Detroit - DTW

The Motor City is your freeway on-ramp for all of Asia.

Families flying to Asia from the eastern USA have only a few routing options that do not involve going to the West Coast first. Probably the most convenient and diverse set of choices for East-coast families who live anywhere but New York City involve flying through Detroit.

Thanks to the auto industry’s global supply and sales relationships, and the good fortune of being a major hub for the old Northwest Airlines, DTW has long enjoyed excellent access to Japan, Korea, and China.

Today, Detroit Metro is the second-largest hub for Delta, who has built on what Northwest pioneered and added to it, making DTW its main Asian gateway for the entire eastern half of the country:

  • Nonstops to Shanghai (Pudong), Beijing, Seoul (Incheon), Nagoya, and Tokyo (Narita).

  • Flights inbound from Asia arrive early-to-mid-afternoon, allowing for same-day connections to about 90 eastern cities. The Mid-Atlantic, Northeast / New England, Ohio Valley, and Great Lakes regions are comprehensively covered out of Detroit.

DTW is served by most of the other national carriers’ hub airports, although from a different terminal than where international arrivals dock. If you’re transferring to United, American, Southwest, or another carrier, you’ll need to take a shuttle bus and clear security again. As Asian trips through here will be on Delta, that’s where we focus this article.

Customs Arrival

All flights from Asia arrive Delta’s McNamara Terminal in the central section of Concourse A. Getting off the aircraft, you’ll be directed below ground level and through a corridor to passport control - about a 5-minute walk. Expect lines at the passport desks of 10-20 minutes.

Picking up bags and working through the declarations line (plus random screening) can take as little as 10 or as much as 60 minutes, depending on traffic and staffing. If you have a domestic connection, look for the Delta baggage re-check counter. Your bags will be x-rayed and sent on to your next flight.

Exiting the customs zone will put you in the small reception area on the bottom floor of the McNamara Terminal. To get to your next Delta flight, head right to the elevators, ascend to level 2 and re-clear security.

Budgeting two hours for international-to-domestic connections should give you plenty of cushion for delays and security.

CREDIT: Wayne County Airport Authority

CREDIT: Wayne County Airport Authority

Click this image to open terminal maps (Wayne County Airport Authority)

Click this image to open terminal maps (Wayne County Airport Authority)

Navigating the Airport

The “A” concourse at the McNamara Terminal is - literally - a mile long. The international gates are located in the center, where you emerge after security screening. To the left and right there are each about two dozen gates where the mainline jets dock, for services to bigger cities.

Overhead you’ll see the red Express Tram, which connects the station in the center to both ends of the “A” concourse. From end to end the tram takes only 3 minutes.

Extending down and forward from the center is a tunnel out to the “B” and “C” gates, which sit parallel to the “A” concourse. The B/C gates are used by regional aircraft to reach smaller cities and towns and to provide additional frequency to larger cities.

Moving sidewalks are used throughout the gate areas, so while the complex is vast, getting to your aircraft does not have to take a long time.

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

The two signature art installations of the McNamara Terminal are the central Water Feature, directly under the Express Tram Terminal Station, and the Light Tunnel connecting the A gates to the B/C gates. Both are excellent fare for kids’ imaginations (and for de-stressing adults as well.)

The Water Feature is a large granite reflecting pool and arrangement of computer-controlled water jets that propel streams in graceful arcs from point to point, much like aircraft tracing the lines on a route map. The arrangement lasts about 2 minutes, and there is plenty of seating around the fountain to relax and observe. The fountain itself is just outside the main flow of foot traffic, so your kids won’t be getting underfoot if they want to stand and watch for awhile.

There is plenty of seating throughout the gate areas, and you can easily find an unused gate for quiet time. Concourse A is surprisingly quiet for all the activity, thanks to noise-absorbing ceiling panels. There is even a subtle breeze of fresh air flowing through.

Have the kids listen carefully, as every few minutes a recording of a hawk’s call is played. The terminal is so large that small birds have made it their home, and the calls are intended to keep them on the move rather than setting up nests over travelers’ heads.

Image by JasonParis via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by JasonParis via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Light Tunnel is lined with etched glass panels that resemble clouds, mountains, ferns, and dragon scales, and multicolor LEDs which glow and change color in time with an original half-hour long musical composition. Walking back and forth through the tunnel to view the entire presentation - including an artistic impression of a thunderstorm - is a great time & energy drain.

Near gates A18, B21, and C4 there are small play areas. These are modest - no slides or climbing equipment - and shoehorned next to gate seating.

Restrooms

The McNamara Terminal features 16 immaculate family restrooms. These are generously sized with a large private stall, fold-out changing table, electric sockets, and a chair.

Standard restrooms also include built-in changing tables, and are regularly cleaned. Stall space is about average - a tight fit to try to manage a suitcase and a child. There are no shelves to keep your bags off the floor.

Food and Shopping

DTW is a great airport for food choices. There are food courts at either end of the A concourse, and additional restaurants and stalls spread throughout A, B, and C. The usual fast-food chains are represented, as well as sit-down restaurants and specialty stands featuring regional and world cuisine.

This article from Eater gives a full listing and recommendations of all the food options in both the McNamara and North Terminals. 

Most of the shopping options at DTW are of the newsstand and travel-accessory variety, with a few high-end jewelry/luggage stores. There is an outlet of the Henry Ford Museum near the central tram stop, and a branch of the KidZoo chain just north of the same stop, which will have something to appeal to the kids.

Connectivity

WiFi is available and complimentary for the first 30 minutes.

There is no rail service from the airport; public transportation from the McNamara Terminal includes SMART bus route #125 to the Southland Shopping Center in Southgate, and a new bus rapid-transit service to Downtown called the FAST Michigan Line, which takes about 1 hour and connects to two other rapid-bus lines, plus the downtown people mover and Q-Line at the Cobo Convention Center.

