Welcome to “Hidden Airport”

Unexpected Pleasures at a Terminal Near You. Update: Minneapolis!



WITH SCATTERED EXCEPTIONS, U.S. airports don’t have a whole lot going for them. They’re noisy, dirty, poorly laid out, and hostile to passengers connecting from overseas. As my regular readers are well aware, I’ve made this point in numerous prior posts. So that I’m not accused of harping on the negative, “Hidden Airport” is a semi-regular feature highlighting little-known spots of unexpected pleasantness.


— Newest Addition: the “quiet area” at Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)

On the whole, the Minneapolis airport is about as architecturally unexciting as they come. It’s an older complex with low ceilings and endless corridors that reminds me of the ’60s-era grammar school that I once attended. And like most American airports, it has a noise pollution problem. But unlike most American airports, it has a place to escape the racket: an upper-level “quiet area” overlooking the central atrium of the Lindbergh (Delta Air Lines) Terminal. It’s difficult to find, but worth the effort if you’ve got a lengthy layover and need a place to relax. Look for the signs close to where F concourse meets the central lobby.The long, rectangular veranda has pairs of vinyl chairs set around tables. There are power outlets at each table and visitors can log in to MSP’s complimentary Wi-Fi. Delta provides pillows and blankets so that stranded passengers can nap. It’s a bland space without much ambiance, lacking the funky chairs, sofas, and other quirky accoutrements that you might find in Europe or Asia (Incheon Airport’s quiet zones are the coolest anywhere), but it does what it’s supposed to do. It’s comfortable, detached and peaceful. It’s a shame that more airports don’t set aside spots like this.

MSP Quiet Area

MSP Quiet Area 2


Previously in Hidden Airport:

— The garden at New York-La Guardia (LGA)

I’ve already written at length about the Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport in New York City. This historic art-deco building, in the far southwest corner of LGA, is one of the most special places in all of commercial aviation — the launching point for the Pan Am flying boats that made the first-ever transatlantic and round-the-world flights. Inside the cathedral-like rotunda is the 240-foot “Flight” mural by James Brooks, as well as Rocco Manniello’s Yankee Clipper restaurant — a good greasy-spoon place that is one of the few remaining non-chain airport restaurants. What few people know about, however, is the cozy garden just outside. Facing the building, it’s to the right of the old Art Deco doorway, set back from the street. It’s a quiet, tree-shaded hideaway amidst, grass, flowers and shrubs. There’s even… well, I guess sculpture is the best description (see photo). Grab a sandwich from the Yankee Clipper and enjoy it on one of the wooden benches. To get there, take the A Loop inter-terminal bus to the Marine Air Terminal. The spot is best appreciated in the warmer months, of course. Like the Marine Air rotunda it is outside of the TSA checkpoint, so you’ll need to re-clear security if you’re catching a flight.


— The terminal B-C connector at Boston-Logan (BOS)

In the connector walkway between terminals B and C at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massport has installed a series of whimsically painted rocking chairs that face floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the runways. There’s relatively little foot traffic and, best of all, no public address speakers. It’s a quiet, sunny location to read, send text messages or otherwise relax. This isn’t one of Logan’s newer, elevated walkways with the inlaid sea life mosaics, cool as they are, but rather the old, terminal-level passageway.

Logan Chairs 2


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56 Responses to “Welcome to “Hidden Airport””
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  1. David Grossblat says:

    Hi Patrick.
    Great piece on quiet spots.
    My favourite is at HNL – it’s the triangle shaped wedge garden located between the inter-island terminal and the walkway to Hawaiian’s big plane concourse. It’s on ground level which means you take the stairs down to ground level to get to it (all this is open air). There, you can lie on the grass, get more sun, watch birds, smell plumeria, and best of all, listen to the sounds of jets spooling up.

  2. tim hartzerery says:

    Off the beaten path and very pleasant environment at GSP. Garden, fountains, sculpture, all very close to departure gates and runways.

  3. Ann says:

    Have you been to TVC? It gets my vote for the most artistic, beautiful airport. The terminal is Arts and Crafts/Frank Lloyd Wright inspired. It encompasses the openness and natural setting of the Grand Traverse region. The welcome area is reminiscent of a north woods lodge, with a glowing stone fireplace and a beautiful art glass collection. The terminal is filled with cherry wood, copper light fixtures, stone wainscoting, and stained glass in the famous Frank Lloyd Wright style.

  4. Kathryn Napier says:

    I am glad to hear that some airports offer Quiet Zones. And not only for those who have long lay overs & need sleep. I would love to see Quiet Zones in all airports–must mute cell phones, take any loud conversations elsewhere,as in, if others can hear your conversation, it it too loud….

