Chicago Sun-Times
With Lori Rackl

September 2009 Archives

You gotta give airlines credit. They can get pretty creative when it comes to squeezing a few extra bucks out of us flyers.

Southwest Airlines recently unveiled its newest product, EarlyBird Check-in, which gives customers the option to score an early boarding position by adding an additional $10 to the price of a one-way fare. The low-cost service automatically reserves a boarding position for customers prior to general check-in, allowing EarlyBird Customers to begin boarding the plane after Southwest's Business Select and Rapid Rewards A-List Customers. EarlyBird Check-in became available last week.

(Customers can purchase EarlyBird Check-in through a link in the Travel Tools section of southwest.com. They also can select EarlyBird Check-in from their southwest.com confirmation page online and from their confirmation e-mail. EarlyBird Check-in can be purchased up to 25 hours prior to the scheduled departure time of the customer's flight.)

What do you think? Would you pay an extra $10 to board early? Let me know your thoughts....

Thumbnail image for DSC_0030.JPGAMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- It's an age-old traveler's dilemma: You have a long layover in the airport. Do you wait it out or venture into town for some sightseeing?

I chose the latter when my mother and I recently had five hours to kill between flights at Amsterdam's Airport Schiphol, where long layovers are common.

There are plenty of worse places to be stuck. Schiphol ranks No. 8 among the world's best airports, according to Skytrax, a research firm that surveyed nearly 9 million travelers. The airport is packed with amenities (pedicure, anyone?), including a small branch of the world-famous Rijksmuseum, with free admission. But what I appreciated most was how easy and quick it was to escape to the city.

The train ride from the airport to Amsterdam's Central Station, which puts you right downtown, takes about 15 minutes. Hear that, CTA?

We put our carry-on bags in a locker for 5 euros ($7), walked a short distance to the train station in the airport and paid about $10.50 apiece for round-trip train tickets into town. In no time we arrived at Central Station, just a couple of blocks from the myriad canal boats offering hourlong tours -- the perfect way to see the city.

Since we arrived very early Sunday morning, the canal tours hadn't started yet.

"Should we go to one of those coffee shops? Isn't that what you do here?" asked my mom. Mom doesn't drink coffee and, as far as I know, doesn't dabble in Amsterdam's more notorious coffee shop offerings. So we spent the morning walking over the canal bridges, admiring the colorful houseboats and pointing out evidence -- mostly in the form of discarded Heineken bottles -- of what must have been a rowdy Saturday night.

We meandered past Anne Frank's house, where people were lining up before the 9 a.m. opening. Canal cruises also start at 9 a.m., so we squeezed one in ($17) before grabbing one of the frequent trains headed back to the airport.

How have you made the most of an airport layover?

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