Credit: Wayne County Airport Authority / Vito Palmisano

Credit: Wayne County Airport Authority / Vito Palmisano

Where to Stay

If your inbound or outbound connection requires an overnight stay, or if you are driving in and would like to have a night to relax before or after your trip, there are many family-friendly hotels close to DTW.

The most obvious property is the Westin Hotel actually connected to the McNamara Terminal and has its own TSA checkpoint from and to the main concourse.

Off-property familiar-brand hotels with free shuttle service to the terminal include:

  • Radisson Hotel Detroit Metro Airport
  • Four Points by Sheraton Detroit Metro Airport
  • La Quinta Inn & Suites Detroit Metro Airport
  • Marriott Detroit Metro Airport
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Detroit Metro Airport
  • Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Detroit Metro Airport
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Detroit Metro Airport
  • Sheraton Detroit Metro Airport

Minneapolis / St. Paul - MSP

The historic bridge from the northern tier to East Asia.

The connection between the Twin Cities and East Asia goes back to the late 1800s and the days of the railroad barons. When local “Empire Builder” James J. Hill completed his Great Northern and Northern Pacific lines from Minnesota to Seattle, his trans-Pacific steamship line was waiting to provide continuous service to Yokohama and the ports of Cathay.

Northwest Airlines - headquartered here - pioneered the “Great Circle Route” from America through Canada and Alaska to Asia during World War II, and pioneered airline service along that corridor after the war. Minnesotan companies like 3M, Cargill, General Mills, and Target built import and export business with Asia; the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic attracted students and clients from across the Pacific; and a steady stream of immigration and overseas adoption has made the Twin Cities into a surprising multicultural home.

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The Minneapolis-Tokyo route is still flown daily by Northwest’s successor Delta Airlines; the terminus was switched from Narita Airport to the more-conveniently located Haneda Airport, making this flight excellent for family travel to Japan. Delta management says they intend to add additional nonstops from MSP to Asia later this decade (likely with upgraded Airbus A330 widebodies.) Delta's new joint-venture with Korean Air may also lead to nonstops to Seoul's Incheon mega-hub. Hopefully, a Seoul flight will not mean the ending of the Tokyo service!

MSP is Delta’s 3rd-biggest hub, so same-afternoon connections from the inbound Tokyo flight can be made to every large city in the Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast, plus almost every mid-sized community in the North Central states.

Customs Arrival

Even though MSP's Terminal 1 is a very busy facility, when the Tokyo flight arrives there are usually no other international operations being processed by Customs. As a result, passport checks go quickly; expect a 5-15 minute line.

Baggage claim at MSP used to be dreadfully long, but Delta has made steady improvements - domestic luggage is usually coming onto the carrousel by the time you’ve made it off the airplane and down to baggage claim. International passengers should expect to see their bags rolling up about 10 minutes after clearing passport control.

If you have nothing to declare, you may proceed directly to the exit area. If you’re connecting to another Delta flight, check your bags at the Delta counter and then go through security screening. You’ll exit directly back onto Concourse G - the same level you arrived on.

If you’re using another airline, taking ground transport or being picked up, skip the security check and head downstairs to the exit on the domestic baggage claim level.

Navigating the Airport

MSP uses two terminals, spaced several miles apart. Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) is much larger and the home of all Delta and SkyTeam flights, plus United, American, Spirit, Alaska, and Frontier. Terminal 2 (Humphrey) is the home of low-cost carriers Southwest and Sun Country. There is a free subway link between the terminals which is accessed via the parking complexes at each building. As most Asian trips through here will be on Delta, that’s where we focus this article.

Terminal 1 is H-shaped, with four main piers extending from the central ticketing / shopping / baggage claim complex. The longer concourses (A, B, C, and G) are equipped with moving sidewalks, and there is also a tram running between the A - C - D gate areas. If you are checking in for an international flight, those Delta counters are on the left-hand (western) side of the building.

Delta has installed automatic luggage drop centers at the main terminal check-in. these have the potential to significantly speed up the process, especially for traveling families!

Delta has installed automatic luggage drop centers at the main terminal check-in. these have the potential to significantly speed up the process, especially for traveling families!

Delta uses the A, B, C, and D gates mostly for regional aircraft and shorter-haul routes. The F and G gates see larger aircraft and longer-haul routes.  Gates G1 - G10 can serve international flights; the Tokyo run usually departs from G4.

The G-concourse was renovated in 2012-2013 to feature thoughtful, family-friendly improvements such as wider seats, easy access to power outlets, and even iPads free to use for games and ordering food (which is delivered to where you are sitting!)

All other Terminal 1 carriers are located on Concourse E. Regional propeller-aircraft flights dock at the far end of Concourse B.

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

In the middle of Concourse C you’ll find a large active play area, where kids can climb, slide, and explore a two-level jetliner.

Also near the play area (by gate C22) you’ll find a private nursing-mothers room. And there’s a vending machine for diaper-bag basics next to the play area, too!

MSP has sported video-game and pinball arcades since the 1970s and there are three of them operating today - look by gates G7, C1, and F7.

There's a small, free movie theater that runs short films near Gate C13, and along the moving sidewalk between gates C7 and C4 there is an art gallery with frequently-changed exhibitions.

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The Republic bar at the entrance to the D concourse has built a live-music venue that will showcase work by students, faculty, and friends from the Twin Cities' music community. 

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Most local travelers don't know about the open-air “Quiet Seating Area” in the central complex upstairs on the Mezzanine level; a perfect place to close your eyes and get away from crowds between flights. Look for the sign by the entrance to Concourses F.

Another great place to find some peace is off Concourse D, up three flights of stairs to the Observation Deck. You’ll have a panoramic view of the eastern half of the airport and Downtown Minneapolis. There are extra seats here and usually very few travelers. If your kids are a little bit older or fascinated by airplanes, head here between flights.