  5. Joe says:

    Came through MSP on 4-30-15. Thanks for the heads-up about the Quiet Seating Area. Spent a 4-hour layover there, reading and napping and listening to some live music coming from the concourse below. Very nice. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Robert says:

    I’m waiting to hear just one positive thing about Philly.

  7. MS42 says:

    I was in the Minneapolis airport enroute to Houston TX on August 1, 2007. The I-35 bridge collapsed that day.

  8. Greybeard says:

    What I’ve always found entertaining about MSP is the “subway” to the rental cars — it runs about 100 yards. Somebody made a fortune building that thing, I imagine!

    • Brian S. says:

      That MSP cable car also links the terminal to the light rail station. That light rail line also has a stop at the secondary terminal.

  9. Rod says:

    “Quiet area” — So nobody shouting down a cell phone (“Buy low! Sell high!”)?

  10. Ruben says:

    This is excellent!!

  11. Andy says:

    What? You passed through MSP without a single mention of the Observation Deck? I’m horrified – plus, I submit that the Observation Deck is a much quieter space than the Quiet Seating Area.

    • Patrick says:

      I plead guilty for neglecting the observation deck — one of the last such decks at any major airport in the U.S. I’ll have to save it for another installment. I didn’t realize it was still there until only yesterday, when I saw a sign for it in one of the concourses. I didn’t have time to check it out. I haven’t been up there since 1980!

      • Andy says:

        For anyone who is interested, the Observation Deck is located in Concourse D. I would say that you can’t miss it, but that’s apparently not true, since there’s almost never been anyone there whenever I go.

      • Kevin Brady says:

        Been to the MSP observation deck and like it. Recently to the Iconic LAX mid-airport structure – believe it was built in the early 60’s as a futuristic space age structure. Most people don’t know it’s open to the public above the restaurant and its outdoors, with a view of the runways on each side. You need to walk outside between the terminals to get there, and there are no signs, even when you get into the building – I just hit an up elevator and voila, to the deck!

        RDU has a nice observation deck with live ATC feed. My home airport ILM (Wilmington, NC) is putting up a sheltered one under the Tower-I provide the local ATC feed for LIVEATC.net. Would like to see more airports do this – It always seems to be a hit.

    • Don Beyer says:

      The only probelm with the observation deck is it’s on the wrong side. The south side has more activity with the heavies and traffic to and from Humprey.

  12. Catherine says:

    I am heading to Minneapolis in a couple of weeks. If I have time I will check out the quiet zone. Thank you for the timely post.

  13. cornbear says:

    MSP might have undistinguished architecture, but it was the airport used to film “Airport” back in the late 60’s.

  14. Anthony says:

    Not a lot nice can be said of Hartsfield, but terminal E is a gem.

  15. Robert Levine says:

    Another nice amenity is the aviation library at the International Terminal in San Francisco; a very restful place. Unfortunately it’s not always open.

  16. Gary Paquette says:

    One airport that will probably never be on anyone’s “best” list but should be is T.F. Green in Providence (KPVD). While the terminal is compact and small by anyone’s standards, the layout is simple and the atmosphere is relaxed and laid back. A traveler with just carry-on baggage can be on Rt. 95 within 15 minutes of touching down.

  17. Chris Holm says:

    Detroit Airport (DTW). The tunnel between the A and B/C concourses, is lined with color-changing glass panels synced to new-agey music. Riding the moving walkways and enjoying the show is a soothing way to kill a few minutes.

    Also, at the top of the escalator at the A end, there’s a fountain made of a disk of black stone, shooting bursts of water across it. I’ve been told it’s supposed to represent the different routes that Northwest then flew.

    I often see parents using both to distract travel-crabby children.

  18. Yogi says:

    I appreciate the Honolulu Airport very much. I love everything in the area. The airport traffic is good and I will land here again next year!

  19. […] connector walkway between B and C, by the way, is one of Logan’s friendliest spots. I don’t mean the newer, elevated walkway; I’m referring to the old main-level […]

  20. Tom Hill says:

    General Mitchell in Milwaukee is a terrific airport. Good food, free ping pong tables and a signed “Recombobulation Area” after the TSA station – which is manned by helpful humans, not hostile androids – are highlights. There is also a magnificent book store, Renaissance Books, which sells used, collectible and new books.

    • Robert Levine says:

      MKE in Milwaukee is indeed a very nice airport. The bookstore is wonderful; a remarkable collection for such a relatively small space. There are good views of the field from on top of the parking structure as well.

