplex, we’re simply too far away for this to be feasible or economical.

The expiration of the Wright Amendment has transformed Love Field.  It’s great for travelers and the local business that occupy it.  After speaking to a few of the merchants, business is up by 30% – 40% already.  Love Field is busier now, so be sure and plan for that the next time you go.

Houston Hobby Airport Survival Guide

I called the Houston Hobby (HOU) airport my home for several years before moving on.  I’ve always liked it. It’s a smaller airport, but just big enough to get you just about wherever you want to go on Southwest in one hop.  Here you can fly anywhere from around Texas to New York (LGA).  The airport features 20 gates notably dominated by Southwest.  It’s recently seen a host of improvements including TSA Pre-check, Clear, and a new baggage claim.  It has a small food court in the middle along with local restaurants further into the terminal itself.

Looking towards gates 40 - 49.

Looking towards gates 40 – 49.

Hobby Airport has a T-shaped airline terminal with gates 20 – 29 on the left and gates 40 – 49 on the right.  It hosts a bevy of Texas-based restaurants from the Pappas Bros including Pappas Burger, Pappasitos, and Pappadeaux’s.  You can find free WiFi at any of the Pappas Bros restaurants along with Buffalo Wild Wings.  However, the Internet is often spotty and I find I end up using my own most of the time.  You can find power pretty easily at all of the Southwest gates features AC and USB chargers.

You never know what you will find in the center of the airport.  Right now, it’s a display for the Houston Rodeo.

Houston Rodeo display in the center of Hobby Airport

Houston Rodeo display in the center of Hobby Airport

The Food

If you’re traveling to the east coast, it is not uncommon to pick up a layover here if your home is one of Texas’s other Southwest airports.  If that happens, you need to know where to go.  If you like Cajun or seafood, the best food there is hands-down at Pappadeaux.  Here you can get seasonal fish and all your fried Cajun favorites.  It will cost you a pretty penny with many meals costing more than $20 USD.

Pappadeaux's in Hobby Airport

Pappadeaux’s in Hobby Airport

For other food options, I go with Dunkin Donuts for breakfast located at the end of the terminal by gate 27.  If you want a sit down breakfast and have time to kill, go with Pappas Burger as they have a variety of breakfast taco type options.  They also have power in the booths along the back wall.  In the afternoon, this is also a good place to get a shake.

If you want quick service, Papasitos has some decent tacos. Lastly, Buffalo Wild Wings (gate 24) is always a favorite for dudes.  When I go there, I often wait outside and wait for a seat at the bar to open up.  It gets a bit crowded though.

If you are waiting outside the security check point, there is a Pappas BBQ with a bar. They generally have at least one acceptable beer, but I am not a fan of the BBQ there at all.  I guess I am just spoiled by the Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX (FYI, never eat at a Salt Lick in an airport).  That and I don’t think you can properly smoke meat in an airport.

Hobby Airport is one of the few airports where you can walk around with an open container. As a result, you can get a drink anywhere to go.  As a result, it is not uncommon to see beer vendors in the middle of the terminal.  You just need to down it before you get on the plane.  It’s also a good idea to not get to intoxicated at the airport as Southwest has no issue denying boarding to people who aren’t sober.

Security

The security lines can be quite long at Hobby at times.  This is especially the case if you are traveling Monday morning or Thursday evening.  If you have priority, the wait generally isn’t too bad.  They have also recently added TSA Pre and Clear.  If you don’t have expedited screening, plan on waiting a bit longer.

Rental Cars

Hobby Airport has off site rental car locations.  Each location has their own shuttle bus.  Avis and Budget are closer to the airport. Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty, and the others are considerably farther away.  Like any airport, expect to wait longer than any other carrier with Dollar and Thrifty. You get what you pay for.

Parking

Parking on-site at Hobby will cost you $17 / day.  It features the same windy spiral ramps that IAH does.  You have no hope of parking on a low level most of the time.  If you’re paying for your own parking, your best bet is Eco-Park or one of the off-site providers.  Eco-Park is around $6 / day but it’s a bit of a walk and it is uncovered.  Sometimes, you can find a shuttle to take you some of the distance but I have walked all the way to the terminal a time or two.  When you do Eco-Park, you will feel like you are walking through a restricted area because you go right through the employee parking lot.  Once you get inside, you walk through some hallways where you also don’t feel like you belong.  The off-site parking options have similar prices.

The Future – International Service

Southwest fought hard to get International service at Hobby Airport.  Ultimately, they won and are footing the bill of the new expansion where they will occupy four out of five gates.  When it finishes at the end of 2015, Hobby Airport will serve as a hub for people going to the Caribbean and Mexico on Southwest.  This conveniently goes along with the absorption of the remaining AirTran International flights this year.  This will make Houston Hobby quite the popular airport in the years to come.

Construction progress of the new Hobby International Terminal viewed from Gate 40.

Construction progress of the new Hobby International Terminal viewed from Gate 40.

More information can be found at their web site.

http://fly2houston.com/hobbyHome