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Restrooms

There are five Family facilities in the secure side of Terminal 1 (near gates A6, B11, C16, at the entrance to Concourse E, and F11.)  Restrooms throughout Terminal 1 are being progressively remodeled to give more light and less crowding - these upgraded facilities each feature unique and cheerful mosaic artwork at their entrances. Brightly lit and with plenty of room to maneuver around in a heavy coat or with a stroller, these could be some of the best airport restrooms in the country!

Stalls are both wider than the ones they replaced and *deeper* which means you can get your roll-aboard suitcase in there with you ... or a stroller... and still have room to take care of business without smashing your knees. They've also added hooks and small shelves inside the stalls to help you keep your gear off the floor. Each of these upgraded restrooms has a changing table, and usually one even-larger stall for wheelchairs or family needs, where it's actually walled-off, not just partitioned-off, for extra privacy.

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Food and Shopping

The many choices for eating and shopping at MSP, and their convenience, are award-winning. The “Northstar Crossing” central terminal area (being progressively re-built in 2017) houses dozens of stores, sit-down restaurants, and fast food and coffee counters. Ample seating at the central food court looks over the E and F concourses. Each concourse also has its own options, with mini-food courts in the A1, C12, E6, F5, G-entrance, and G20 neighborhoods. You may never even need to venture into Northstar Crossing to find a great meal...

The new "Food Truck Alley" midway up the E concourse, for instance, features only Twin Cities-area restaurants, and offers fun choices for any time of day:

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You walk through this market to get to the main International gates in Terminal 1.

You walk through this market to get to the main International gates in Terminal 1.

The open-air market area at the entrance to the G-gates is a particular favorite for families because of its many healthy food options, buffet-style stations, and a self-serve frozen yogurt bar!

Connectivity

Wi-Fi is now free at MSP for the first 30 minutes.

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MSP is located on the METRO light-rail “Blue Line”, taking you to Downtown Minneapolis (northbound, 30 minutes) and the Mall of America (southbound, 15 minutes.)

Where to Stay

If your inbound or outbound connection requires you to stop over, or if you're driving to MSP from an outlying destination and want to have a night's rest before travel, there are many nearby family-friendly hotels. With the Mall of America only a few minutes away, entertainment and eating options abound. Some mid-range choices will include: 

  • Courtyard by Marriott Bloomington
  • Hilton Garden Inn Minneapolis Airport
  • Hyatt Place Minneapolis Airport South
  • Crowne Plaza AiRE (the Northwest Airlines History Center is also located in this building!)
  • Embassy Suites MSP Airport
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites
  • Four Points by Sheraton Minneapolis Airport
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport

Also see:

Our family-travel guide to St. Paul's emerging "Little Mekong" district

How the Mall of America helped Northwest Airlines start additional Asian flights

Our Pinterest board for Minneapolis/St. Paul

Our Pinterest board on Northwest Airlines

Atlanta - ATL

The busiest airport in the world.

At a natural crossroads for the 19th-century railways, the highways that followed, and the airways that arose after that, Atlanta’s natural resources and people were brought together by transportation to create a manufacturing, finance, education, and media center. Atlanta’s diversity is reflected in its hometown companies, such as Coca-Cola, UPS, CNN/Turner Broadcasting, and The Home Depot.

Pioneer airlines Delta and Eastern developed ATL into the first true “hub” as they learned how to balance business and leisure traffic flows among the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, and the South. Short-haul and long-haul services were both within economical reach of common 20th-century aircraft thanks to Atlanta’s excellent geography.

After Eastern’s collapse, Delta rapidly expanded both in the USA and overseas, finding Atlanta again to be placed ideally to balance West Coast, Transatlantic and Latin American traffic flows. Today ATL is not just a true global hub, it is the busiest airport in the world by passenger count (although Beijing is catching up quickly!) Flights to major cities are now so frequent that there is no longer “slack time” between banks of connecting flights.

Low-cost carriers Southwest, Frontier, and Spirit offer substantial competition to key business and vacation centers across the US, and the major network carriers link ATL to every US hub.  

ATL_KEDL-cooperation.jpg

Service to Asia has been slow to develop, however, as Delta has better-positioned hubs to carry traffic in that direction (such as Detroit and Seattle). There are several flights: Delta’s focus city at Tokyo-Narita is served daily, and Seoul-Incheon is now served with two daily nonstops, one from Delta and the other with their joint-venture partner Korean Air. These flights allow for convenient same-day inbound connections from all across East and Southeast Asia and most major cities in China.

More options from Atlanta to East Asia have opened through the Middle East with the arrival of Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines in 2016. These carriers have been aggressively expanding their route networks and building new airports specifically for global connecting passengers.

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Customs Arrival

With the completion of the new International Terminal in 2012, the arrival procedure has been streamlined significantly. Overseas flights dock at concourses E and F and passengers from those aircraft are directed through secure hallways to the new Customs facility beneath the International Terminal. Flights from Asia tend to use Concourse F (which is attached directly to the International Terminal.)

The walk from gates on Concourse F to passport control takes less than 5 minutes, but from Concourse E you should be prepared for 15-20 minutes (although there are moving sidewalks in the tunnel to help you along.) With 20 passport-check counters, waiting time for this step should be under 10 minutes - and baggage should be arriving at the carrousels at about the same time you do. 

If you have items to declare in your luggage, stop at the USCIS counter. If connecting to another flight turn left outside the baggage claim and re-check your bags at the airline counters - then proceed through the security check. Once through security, you can head up one level to Concourse F, go forward through the underground tunnel to Concourse E, or down to the tram station to ride to the other concourses. Check the row of departure information screens to figure out which direction to take.

Total time from getting off your aircraft to getting back into the gate area runs 30-60 minutes, depending on which concourse you arrive at and how many other overseas flights are being processed at the same time. 