      I’ve always wondered about what looks like a memorial garden at Newark; It’s visible from the airport train on the way to the NJT/Amtrak station. Does anyone know what it is?

  21. JohnC says:

    I agree that JFK T3 should rank near the bottom — especially the large addition from 1967 built to accommodate the 747. But I am still going to miss it. It’s one of the jet age terminals and when you look past the overcrowded check-in area and other unforgivable shortcomings, there is still a great relic of the early 1960’s, The Pan Am Worldport. I’m sure it’s not the least bit practical to keep it, but I’m sad to see this and the late terminal 6 (The National Airlines Sundrome designed by I.M. Pei) fall to the wrecking ball.

    T5 may also be an aesthetic nightmare airside, but at least they didn’t tear down the old TWA Flight Center.

  22. KSB says:

    Newark airport is horrible. Transporting passengers from one terminal to another is ridiculous. Get off one bus to get on another bus to finally get to a terminal and then climb 20 stairs outside (while lugging suitcases, etc.)to get inside the airport.

  23. ABQOkami says:

    Frankfurt? It used to be great, but my recent experience belied any reputation it used to have. First, the terminals are aging, somewhat dirty, and maintenance is lacking. Second, we arrived at a bus gate (!!?), had to be driven all the way back to the main terminal, go through a massive line at security, and then run all the way back to a gate not too far away from where we originally were scheduled to deplane. We made our flight by 3 minutes, but our luggage did not. Combine that with a miserable experience on Lufthansa (my wife and I had booked seats together but were both re-booked in center seats apart from each other, and the flight was so over-booked that I saw them move one man to three different center seats before we departed), I doubt I’ll be transiting through Frankfurt again.

  24. James says:

    Even if we eliminated the necessity to fetch and recheck bags, etc, people would still fly via Asia, simply because flying via the US would likely entail US airlines (or a change of carrier.) Can you imagine 25 hours on United?

  25. Nathalie says:

    Timely. My husband and I were discussing some travel we will be doing to the US later this year. Heading to New Orleans first, then Denver, then home to Calgary. For the YYC to MSY leg, we cannot get a direct. We have several choices of where to transfer, but it wasn’t even a question. We will transfer at Pearson to avoid more than one US airport for the day. Pearson isn’t exciting to hang out in, but at least it’s pleasant. And we were very relieved to note that there are directs home from Denver.

    Love this post for those hidden gems. Are there any in the MSY or DEN airports? :)

  26. […] 11372 blog, were were turned on to this article by pilot and columnist Patrick Smith in his Ask the Pilot column. In it he introduces a new feature called “Hidden Airport,” where he will […]

  27. Mark says:

    One of the little known but much appreciated amenities of many airports is the USO. There is one hidden in most major airports. When traveling for the military you can stop in, watch a movie, get internet access, a bite to eat or a place to crash overnight all free of charge. I have not had the opportunity to use one in a few years but I always donate when I see them fundraising.

  28. Mark says:

    One of the little known but much appreciated amenities of many airports is the USO.

  29. Mike says:

    How about the central garden in Honolulu’s airport? It has to be at least two acres of lush plants, streams and koi ponds. Here’s some links to pictures.



    There’s also the interisland terminal garden.


  30. Sarah says:

    I love that walkway at Logan. I can attest that they are very comfortable rocking chairs!

  31. Joey Maloney says:

    It’s not really hidden, but the Honolulu airport has a beautiful outdoor garden that includes a memorial to C.B. Lansing (the flight attendant was was killed when the fuselage of Aloha Airlines 243’s fuselage ruptured in flight). It’s part of the interisland terminal.

    • Walter says:

      Agreed. It’s a little oasis of an oriental style garden with ponds, shade trees, and little pavilions. It’s a great place to relax while waiting for a flight, or eating a snack. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much ventilation as it’s surrounded by building, and the rest of the airport isn’t worth talking about. But, that garden is probably the best hidden feature of the airport. It’s visible from the domestic/international terminal, but it’s not heavily used. I live there, but even I appreciate it. :-)

  32. Catherine says:

    I’m Australian who visits Europe every couple of years, and I’d never go via the US. Singapore is by far the best transit I’ve found – straight off the plane into the terminal, with transfer train/buses between terminals or you can just walk (nice straight corridors you don’t get lost in), somewhere to have a swim and a shower, no checked in bags to worry about, free computer terminals to send emails/ read this website :), NO announcements except in emergencies, butterfly house to explore or fish ponds to look at, big windows to watch the planes, information desks to help with whatever, and if you’re stuck for something to do the internet start up page has a list of everything that’s available, with different suggestions for different amounts of time you’re there (up to “take a tour of Singapore – no visas required”). Other airports should follow their example.

