New E-Kiosks Aim To Speed Up Airport Customs Process

Clearing customs after arriving in the United States is set to get faster thanks to a new electronic system. Rather than filling out declaration cards handed out during the flight, travelers will soon use self-service kiosks to answer customs-related questions. The machines will spit out a receipt which passengers will then show to a customs agent, along with their passport and travel information.

Known as the Automated Passport Control Program, the system aims to speed up the border-crossing process. The new technology was developed by the Vancouver Airport Authority and will be implemented in the Canadian city first. It will then be launched at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, which will be the first port of entry in the United States to make use of the automated system.”This technology will help expedite customs processing for passengers arriving to O’Hare, further strengthening Chicago as a global destination,” said Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a news release. “Being the first airport in the U.S. to implement these advances demonstrates how serious we are about making Chicago the first, best and most welcoming city in the country.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user CBP Photography]

Best Buy airport kiosks: Rip off or godsend?

America-sized vending machines are the new big things at the nation’s airports, giant robots that help you pick out the last second headphones or digital camera that you forgot to bring on the road.

If they’re anything like the airport Burger King, however, then consumers should be concerned about the markup. Like the restaurant, it’s always possible that airport retailers can inflate the price of their goods because they have a monopoly on the local market, squeezing passengers for more cash and gouging for a few extra dollars.

Concerned, Gadling Labs took a quick survey of the Las Vegas airport Best Buy Kiosk and then did a comparison with the current online prices. What we found was that prices were identical between the airport and the online store, from headphones to cameras to HD video devices. Here are a few examples:

Sony Bloggie Touch: ($199|$199) (LAS|Online)
Bose OE Audio Headphones: ($179|$179) (LAS|Online)
Skullcandy Skullcrusher Headphones ($69|$69) (LAS|Online)

What does this mean? That Best Buy is charging passing airport customers the same price that it charges its customers elsewhere. Way to go Best Buy — it’s the classy thing to do.

Undiscovered New York: Unique NYC shopping

New Yorkers, you might be surprised to discover, like to shop. Whether it’s for sky-high stilettos or a jar of saffron, a copy of Candide or specialty cameras, you can be sure that if it can be purchased they probably sell it somewhere in New York City’s Five Boroughs.

Under normal circumstances New York is a city where conspicuous consumption rules and money is no object. But as many Americans can attest, the current economic climate has hit retailers and consumers hard, and everyone is cutting back and feeling the pinch. Yet all the bad news has had a curiously positive effect on the New York retailing scene. For all the talk of excess, New York remains a surprisingly affordable and remarkably diverse place to shop if you know where to look. A place where consumers value quality, craftsmanship and creativity and a good bargain above all else.

So instead of dwelling on New York’s gilded streets of consumption like SoHo and Fifth Avenue, we’d like to take you inside some of the city’s quirkier and more interesting retail establishments. Looking to “shop like a local” and pick some highly original New York bargains along the way? Welcome inside Undiscovered New York’s guide to unique city shopping…
The types of goods sold in New York are literally endless. To pretend to create any kind of comprehensive list would be both fruitless and foolish. Instead, we’re going to be listing of some of our favorite retailers from across the city in gender-neutral categories such as books, travel, music and food. Men’s and women’s clothing could make an entire post of its own and won’t be covered here – if you’re looking for more fashion info, definitely check out New York Magazine.

Travel Stores: As befitting a travel blog, it’s only fair we mention a few New York retailers who specialize in travel accessories and products. Our favorites include:

  • Kiosk (95 Spring Street, Manhattan) – The globally-savvy owners of New York’s Kiosk have carved out an interesting retail niche. Rather than concentrate one specific type of product, they’ve unearthed a variety of small inexpensive curiosities from around the world, ranging from the practical to the whimsical. The collection of items, which includes everything from Finnish bottle openers to pitting spoons from California, is highly diverse and constantly changing.
  • Flight 001 (Multiple Locations) – Flight 001 is a retailer that specializes in a highly curated collection of great travel products, spanning the gamut from travel luggage and guidebooks to packing aids and pill bottles. New York happens to be blessed with three of the chain’s seven U.S. stores, two which can be found in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan. Stop by and pick up some carry-on bags, a travel wallet and some shampoo sheets for your next trip.

Books: Reading comes as naturally to New Yorkers as breathing. As a global center of the publishing industry and home to a highly literate citizenry, this is a city that takes its books seriously, whether it’s the latest Dean Koontz paperback or a store that sells antique books from the 19th Century.

