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From reindeers to ugly sweaters, airports are making holiday travel more fun

To celebrate the season, some airports are offering free ice-skating, caroling, a parade — even free miles.
Image: Free ice skating at Denver International Airport.
Free ice skating at Denver International Airport.Courtesy of Denver International Airport

Holiday travel is in full swing, and already airports and airplanes are busier than ever.

During the Christmas and New Year’s period, the Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 6 percent more passengers than it did last year at this time, with a peak of 2.7 million people going through the scanners on Dec. 26, the busiest day of the travel season.

Passengers won’t be surprised to find long lines at security checkpoints, crowded gate areas and fully packed planes. But they may also find themselves charmed by some of the fun activities and perks airports and airlines will be offering.

Munich Airport’s Christmas and Winter Market is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Through Dec. 26, more than 110,000 square feet of covered space between Terminals 1 and 2 is once again transformed into a pine forest surrounding a giant ice rink, with more than 40 booths offering handicrafts, traditional Christmas treats, live music, kids' activities and free ice-skating.

At London’s Heathrow Airport, Candice Brown — winner of TV show "The Great British Bake Off" — and food artist Michele Wibowo teamed up to create a giant gingerbread model of the entire airport, complete with the airport’s four terminals, runways, control towers and thousands of details and decorations. Fans of the airport’s popular and heartwarming series of holiday ads will even spot miniature versions of stuffed bears Doris and Edward Bair.

In the United States, the selfie-friendly Snoopy statue on the mall at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is wearing a festive sweater, complete with 3D decorations, crocheted by local textile guilds.

At Denver International Airport there’s free ice-skating, with free skate rentals, on the plaza between the main terminal and airport Westin hotel daily through Jan. 6. To keep spectators and skaters warm, there’s free hot chocolate and cider beginning at noon on Fridays.

In addition to live music, carolers and visits by Santa and Mrs. Claus, Nashville International invites passengers to sing karaoke Christmas tunes. The Puppet Truck will also be visiting BNA airport this season, with “Elling Town,” a special jazz-themed puppet show.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, passengers can join Santa, elves, and other costumed characters in a daily holiday parade scheduled to take place Dec. 16 to 24 in the terminal. And on Dec. 19 and 20, there will be live reindeers greeting passengers who arrive at the airport via light rail.

Airlines are also getting into the holiday spirit: Alaska Airlines will celebrate National Ugly Sweater Day on Dec. 21 by offering early boarding on all Alaska and Horizon Air to any passenger wearing a festive holiday sweater.

And United Airlines will be giving 2,500 bonus award miles to passengers who will "miss" Dec. 25 because they’re booked on the carrier’s seven international flights that depart on Dec. 24 but don’t arrive at their destinations until Dec. 26.