  33. Tim says:

    Can I just throw out some effusive praise for Washington National Airport? Yes, technically it’s called Reagan now, but I liked the old name. Not necessarily in functionality, but in sheer aesthetics. I love that vaulted, cathedral-esque main area.

    • TomParmenter says:

      At the time of renaming Washington airport after Reagan, some sorehead complained that the airport was already named after a president,

    • Jeff says:

      It’s worth noting this airport shares grounds with some of the old Custis plantation (George Washington’s wife’s family) and part of an excavation can be visited as well. Unfortunately you do have to go outside security, which makes it a bit inconvenient.

      • Tim says:

        And there’s a great planespotting park within WALKING distance of the airport. Gravelly Point is almost directly under two of the approach paths at DCA.

    • JuliaZ says:

      DCA is quite honestly a delight to fly in and out of, as long as you are on a long-haul jet instead of a regional to somewhere in the northeast. The regionals depart from a confusing set of gates and then require a walk down a jetway to a crappy and crammed little bus that whisks you out to all the little jets parked in a row. Yeah, I get the romance of the stairs to the plane in the open air, but I could skip giving up even my laptop bag and then the teeny-tiny aisles!!!

      At DCA, TSA is fast and friendly, even the furthest gate is steps away from the Metro, there are lots of electrical outlets on standing-height tables in the terminals, and in general, it’s sparkly clean. Even the food and gift shops seem better, and they are definitely MUCH cheaper on comparable items when you look at IAD prices. Is this because it’s the airport our Senators and Congress-critters tend to use? Even if that’s the reason, I’m HAPPY for it. I have been in and out of IAD once and DCA three times in the past four months, and I’m not going back to IAD if I can avoid it!

      I flew home to SEA last night on AS 3, and we actually pushed back 14 minutes EARLY because they were concerned about stronger-than-usual headwinds. We were at our gate in Seattle 11 minutes early. That would never-ever happen on a departure from IAD.

      BTW, only tourists call it “Reagan”. Locals and frequent-fliers all still call it “National”.

      • James says:

        When Virgin America started service SFO-DCA, the billboards outside SFO explicitly said “Washington National.”

      • Val says:

        Odd – IAD and DCA are both the same Airport Authority, so the “Mall Prices Here” thing should apply to both. I don’t go often to IAD because offsite parking at BWI is so much better, and if I can I’ll simply hop the river to DCA.

        If you’re mentioning all the gates being steps away from Metro, you might not have yet found the old terminal A. There’s rotating art on the walkway to A, and a little museum, now with some multimedia, about the airport’s history as well as the history of the location.

        Flying into and out of A (which I do if I fly SWA/Airtran) is an absolute breeze if one has a ride; it’s maybe a couple hundred yards, tops, to the outside doors from the gate, with baggage claim across the way from the ticket counters, right by the door.

        After all these years I only just found the Custis plantation ruins a few weeks ago after an Honor Flight. (I go in and out of TSA Term C a /lot/) I’m trying to remember whether it’s closer to B or A, but the TSA line at A is rarely there let alone long, at least in the midday.

    • Buff Crone says:

      Another nice thing about the new National terminal is that they use sound-absorbing materials extensively throughout.

  34. Alex says:

    It’s not hidden, really, but can easily be overlooked if you depend on the Automated People Mover to get around: the Atlanta Airport Art Program (http://tinyurl.com/bjtx27f).

    Usually very hidden, though, at Atlanta and 30-some other airports, is the non-denominational chapel–an oasis of calm amidst the nerve-jangling announcements, TVs, crying babies, and general chaos. On a long layover, if there’s no wine bar, that’s usually where I’ll hang out, just reading quietly or meditating.

    • Tim says:

      The chapel at Cleveland is pretty easy to find if you want to, but very few people use it, so it’s pretty quiet. It’s near the beginning of Terminal B, as I recall (I haven’t flown through Cleveland in a few years, so my memory is hazy).

  35. KevinT says:

    I unexpectedly found myself at Boston Logan in November with some time to kill… I liked the airport and if I ever get back there will hopefully get the chance to check this walkway out. Nice to hear about the LAX rose garden too, thanks Klaus!

  36. Klaus says:

    Another hidden gem is the Rose Garden at LAX. It is located next to Terminals 7 & 8 (see http://goo.gl/maps/HUufT – it is the curved garden between the building and the freeway). Strolling under the freeway you get to a memorial garden square with an American flag that reminds us of those that gave their lives in aviation duty.

    Both gardens have a very peaceful atmosphere – and on a couple of occasions I have very nearly missed my onward flights!