How an Airport Coat Check Could Make My Trip Better, Too

I remember (from my Chicago days) the wonderful feeling of getting off a plane in a tropical destination, having departed just hours earlier from sub-zero temperatures. Except for one thing: It’s a drag to lug a winter coat in paradise. This week Harriet Baskas wrote a post on her Stuck at the Airport blog that caught my attention. A new service in JetBlue’s T5 at JFK offers a coat check kiosk—CoatChex–where you can check your coat and retrieve it days ($2 per) or weeks ($10 per) later.

I particularly love the ID concept for these kiosks: Just type in your phone number and initials, then pose for a photo with your coat before checking. No rumpled tickets or sticky keys to fish out from the bottom of your bag when you return.

We live in a sharing economy, now, though, so why not push this one step further and take a note from the playbook of FlightCar, which rents out your car when you’re gone. Because it’s also a drag to arrive in a cold city from a moderate climate (like the one I live in now) hauling a coat you use just a couple of times a year. Why not rent one of the coats in the kiosk? I’m only partly serious. But if someone can find a way to make money on this, make mine a size 8, Patagonia, any color available.

Reading: Creative Confidence

Design firm IDEO has wowed the world with applied creativity for decades. The company explains its work like this: A global design consultancy; we create impact through innovation. Now IDEO founder David Kelley and his brother and partner Tom Kelley, have written a book called Creative Confidence to cheer the rest of us on in this mission to create impact through innovation.

Travelers will enjoy several case studies from within our circles:

  • How Air New Zealand came up with the economy class “skycouch” (and why the idea of bunkbeds was rejected);
  • How an Olympic athlete on JetBlue’s staff figured out what went wrong during the airline’s Valentine’s Day 2007 snowstorm PR crisis; and
  • How Cisco invented the ultimate anti-travel technology, TelePresence.

The brothers Kelley are evangelists for travel and see it as a lens for viewing the world in a new way, thus spawning creativity.

We learn a lot when we travel not because we are any smarter on the road, but because we pay such close attention.

The Kelleys often take students from the d.school (the Stanford University design institute David Kelley founded) to the airport to observe passengers and talk with airline representatives. The students are surprised at what they notice for the first time.

For business travelers who can put on this beginner’s mind when they hit the road—and keep it on even when preoccupied with the upcoming meeting’s outcome or stressed from a delayed flight—travel can boost creativity like few other activities. A trio of personal essays from Chip Conley, Peter Shankman and Byron Reese about how travel stimulates their business thinking is one of my favorite Executive Travel editorial packages.

Keeping a beginner’s mind and staying present enough to really see when traveling is the road warrior’s version of meditation. And they don’t call meditation a practice for nothing: It requires much of that.

Getting paid to park at SFO

Airport parking can really eat up a budget, especially when it’s for vacation and not reimbursed. So I was curious to try out FlightCar for a recent trip, a new enterprise at SFO (also BOS).

The concept is simple: Leave your car in their parking lot, and FlightCar rents it to other travelers while you’re away.  Sounds ridiculous, right? And risky.  But I was eager to save the $150 we’d pay in parking. And wouldn’t mind a little bonus if the car–a scuffed, five-year-old minivan–was rented. Ten days later and with a $60 check in hand , I’m sold.

FlightCar is the brainchild of three teens (the company’s CEO is 18!) who saw an opportunity of duplication: airport parking lots full of cars, and airport rental car lots full of cars. While their customer base appears to be growing, they’re facing a full-on legal battle with the City of San Francisco, which wants a cut of the action through taxes.

On our trip the company’s execution was excellent, with just a few rough edges. We reserved a spot online. Easy. On the day of the trip we called to let them know we were 10 minutes away. A limo drove us from the lot to the airport. On the return trip, we called when our flight landed and the limo met us at the curb. Once at the parking lot, we were given our freshly washed car and a check for $60.

The only sign that anyone else had used the car was a pair of Stanford parking stickers in the glove box. And the only delay was when our car was blocked by a car just dropped off–it apparently had a manual transmission, which none of the employees knew how to get in gear.

Sure there may be some risks. But FlightCar has them pretty well covered in the website FAQ. (And I’m not sure I’d use it if my ride was a just-off-the-lot luxury car.) But I give it a thumbs-up after our simple test drive.