If you’re not flying somewhere else, turn right outside the baggage claim and follow the hallway to the lower level of the International Terminal. If people are waiting for you this is where they’ll be, and the parking ramps are directly outside. If you are planning on using Atlanta’s MARTA system, catch the shuttle bus to the Domestic Terminal where the train station is located.

Navigating the Airport

Click the graphic to open terminal and concourse maps (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport)

Click the graphic to open terminal and concourse maps (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport)

ATL’s gates are arranged in six long parallel concourses. Starting from the Domestic Terminal:

  • Concourse T (United and American, some Delta long-haul flights)
  • Concourse A (Delta mainline, usually the biggest jets)
  • Concourse B (Delta mainline)
  • Concourse C (Delta mainline and regional services, plus Southwest)
  • Concourse D (Delta regional, Frontier, Spirit, JetBlue, other domestic)
  • Concourse E (International services and some domestic)
  • Concourse F (International services and some domestic) 
  • the International Terminal

The concourses are linked together by an underground automated tram (the "PlaneTrain"), and all gates are in the same security zone. Tram stations are located at the middle of each concourse. It takes just over a minute to travel from one concourse to the next; figure about 10 minutes from concourse A to concourse F. The tram tunnel also includes a pedestrian walkway; this is the best way to grab extra steps if you have the time or desire.

Walking from one end to the other of any concourse takes up to 15 minutes; be prepared for heavy crowds, especially in the middle sections and in front of restrooms and fast food places. Concourses A, B, C, and D get very congested (with D being the worst.)

The hallways are too narrow for moving sidewalks, and there aren’t enough escalators to quickly handle the crowds at tram stations. The tram can get very tightly-packed, especially at peak times of the day. You’ll need to carry along extra patience when traveling through ATL.

Having said that, the new Concourse F is better-designed all around, with a wider hallway, bigger gate areas, plenty of natural light, and comfier places to rest. If you have 2 or more hours between flights, this is the place to settle down.

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

Compared to other major airports, ATL is sorely lacking in features to make travel less stressful for parents and more enjoyable for kids.

At present, there are no play areas in the concourses. (There used to be a few, but all were removed as of May 2011.) 

Some of the gift shops have toys, and Panda Veranda near gate B9 has a nice selection of stuffed animals and Atlanta Zoo merchandise, but there’s no other retail in any of the concourses specifically aimed at families.

ATL does feature an extensive collection of artwork of many varieties- from puppets to mosaics to sculptures, kid-created to professional - and pieces can be found throughout the complex, but especially on concourse E. If your children are old enough to enjoy the arts, this may be a good use of time.

Quiet, open space can be a challenge to find, and a place for kids to run around to burn off steam is even more difficult to come by. There are no designated relaxation areas, and considering how crowded the aisles get at peak connecting times, you’ll want to keep your kids very close.

As mentioned above, Concourse F is the best spot to find quiet, comfortable space if you have extended time between flights. We’ve also had good luck on Concourse E in finding empty gate areas where kids can nap or play on the carpet without getting underfoot.

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If you are passing between the A and B concourses underground, as part of the remodeling of the airport, a virtual "forest" has sprouted in the pedestrian tunnel connecting the two tram stops, complete with bird calls and forest noises. It's really charming!

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Watching the takeoffs and landings is especially enjoyable in Atlanta, for the variety of airplanes you’ll see and the constant activity - the best spots for this are at the far end of any of the concourses.

Restrooms

There are 13 “family restrooms” in the secure gate area - 3 on concourse T; 2 on concourse A; 3 on B; 2 on C; and 2 on D. No dedicated family restrooms are located on the international concourse E, but one is on Concourse F by gate F6.

The facilities have the basics - a changing table, electric outlets, a wide space around the toilet - but are on the small size compared to other airports (except for F6) and don’t have a privacy wall around the toilet. They appear to get a lot of use, so cleanliness may be an issue.

Conventional restrooms are also heavily used, keeping the maintenance staff continually busy. The fixtures have recently been updated, but stall space is not big enough to hold your luggage and a child, and there is no shelving over the toilets or urinals to keep your bags up and out of the way. Both men’s and women’s restrooms do have changing tables near the sinks.

Food and Shopping

ATL does manage to pack a good number and variety of food options into the gate areas. Larger food courts can be found in the central areas of concourses A, B, E and F, just outside the tram escalators. The court on E has the most variety; the seating area on B has the best close-up view of the airplanes; and F has the most space to park your family comfortably.

Sit-down restaurants, fast food and coffee stands (with all the usual chains represented), and small carts are distributed evenly around the concourses.

Shopping options tend to be more of the newsstand / travel goods / electronics variety, with a few cosmetics shops and bookstores. Look for Atlanta-specific gift shops if you still need to pick up some locally-sourced items for presents.

Connectivity

ATL now has free WiFi available throughout the complex, including the PlaneTrain. Charging stations are widely available and easily spotted.

MARTA’s Red and Gold lines connect ATL with several neighborhoods, including College Park, West End, Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, Lenox, Chamblee, Dunwoody, and North Springs. Connections downtown at Five Points to the Blue and Green lines give access to the east and west halves of the city as well.

Where to Stay

If your inbound or outbound connection requires you to stay overnight, or if you're driving in and want to be rested before or after your trip, some nearby family-friendly hotels with free shuttles to ATL include:

  • Embassy Suites Atlanta Airport
  • Crowne Plaza Hotel Atlanta Airport
  • Hyatt Place Atlanta Airport North, and the Hyatt Place Atlanta Airport South
  • Country Inn & Suites Atlanta Airport South
  • Holiday Inn & Suites Atlanta Airport North
  • La Quinta Inn & Suites Atlanta Airport North
  • Drury Inn & Suites Atlanta Airport
  • Homewood Suites by Hilton Atlanta Airport North
  • Holiday Inn Express Atlanta Airport West
  • Hilton Atlanta Airport
  • Residence Inn Atlanta Airport North
  • Courtyard by Marriott Atlanta Airport North

Ontario - ONT

Photo by ERIC SALARD via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by ERIC SALARD via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Inland Empire lands its first Asian flight

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the airport at Ontario, California was a busy alternative to crowded Los Angeles International, and carriers like United, American, Western, and Continental ran mainline services to their national hubs, while regional carriers like PSA, AirCal, Hughes Airwest, and Alaska covered the West Coast.

