NEW YORK - 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, Alaska, airport, playing slots at the Vegas airport or watching live music at the Austin, Texas, airport might just bring a smile to your face on an otherwise stressful day.
And singles take note: Philadelphia International topped the list in a recent survey on the 10 best places to make a "love connection" - due, unfortunately, to the airport's rep for some of the longest and most frequent flight delays nationwide. But hey, there are more than 100 bars, restaurants and shops in which to socialize, which has to improve your chances.
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 more than $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 said 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."
CHARLOTTE, N.C.: Pull up a rocking chair, make yourself comfy and set 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.
Porch rockers have now been installed in 16 other airports, including Philadelphia, Seattle, San Diego and Dallas/Fort Worth.
DETROIT: Detroit Metropolitan Airport is in the news right now 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 tranquillity in a hectic place. Tranquillity is something jittery travelers need even more now than when it opened in 2002.
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 Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, 11 live music performances are offered weekly 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 designed by Jackie Leatherbury Douglass, and beloved by locals.