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The President's Secret New York City Train Station

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Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know (“Learn Something New Every Day, By Email”). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

Grand Central Terminal, located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, has more than 40 platforms. But one of those platforms is almost never used.

In 1871, Grand Central opened its doors. While the building itself stretches from 42nd Street to 45th Street, the terminal as a whole extends — underground — as far uptown as 50th Street. One of the buildings above these tracks, somewhere between 49th and 50th Streets, was a powerhouse for the Terminal. The powerhouse had its own loading platform beneath it, used for discharging workmen and transporting machinery to the site as needed. But when Con Edison, the local utility company, began to provide power to the Terminal, the powerhouse became redundant. By the late 1920s, the world famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel took over the entire block between 49th and 50th, bulldozing the powerhouse. By historical accident, the Waldorf-Astoria has its own, rarely used, train station.

Rarely used. But not never used. When the President of the United States is in town, the platform is a backdoor to safety.

For decades, the Waldorf-Astoria has played host to presidents visiting the city. In the mid-1940s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the hotel, and a potentially apocryphal story suggests that he, for reasons of both vanity (he wanted to hide the fact that he was wheelchair-bound) and security, employed a custom-made train car that brought him right to the Waldorf-Astoria's "secret" train station. The custom-made car—replete with bullet-proof glass, gun ports, and plate armor—still sits on the tracks, somewhere beneath Grand Central, as it is too large to move without taking it apart. It also remains on site because it may be useful. When the President is in town, all the entrances to the platform are guarded by police officers and military personnel, ensuring safe access to this underground escape route by the President in case of emergency.

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BONUS FACT:
The Waldorf is not the only New York landmark with an unused subterranean train platform. City Hall, in downtown Manhattan, is home to an unused, frozen-in-time subway station. There was also a whole hidden subway system in New York City, as well as ones in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Washington, DC.

The original source for this post is a great CNET News article about the secrets of Grand Central. But a comment therein suggested there was more to the story. A bit of Googling led to the details above. --Dan

To subscribe to Dan’s daily email Now I Know, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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Mapped: The 10 Airports Where You’re Most Likely to Get Stuck Over Thanksgiving
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Every year, some unlucky Americans end up stranded at U.S. airports trying to get home for Thanksgiving. But your risk of getting stuck at the airport for hours on end varies depending on where you’re flying. Using five years of data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Elite Fixtures collected statistics on the worst airports to travel through around the Thanksgiving holiday, a time when airports are traditionally at their busiest.

The results show that delays aren't necessarily tied to the airports where the weather tends to be worst or those that see the most passengers. What airline you are flying, whether you’re on a regional flight, and the route you’re traveling can all affect your likelihood of getting stuck, and so the percentage of short-haul flights or the number of, say, Delta flights out of a certain airport might affect its overall score negatively. Still, you might want to avoid airports like Chicago’s Midway or the Oakland airport. Good luck with Houston or Dallas, too.

Below, the 10 worst:

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Hate Waiting at Baggage Claim? Here's How to Make Sure Your Suitcase Arrives First
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Air travel involves plenty of waiting, from standing in long security lines to preparing for takeoff. And even after you land, your trip is stalled until you locate your luggage on the carousel. Luckily for impatient fliers, there are several ways to game the system and ensure a speedy suitcase delivery once you step off the plane, according to Travel + Leisure.

To score true VIP luggage treatment, ask the representative behind the check-in counter if they can attach a “fragile” sticker to your bag. Suitcases with these kinds of labels are often loaded last and unloaded first. (Plus, they receive the type of kid-glove treatment that ultimately helps them last longer.)

Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need a new tag each time you fly. If it looks old, or was issued by a different airline, the crew might not pay attention to it, according to Condé Nast Traveler. Also, consider upping your suitcase game, as quality, hard-shell bags look like they contain delicate or important items. Their appearance—along with the fragile sticker—will inspire baggage handlers to give them special treatment.

Another trick that can shave a few minutes off your wait time is making sure you're the last person to check in, instead of rushing to be first. If you can't resist getting to the airport early, try asking if you can check it at the gate. This could make your bag one of the last on the plane, and thus one of the first taken out. This method isn't surefire, however, as loading and unloading systems vary among flights.

And if all else fails, Thrillist advises that you try upgrading your flight. Some airlines give priority to bags that belong to elite travelers and business class, meaning they’ll be stored separately from other luggage and come out first. Good luck! No matter what happens, at least you can't have it worse than the lady who had to wait 20 years for her bag to show up.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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