ONT was managed by the same authority as LAX, and concentrated their investment on the latter airport, first to handle the surge of traffic for the 1984 Olympics and then to manage the consolidation of the airline industry: American, United, and Delta all wanted to establish hubs there. Ontario was assigned ever-higher cost burdens to help finance development at LAX, which drove traffic away. It took until the late 1990s for ONT to get a replacement for its 1960s-era terminal, and arguments about costs and local control continued into the 2010s, when the airport authority was devolved to Ontario and San Bernardino.

Image by jennifer via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by jennifer via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Since its independence from LAX at the end of 2016, Ontario Airport has been working to lower its costs and attract new flights. The “Inland Empire” was hit hard by the 2008 Great Recession, but its recovery has been strong, and its location outside the road and rail snarls of Los Angeles proper – yet on the mainline interstates and railroads - has made it an important logistics hub: both UPS and FedEx have made ONT into key facilities for all Southern California.

Click to open the fascinating University of Virginia Cooper Center Map Project to visualize ethnic patterns from the 2010 Census. 

Click to open the fascinating University of Virginia Cooper Center Map Project to visualize ethnic patterns from the 2010 Census. 

Asian-American communities have steadily grown on the eastern side of Los Angeles, in Orange County, and on the northern side of San Diego. These communities would like (and are willing to pay for) convenient flight options to East and Southeast Asia, but Santa Ana’s airport is locked in to a short runway and limited hours which prevents long-range flights, and San Diego’s configuration is adequate only for Japan Airlines’ 787 nonstop to Tokyo – nothing bigger or with longer range. Up until this point, that meant travelers would have to endure long highway journeys to LAX. ONT, however, is convenient to the I-15 and Cal-91/Cal-60 corridors, has a very long runway, and is not subject to noise or frequency restrictions. While it may be similar road mileage from these communities versus LAX, the driving time can be literally hours better.

ONT management has been touting these advantages to Asian carriers, and in September 2017 they reached agreement with Taiwan’s China Airlines to begin nonstop service to Taipei:

Beginning March 25, 2018, with four flights per week:

  • Flight CI 24 – Departs Taipei Taoyuan (TPE) 4:10 pm, arrives ONT 1:20 pm same day
  • Flight CI 25 – Departs ONT 3:45 pm, arrives TPE 8:55 pm next day

The arrival time at Taipei will allow same-evening connections to Bangkok and Hong Kong, while the afternoon departure from TPE connects in from those two cities as well as many more from Southeast Asia and mainland China.

It is expected frequency will eventually become daily on this service. China Airlines will use its Boeing 777-300 on the route.

Photo by joolsgriff via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by joolsgriff via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

China Airlines’ SkyTeam partner, Delta, only flies to ONT from its hub in Salt Lake City, and the arrival/departure times for those flights would be terribly inconvenient to make connections (5-6 hour waits). So this flight is truly dedicated to serving local passenger and cargo customers for eastern L.A. and San Diego.

International Arrivals building. Image via Google Street View.

International Arrivals building. Image via Google Street View.

Customs Arrival

Ontario uses a dedicated, separate building for international arrivals needing Customs clearance. After landing, passengers will exit the airplane via stairs and walk outside on the apron to an enclosed walkway. Passport control is immediately inside, and then baggage claim. Passengers not needing to declare items at Customs may exit directly.

Average times to clear Customs at ONT currently run 15-30 minutes; on the lower end of the range for US citizens and the higher end for non-citizens. This is based off arrivals data for Aeromexico and Volaris flights coming in from Mexican cities – with the important note that those flights are on smaller 737 and A320 aircraft. China Airlines’ 777-300 will carry about twice as many passengers, so longer processing times should be expected. No other international arrivals will be taking place when the Taipei flight comes in, so this will help; we will need to see how US CBP staffs to serve this time of day to get a real sense of processing time.

There are no baggage recheck counters at the international arrivals building, or shops, just restrooms and doors outside to catch a shuttle bus to the other terminals, parking lots, and ground transportation center. The shuttle runs every 15-20 minutes, 24 hours per day.

Image via Google Maps. Click to expand view.

Terminal 2 entrance. Also via Google Maps Street View.

Terminal 2 entrance. Also via Google Maps Street View.

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Navigating the airport

International departures from Ontario leave from Terminal 2, and SkyTeam partners Delta and Aeromexico are also housed there. Check-in is on ground level, with the security checkpoint upstairs and gates just beyond.

ONT’s terminals are laid out in a straight line, with gates on the air-side and services on the land-side. Terminal 2 at present has only 12 gates so walking distance is minimal. (Click here for a terminal map.)

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Family-friendly amenities and hidden gems

The terminal was built with the intention of quickly moving passengers between the airplanes and parking lot – not for spending extended time there, or for making connections – so it’s a stripped-down building with just the basics. There aren’t any play facilities or kid-oriented artworks. There is a nursing area tucked in between the women’s restroom entrance and the vending machine complex across from Gate 207.

If your kids enjoy watching aircraft on the ramp and runways, the big windows do afford a good view of the action. The space just outside security gives the best panorama in Terminal 2.

Image by Zhao Shouren via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Zhao Shouren via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Restrooms

Terminal 2 was opened in 1998 so restrooms are up to ADA standards. There is one family-size restroom directly across from Gate 206, between the ATM and the men’s restroom entrance.