  • The Strand (828 Broadway, Manhattan) – Boasting its status as the “Home of 18 Miles of New, Used, Rare and Out of Print Books,” The Strand Bookstore is the undisputed champion of bookselling in New York. Be prepared to walk in and get lost in aisle after aisle of books covering every possible subject matter. The prices are pretty good too, frequently below retail.
  • St. Mark’s Bookshop (31 Third Ave, Manhattan) – what St. Mark’s bookshop lacks in size compared to The Strand, it more than makes up for in its meticulous collection of quirky and eclectic book offerings, including everything from progressive political manifestos to international magazines and large-size art books.
  • powerHouse Books (37 Main St, Brooklyn) – half art gallery, half bookstore, the cavernous retail space for DUMBO-based book retailer powerHouse never fails to delight. The store has a particularly good collection of coffee table-size photography books.

Food: New Yorkers seem to have a nose for sniffing out the most diverse and delicious food from around the world, and the city’s specialty food retailers are no exception. Here’s a few of our favorites:

  • Despaña (408 Broome St, Manhattan) – if you’ve ever visited Spain, you know how crave-worthy the food can be. That’s why Spanish-specialty store Despaña has become a New York foodie’s best-kept secret. The store’s deli country can slice up specialty Spanish meats like Jamon Serrano and regional canned delicacies like white beans and clams.
  • Sahadi’s (187 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn) – if Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue is the cultural epicenter of the city’s Middle Eastern food scene, Sahadi’s is most certainly its bullseye. The gourmet grocer stocks all manner of specialty olive oils, nuts and imported delicacies from far flung locales like Turkey and Lebanon.

Music: Similar to their zeal for the written word, New Yorkers are avid consumers of music. The city offers an awe-inspiring diversity of music shops, whether you’re hoping to go digging through crates of used vinyl or just pick up the latest CD by that teen-pop sensation.

  • Other Music (15 E. 4th St, Manhattan) – nobody has their finger on the beat of New York’s fickle music consumers better than Other Music. Their highly-knowledgeable staff is great at picking out those hidden gems and introducing you to new genres and up-and-coming artists. In addition to new music, the store also stocks vinyl, used CD’s and sells tickets to many of the city’s best upcoming concerts.
  • Halcyon (57 Pearl St, Brooklyn) – New York DJ’s, vinyl-lovers and beat junkies head to Halycon to get the latest and greatest sounds destined for the dance floors and turntables of New York. In addition to being one of the best places in the city to get your hands on electronic music, Halcyon also stocks a nice collection of books, clothing, artwork and quirky toys.
  • A-1 Records (439 E. 6th St, Manhattan) – frequently described as a “crate-digger’s paradise,” A-1 Records upholds the legacy of a once-thriving music scene in New York’s East Village. If you’re looking for more obscure finds, this is a great place to look. Vinyl only.

Wow, that’s a lot of stores! As you’re beginning to see, New York is home to some of the country’s best independent retailers, specializing in everything from Lebanese olive oils to vintage books. But maybe there’s an independent New York store that we didn’t cover? Feel free to leave a comment below and tell us your favorites.

Use a cell phone to secure your Southwest Airlines boarding pass

Over a year ago, I wrote about how you can print your Southwest Airlines boarding pass without a printer, but since then I got a Blackberry and have adapted the same concept to a cell phone.

Two weekends ago, I was in Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day, and instead of leaving the party mid-day Saturday to find a computer to check in and get my “A” boarding pass for our Sunday flight back home, I used my cell phone’s Internet browser to login to Southwest Airline’s website. Once I entered in my information, it took me to the screen where I could select the passengers to check in and hit “print boarding pass.”

Obviously I didn’t have a printer attached to my cell phone, but with Southwest’s system it doesn’t matter. I was able to see on-screen that I had secured an “A” boarding pass, so I closed out of it and continued on my marry way. Come Sunday, hungover and ready for the flight back home, we arrived at Midway and found a SWA check-in kiosk. There I swiped my credit card, and instead of selecting “print boarding pass,” I selected “re-print boarding pass.”

Southwest does this in case you lose your boarding pass or run out of printer ink mid-print, but it’s perfect for checking in using your cell phone or printing your boarding pass if you don’t have a printer at home, but still want that coveted “A” position. Give it a try.