Airport Secret: The USO Lounge

USO1

The first thing I learned about air travel as a military spouse was this: don’t fly through any airport that does not have a USO lounge. And this is why …

Air travel is probably part of your military life whether you like it or not. Unless you never want to see your family again (or get lucky enough to be stationed near them), you’re going to have to get their somehow … and flying is probably your best option.

The very idea of flying with my children does a number on my blood pressure. Racing to the airport at zero-dark-thirty. Going through security with a stroller, car seat, computer, baby food and, oh yeah, babies. Transforming into the Hulk as I somehow, all by myself, move a 3-year-old, an infant, my computer bag, an over-stuffed diaper bag and a car seat down the center aisle of an airplane. Deplaning at the layover. Getting my baggage without losing my children. Renting a car.

Vacation? Hardly.

But there is one – ONE – bright spot in the midst of all this.

The USO lounge.

Available at many airports nationwide, USO lounges come in all shapes and sizes. Some are located before the security checkpoint. Some are located after it in the terminal. Some are spacious, recently remodeled and luxurious. Some are small and homey.

But all are run by helpful volunteers who want to set you up with a much needed Diet Coke, feed you snacks, help you secure your stuff in a locker and then set you up with their wifi, children’s area, ridiculously comfortable lounge chairs, movie room or, really, whatever you need.

Simply put: I LOVE the USO. I love the snacks. I love the helper people. I love the chance to walk around for 30 minutes without hauling bags or children. I love the relief.

I find it so valuable that I now ONLY book flights that connect through airports with a USO lounge. Even if my layover isn’t long enough to visit, the security of having a place to crash with my kids at the off-chance that our flight is very delayed or canceled is well worth it.

Back when I had extra time on my hands and did a lot of traveling (read: before I had kids), this USO ignorance so bothered me and my friend that we created a BlogSpot based site so that we could review all the lounges we visited. The project never got off the ground, but the question remained:

Why do so few military spouses know about this great benefit?!

The best in-terminal USO lounges that I’ve visited are in Philadelphia, Denver and Houston — and the best I’ve seen located per-security are in Baltimore, Phoenix and Atlanta.

But I also tend to travel through the same airports over and over again. If you have USO experience tell us — where is your favorite lounge?

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Bill

    During my tours in Vietnam, I became intimately acquainted with the USO lounges in KSFO, KDEN, KGTF, and KPNS. They are indeed staffed with wonderful people who gave us their undivided attention.

    I hope they still do.

  • Joseph G

    I love the Philly USO…the Charlotte NC USO is also awesome…Atlanta and Dallas…not so much, not their faults though, as these are the places where CONUS LEAVE is terminated as warriors get ready to head back to the sandbox…

  • 2433FO

    My favorite USO was in Seattle. It was the absolute largest USO I have ever seen until they rebuilt it. Now is a a third of the size and can take in far less Military members. Now it is just like the rest of the USO’s across the Country, small. Do not get me wrong it is a nice place to stay but it see’s a lot of Soldiers coming and going. I would say two nights a week the USO at Seattle is just as busy as Atlanta was at the height of the Iraq war. The people that work there are the most helpful I have seen at any USO around the Country. I have been to USO’s at Baltimore, St Louis, San Diego, Germany, Atlanta, Philly, Dallas, and Chicago.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      You’re right — the one in Seattle IS cramped. But I still love it!

  • ArmyMom of 6

    Mnay mil spouses don’t know about the USOs b/c they used to not let Mil Spouse in to the lounges unless they are accompanied by the active duty member. I recall getting turned away from the USO lounge with my 4 kids b/c we were travelling w/o hubby.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      I’m not sure when the policy shifted, but I’ve been using them for five years and never had a problem :-)

    • AFWife2006

      I use them all the time when I’m not traveling with my Mil Spouse. Did you travel awhile ago? I’ve been using them for about 4 years now. You just need to make sure you have your Mil ID with you.

    • That is not true!! As long as you have a dependent ID you can use it! My teenage daughter has used it by herself, I have by myself many times also.

  • sonja
  • LtCol Bob Stephenson

    My dependent wife was “non-reving” during a busy time (Spring break, March, 2010) and got stuck at SFO for 28 hours. USO lounge there is awesome. LAX and DFW (great romper room for little kids at DFW) are both quite elaborate and nice. Too bad they aren’t all inside the security wire.

  • jen

    i recently visited the USO in Indianapolis, it was fantastic! The Miami and Chicago ones are great too.

  • Amy

    I can only compare the two I have been to…Charlotte NC and Denver. Charlotte was bigger and had more provisions but both were extremely well staffed and comfortable. My son, who is 9, LOVES checking out the USOs at the airports now that we are aware of them. It is a wonderful perk for sure.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Charlotte was bigger than Denver?! I’m definitely going to have to check it out!

  • Wendy
  • Paul

    A new USO will be opening at the Nashville, TN airport in May.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      I know! And I am SO EXCITED. Our home (for now) airport :-)

  • Put lounges INSIDE the security zone already.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      My understanding is that the USO puts the lounge where the airport donates space. So …

      • charles Williams
  • charles Williams
  • Amy

    I am a Marine’s spouse and I have NEVER been turned away from a USO because I was there without my husband. USOs rock!

  • Alice

    I’m a frequent traveler and a huge fan of the USO. I’ve been to the USO’s in Houston, Washington DC, Denver, Norfolk and Jacksonville airports. I also volunteered at the San Antonio airport location for years. Please support this fine organization by using them when you travel. If you are lucky enough to have one in your back yard sign up and volunteer.

  • Jo Ann

    I am retired Army and also a widow of a veteran. I absolutely love the USO ! RDU is nice…..not so large but open all night. I travel so much that I’ve just recently started keeping notes on the ones that I’ve visited. LAX WAS NICE, Denver, Houston, SFO was very small…..Frankfurt closed around 3……..Chicago is nice……..visited many others but they all seem to come together. Each one I’ve visited has very friendly volunteers. I don’t remember utilizing USO’s prior to my retirement 17years ago…….so happy they exist for today’s soldiers and their family……,,,.found this site as I searched for a USO in NJ……,,haven’t sen mention of one so here I sit in a restaurant …..haha……MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

  • Nancy H.

    I am so thankful for the USO’s. My son is stationed in Europe and has layovers in several airports when he is flying home to Indianapolis and back again to Europe. He is so relieved he can go somewhere and ‘catch a few winks’ without worrying about his gear being stolen. It’s an area where soldiers and their families can go and relax, grab a snack and be safe. My son and I visited the USO at the Indianapolis airport when my son’s flight was delayed leaving for 3 hours. Can’t say enough about the kindness of the volunteers. (I bet alot of the volunteers were veterans themselves). May God bless them and our men and women in the service. May He keep them safe and bring them home soon.

  • dianathetutor

    FYI, I am a space A traveller with a dependent ID Card and SFO (San Fran) is my home airport – The USO at SFO is open 24 hours! You can sleep in their comfy recliners all night long if you get stuck.