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Food and Shopping

At present there are only two prepared food outlets in Terminal 2 (one Mexican and one sandwich shop), plus an array of packaged-food vending machines. Likewise there is only one newsstand and one general-merchandise shop: nothing in particular oriented toward children, but more along the lines of last-minute needs, reading material, and gifts.

There is space in the concourse for additional food and retail, but traffic through the building needs to dramatically increase to attract and keep more tenants.

Connectivity

Wi-Fi is free and strong throughout the airport.

ONT is situated between Metrolink’s Riverside And San Bernardino lines, but neither has a station at the airport. The local bus system, Omnitrans, offers service every 15 minutes from Terminals 2 and 4 along their route #61, which links the Pomona station on the Riverside line, and the Fontana station on the San Bernardino line. Bus route #80 with hourly service, reaches the Ontario Convention Center, Alta Loma, and Rancho Cucamonga.

Lodging

There are several family-friendly hotel chains nearby with free shuttle service to ONT, if you were going to drive in the night before your flight:

  • Holiday Inn Ontario Airport
  • Azure Hotel & Suites Ontario Airport
  • Best Western Plus Ontario Airport
  • DoubleTree by Hilton Ontario Airport
  • Residence Inn by Marriott Ontario Airport
  • Sheraton Ontario Airport
  • Embassy Suites Ontario Airport

See also…

ONT Wikipedia entry

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-ontario-airport-20161101-story.html

https://www.dailybulletin.com/2017/09/29/china-airlines-announces-nonstop-weekly-flights-to-ontario-airport-in-spring-2018/

 

Houston - IAH

Image courtesy Visit Houston

Image courtesy Visit Houston

New flights power Asian connections through the Energy City

Houston’s historic importance as a center of energy production and logistics quickly put it on the post-World War II map of long-range flights from Europe and Latin America. Companies like Phillips 66, Conoco, Halliburton, and Occidental – and the contractors and suppliers who support them – send their people all over their world, often on short notice: they require frequent international service and are willing to pay well for it.

The city’s seaport and distribution infrastructure – and closeness to Mexico and the Caribbean – also gave it more of a global outlook, cuisine, and population. Yet it was not until after the Vietnam War and the emergence of the Four Tigers economies in the 1970s-80s when Houston started to pick up Asian influences and migration, and vibrant Vietnamese and Taiwanese communities developed in the southwest quarter of the metro area in the 1980s-90s.

Continental 777-200 at Narita Airport, preparing to depart for Houston

Continental 777-200 at Narita Airport, preparing to depart for Houston

It took until 1998 for Houston-headquartered Continental Airlines to start nonstop service to Tokyo, the city’s first air link of any kind to Asia.

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United and Continental merged, moving their headquarters to Chicago but keeping Houston as a mega hub. While United has not added any more nonstop flights to East Asia, they have encouraged their Star Alliance partners to come to Houston, so today IAH has daily or near-daily service to:

  • Tokyo Narita – on United and also ANA-All Nippon Airways
  • Beijing – with Air China
  • Taipei – on EVA Air
  • Singapore – with Singapore Airlines (this flight stops in Manchester, England on the way)

From these four hub cities, nearly any point in East and Southeast Asia can be reached in just one stop.

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Domestically, United covers all major US cities from IAH and regional destinations in Texas, the Southwest, and the Gulf Coast. These areas, and Florida, are best-positioned to use Houston as a connecting point for flights to Asia.

Delta, American, and Spirit also send numerous flights into IAH, but don’t have international partners flying there to take you to Asia via Houston. Finally, Southwest doesn’t fly to IAH at all, as they have a significant base at Hobby Airport on the south side of the city.

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Customs Arrival

International arrivals for the Asian carriers pull up to gates in Terminal D, where mid-level walkways and bridges direct passengers through the building, across the street, and into the central Customs checkpoint.

Image of Terminal E courtesy Visit Houston

Image of Terminal E courtesy Visit Houston

Passengers arriving on United’s flight dock at Terminal E, where they ascend a level and walk above that concourse to get to the same central Customs area.

Passport checks take place on the upper level, and then passengers go down a floor to the baggage claim and Customs inspection area. For travelers not flying onward, there are exits from this point to the arrivals area on the ground floor of Terminal E. For people connecting to other flights, turn right after Customs for baggage re-check stations and then security screening. Once through TSA screening, you will come out into a corridor linking the D and E gates, with the Skyway train station just around the corner.

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Click this map to open a new window for detailed maps on the airport's official site.

Click this map to open a new window for detailed maps on the airport's official site.

Navigating the airport

One thing is certain when flying from or connecting through IAH: there’s almost always going to be a lot of walking.

The airport opened in 1969, before the days of security checks or massive airline hub operations, so the original Terminals A and B were small, separate buildings each with four “banjo” concourses tucked in close.  By the early 1980s this arrangement was clearly impossible to manage for Continental’s growing hub, so they built Terminal C further east.  Terminal D opened in 1990, then Terminal E in 2002.

In 2018, only two "banjos" remain, on the north side of Terminal B. These will get torn down in the early 2020s and replaced with more-conventional concourses.

In 2018, only two "banjos" remain, on the north side of Terminal B. These will get torn down in the early 2020s and replaced with more-conventional concourses.

The terminals are spread so far apart because they are sitting between the airport’s east-west runways, and concourses can only extend outward by a few airplanes’ wingspans before blocking taxiways. Likewise, creating one central terminal is impossible because of how the roadways and tunnels were laid out in the 1960s. In fact, the airport has run out of room and cannot add any more terminal buildings to the east – so they have been progressively re-constructing the terminals and gate areas to become more efficient.  IAH is about halfway through that process, and it will take well into the 2020s for all its parts to be rebuilt.

The C-North gates have breathtaking design with lots of open space - the model for what the B-North and D gates will look like in about ten years...

