Welcome to The Check-In, our weekend feature focusing on all things travel.
In 2022, TSA officers found guns in raw chicken and drugs in hair scrunchies
If you've spent time at an airport, you know that on any given day, an interesting cast of characters passes through the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. While most have totally benign objects packed in their suitcases, some try to smuggle contraband — and we're not talking water bottles and oversize shampoo bottles. The TSA said in 2022, officers found 6,500 firearms, and more than 88 percent of them were loaded.
This week, the TSA released its annual list of the Top 10 Catches made by officers, and there were some doozies. On Dec. 22, officers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City flagged two jars of Jif peanut butter, which contained parts of a disassembled handgun. Peanut butter is considered a liquid, so the jars, being more than 3.4 ounces, caught their attention. An even weirder discovery was made in September, when officers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida spotted something strange on the X-ray: a raw chicken with a gun stuffed inside.
There were also several drug-related busts, including scrunchies filled with pills found at Boise Airport and about 12,000 suspected fentanyl pills hidden in Skittles, Whoppers, and SweeTarts containers at Los Angeles International Airport.
Southwest tries to make amends by giving jilted travelers 25,000 points
After canceling thousands of flights over the holidays, Southwest Airlines is hoping to win back customers through frequent flyer miles. On Wednesday, passengers whose flights were canceled or delayed by more than three hours between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2 received an email from Southwest CEO Bob Jordan, letting them know that in addition to ticket refunds and travel vouchers they may have already received, they'll also be getting 25,000 frequent flyer points, with no blackout or expiration dates. "I know that no amount of apologies can undo your experience," Jordan wrote in the email, but it's his hope that people will see this as a "gesture of goodwill." For groups that traveled together, the points, which Southwest says are worth more than $300, will be given to each person.
So you want to ... have an over-the-top Las Vegas experience
Glitz, glamour, neon, and sparkle — this is Las Vegas. Some might opt for the laid-back experience, where the hardest decision of the day is which pool lounger to claim, while others want to actually leave the Strip behind for hikes in Red Rock Canyon. Not you, though — you want to embrace the decadence that's in Las Vegas' DNA. You want the shrimp cocktail and steaks the size of your face and cocktails like Frank (Sinatra, of course) used to drink. You want to slip into a sequined dress or crisp suit and be a high roller for the night.
For a truly over-the-top Vegas experience, start by booking a suite with a sweeping view of the Strip. If you stay at the Bellagio, Cosmopolitan, or Paris Las Vegas, make sure your digs face the Bellagio fountains, which put on a spectacular show every 15 to 30 minutes a day, from 3 p.m. to midnight. If money is no object, consider booking one of the luxe, Mediterranean-themed Mansions at the MGM Grand or the opulent 15,400-square-foot Verona Sky Villa at the Westgate, complete with a private pool and piano room.
Accommodations secured, it's time to think about food and drinks. Vanderpump à Paris at the Paris Las Vegas is an immersive experience — guests are transported to a dramatic courtyard on a rainy day in Paris, and you can't help but stare at the fantastical decor, like the floral arrangements spinning from the ceiling. Presentation is everything, with drinks like the smoked Louvre At First Sight coming out in a triangular glass case and the gin-based French Poodle topped off with a poof of pink cotton candy, reminiscent of both Marie Antoinette and a very chic troll doll.
There are lots of old school dining establishments dating back to the Rat Pack years, including the Golden Steer near downtown, Hugo's Cellar at the Four Queens (women are greeted with a rose upon arrival), and Piero's Italian Cuisine. It doesn't get more Vegas than The Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge, which have everything you want in a retro establishment: velvet booths, neon, mirrored ceilings, more neon, fire pits, and yes, neon. The portions are substantial (their burger and French toast ambrosia are beloved) and the people watching can't be beat.
The kitschy beauty of Las Vegas is it brings the world's tourist attractions to one area — while it doesn't replace actually traveling to Italy, no indulgent stay in Las Vegas is complete without going for a gondola ride at The Venetian (you can choose indoor or outdoor — go with the latter). Enter a completely different world at any of the Cirque du Soleil performances in town (the newest one, Mad Apple, is at New York-New York) or spring for the best seats in the house at one of the many residencies, like Adele at Caesars Palace, Usher at Park MGM, or Miranda Lambert at Planet Hollywood. If you still need a burst of adrenaline after all that, fulfill your need for speed at Exotics Racing, where there are more than 40 cars — including Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, and McLarens — available to drive around their racetrack. Viva Las Vegas!
Editor's note: Vanderpump à Paris hosted Catherine Garcia.
Plan accordingly: Upcoming events to add to your calendar
Celebrate Friday the 13th at one of the weirdest spots in the United States: the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. This mansion once belonged to Sarah Winchester, and has a bizarre layout, with stairways to nowhere, walled off windows, and skylights under the roof. Legend has it that this property is haunted, and starting on Jan. 13, the attraction will hold spooky Flashlight Tours every Friday through Feb. 24. These will be self-guided tours (don't get too scared — there will be employees on hand to ensure people don't get lost in the dizzying maze of a house) with a limited number of tickets sold.