The C-North gates have breathtaking design with lots of open space - the model for what the B-North and D gates will look like in about ten years...

United’s operation in Houston is so large that it now uses all the B, C, and E gates, and many of the northern A gates as well. Delta, American, Spirit, Air Canada, Alaska, Frontier, and other US and Canadian carriers use gates in the A complex, while all the overseas and Mexican carriers use the D gates.

So even for a United-United connection it is entirely possible you may arrive at gate A1 and depart from gate E19. Thankfully, all gates can be reached without having to leave the secure area.

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Skyway shuttle trains run along the north side of the complex, with one station in Terminal A, B, and C, and a station between Terminals D and E. These trains are quick and frequent and afford a pretty good view of the runways and ramp on the north half of the airport. From one end to the other is about a 5-minute ride.

Corridor connecting the E-gate concourses

Corridor connecting the E-gate concourses

However, even using the Skyway train, there is still considerable walking needed along the C and E gates. And if you are using United Express service leaving from the B gates (especially B1-B31), those are also a long walk from the Skyway station. For domestic-domestic, or domestic-international connections, we would advise using no less than a full hour and preferably 90 minutes between flights.

The one case where you won’t have too far to walk is if you are being dropped off on the ground floor of Terminal D to check in for your flight – in that case the gates are immediately above the ticket counters and security checkpoint.

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Family-friendly amenities and hidden gems

IAH has no children’s play areas and no consistent safe stretches of space where kids can run around to burn off steam while waiting for boarding. Even open gate areas in the C14-C15 or D1-2-3 stretches will see a steady stream of cart traffic and just enough people trying to sleep to keep them “no fly zones” for children.

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The international gates east of the small food court, D7 – D12, have several interesting child-height art installations and occasionally someone playing the grand piano.

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Over in Terminal A, the Skyway train station is full of eye-catching star sculptures, and the walkway between the north and south gate areas holds many sculptures under Plexiglas at kids’ eye level.  There are also musical performances scheduled in the north-side food court. (And here is a link to the full portfolio of artwork)

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Mindworks, near gate E9, is a small but well-stocked kids’ shop with toys and aerospace / NASA gear; well worth a visit if you are in the E gates or even the C30-C40 area.

Surprisingly missing is any exhibit from NASA/Johnson Space Center – in contrast to the two locations Kennedy Space Center has in the Orlando terminal. There is plenty of open-air space in the E gates, the C-North gates, and the ticket hall of Terminal D for them to mount full-sized spacecraft replicas!

 

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Restrooms

Just as the gate areas are being progressively torn down and rebuilt, so are the restrooms. The newest parts of the complex (A-gates, E-gates, B1-B31 United Express holdroom, and the C-North gates) have been built with conveniently-located family restrooms.

The C-North / E / new B mens’ and womens’ lavatories also have more stalls and more room in each stall for stowing carry-on bags up off the floor (or for managing children if need be.)

D-gate restroom entrance

D-gate restroom entrance

The restrooms in the international D-gate areas are adequate in periods of average traffic, but starting to show their age and not up to the same standard as the ones in the E-gates, plus there are no family facilities in that stretch. This could lead to long waits if several flights are leaving around the same time.

Typical stall in the E-gates; note the small shelf above the toilet for storage.

Typical stall in the E-gates; note the small shelf above the toilet for storage.

Restroom repair and cleanliness is also uneven across the terminals – the newest are simply built better for the traffic they get, so they are easier to maintain.

 

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Food and Shopping

Thankfully, great food options for any palate or food requirement are available throughout the complex, and since you’ll be walking anyway, you’ll get to see a wide spectrum of choices. The local cuisines of East Texas and the Gulf are well-represented, from steakhouse to Tex-Mex, Cajun/Creole, Vietnamese, and seafood.

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National chains are well-represented, and the airport is rolling out many sit-down restaurants that use the popular order-from-iPad service format. There are also several shops to pick up fresh fruit and deli sandwiches.

Shopping options include the usual newsstand, electronics, cosmetics, sunglasses, and luxury-goods choices, but you’ll also find more than the usual number of clothing stores.

IAH is piloting an interesting twist to shopping: certain merchants will let you use your MileagePlus points toward payment!

IAH is piloting an interesting twist to shopping: certain merchants will let you use your MileagePlus points toward payment!

 

Connectivity

Wi-Fi is free and strong throughout the airport.

Houston has a metro rail system, but has not extended it out to IAH – it might get there by 2035, according to the latest long-range plan. There is a bus route to downtown, but it does not go near the Convention Center or main bank of hotels. SuperShuttle, taxi, or private car are the only realistic options for fast ground transport.

 

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Lodging

If you need to stay overnight before or after your trip, the Houston Airport Marriott is located between Terminals B and C, and can be reached from any terminal via underground Subway (catch it on level LL below baggage-claim). Many rooms have a good view of the ramp! For its convenient location, it does claim a premium price.

Lower-priced national chain locations with family-friendly amenities and free shuttles to IAH would include the Spring Hill Suites by Marriott, DoubleTree by Hilton, Country Inn & Suites, La Quinta Inn, Hampton Inn, and Courtyard by Marriott.

 

See also…

Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport official website

IAH Wikipedia entry

Seattle/Tacoma - SEA

This traditional Pacific port of entry is easy to use.

Seattle’s historic ties of trade with and immigration from Asia, its many technology and service companies, and its relatively short flying times have attracted many airlines to start Transpacific service here.

Delta Airlines has built up a strong Asian operation out of Seattle with nonstops to Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul-Incheon, Shanghai-Pudong, and Tokyo-Narita. 

Fellow SkyTeam carrier Xiamen Air has started a 3-per-week service from Seattle nonstop to Shenzhen in the Pearl River Valley, continuing on to Xiamen on China's southeast coast.

Korean Air offers 5-per-week nonstop service to their massive hub at Seoul-Incheon. Some same-day connections are available to interior Chinese cities and other Southeast Asian destinations; many more can be reached with an overnight stay (Incheon has a hotel inside the terminal for just this reason.) 

ANA - All Nippon Airways, in the Star Alliance with United, has a daily nonstop to their big Tokyo-Narita hub; many Southeast Asian cities can be reached same-day.

Asiana Airlines - in the Star Alliance with United - runs a 5-per-week nonstop to Seoul-Incheon. A few interior Chinese cities can be reached same-day; otherwise an overnight stay is needed. 

Hainan Airlines, an independent Chinese carrier, flies nonstop 5 times a week to Beijing, where they offer excellent same-day connections to many interior cities. They have also started a 3-per-week nonstop to Shanghai-Pudong.

EVA Airways flies daily nonstop to Taipei. Airlines from Taiwan have only recently been allowed to fly into mainland China; your best connections on EVA are to Fujian and Guangdong provinces. The return flight into Seattle arrives too late in the evening to make same-day onward flights, and the departure from Seattle leaves well after midnight.

Domestically, Seattle is the headquarters and main hub for Alaska Airlines and their commuter arm, Alaska Horizon, as well as a major base for Delta, who has its own commuter services too. Sea-Tac is also an important focus city for United. These networks link Seattle to every major city in the Pacific and Alaska time zones, and every second-tier city in the Pacific Northwest.

Every major US airline serves SEA, including the low-cost carriers Southwest, JetBlue, and Spirit. No matter which frequent-flyer program you’re on, or part of the country you’re from, you’ll have numerous options.

Customs Arrival

All international flights arrive at the South Satellite. As you deplane, you’ll be directed along ramps to the level below the gate area. Even though many overseas flights arrive midday, waiting time for passport checks and luggage retrieval usually takes between 30 to 60 minutes. (Even on domestic flights, Sea-Tac’s baggage delivery is super-speedy; your suitcases will be at the carrousel before you can get there.)

After clearing Customs, if you have an onward flight, stop at the baggage re-check counters, then go through security screening, and walk over to the underground tram stop (for Delta flights, head upstairs; for all other carriers, take the tram to the main terminal, where you can access all other gates.)

If Seattle is your final destination, after you’ve picked up your bags and gone through the declaration line, you’ll set your bags back down on a high-speed conveyor belt which will zip them over to Baggage Claim carrousel #1 in the main terminal. Meanwhile, you and your family will bypass security and get on an isolated tram car which will take you to the Baggage Claim exit. (You don’t want to cram that car full of everybody’s bags...)

Navigating the Airport

Click on image to access airport maps (Port of Seattle)

Click on image to access airport maps (Port of Seattle)

The Sea-Tac complex uses an X-shaped layout: Concourses A and B extend south of the central terminal, while Concourses C and D run north. There are two satellite gate areas, South and North.

Image courtesy Port of Seattle. Click on image to see more about the expansion project.

Image courtesy Port of Seattle. Click on image to see more about the expansion project.

Thanks to robust growth of international service, Concourse A and the South Satellite are being linked by a skybridge, and a number of A-gates will be able to handle overseas arrivals.

The North Satellite is also being expanded to handle Alaska Airlines' hearty growth.

Concourse A houses United, Air Canada, and Sun Country, as well as many Delta flights. On Concourse B you’ll find Southwest, Spirit, and Frontier, and also Delta. Concourses C and D are the heart of Alaska’s hub operation, as well as the North Satellite. American and JetBlue also run out of Concourse D. The South Satellite is Delta territory.

While Sea-Tac is spread out, walking times are quite short thanks to three underground tram lines, all inside the security zone. Using the trams, you can move from the South Satellite to the North Satellite in less than 15 minutes. Concourse A is the longest, but has been equipped with moving sidewalks for speedy transit.

The entire complex has been freshly renovated with wide corridors, expansive windows, and engaging art. On clear days you can see the Cascade Mountains and islands in Puget Sound. Even on overcast days the terminal is filled with natural light.

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

A large play area is located between the central food court and the beginning of the A-Concourse. There’s also plenty of seating for parents, too.

If you have several hours between flights, and children who want to stretch their legs, the far end of the A-Concourse (gates A11-A14) has great views on a sunny day, and you can often have the entire area to yourselves.

Local artwork permeates the terminal, often with an aviation or Native American theme, giving great opportunities for kids to ask questions, look for patterns, and inspire their own creativity.

The Pacific Northwest music scene also resonates at Sea-Tac as they have created an ambient music stream for the terminal featuring local artists.

Another semi-secret gem is the Atrium at the south end of the ticketing counters. This area is outside security (so you’ll need to be screened again to get to your flight), but the open space, rocks to clamber over, and seating outside for fresh air are worth a visit if you have time.

Restrooms

Several family restrooms are available on every concourse and satellite. In addition, the stalls in regular restrooms incorporate several sturdy coathooks, plus a shelf above the toilet, making it much easier to manage your cargo and children. Cleanliness is very good, and the facilities are uniformly in excellent condition.

Food and Shopping

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Sea-Tac offers some gift/newsstand options on each concourse and satellite, at least one sit-down restaurant and several fast-food counters; often one will feature Asian cuisine. And coffeeshops, lots and lots of coffeeshops (and not just Starbucks.)

For the most diverse selection of gifts, a good-sized bookshop, numerous sit-down restaurants, and additional fast-food options, go to the central food court, where all four concourses converge and the view is amazing. There are several shops here with kids’ sections, as well, including the awesome Planewear - gear, gadgets, and gifts all about aviation!

Connectivity

WiFi is available throughout the terminal and gate areas at no charge!

Seattle’s light rail line allows access north to Chinatown / International District (about 25 minutes) and the central Downtown corridor (about 30 minutes.)

Also see:

Our Pinterest board on Seattle