Unexpected Pleasures at a Terminal Near You.
WITH SCATTERED EXCEPTIONS, U.S. airports don’t have a whole lot going for them. They’re noisy, dirty, poorly laid out, and just generally hostile to passengers. 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.
ALL PHOTOS BY THE AUTHOR
— NEWEST ADDITION: KANSAS CITY EASY AND UNDERGROUND ATLANTA.
Kansas City? Yup, I’m talking about MCI, an airport I visited for the first time only a couple of days ago. Its “little-known spot of unexpected pleasantness” to borrow from this post’s introduction, is in fact the entire airport. There’s nothing pretty about MCI’s three semi-circular terminals, unless you have a thing for unadorned concrete, but it’s startlingly convenient. There cannot be a quicker-in, quicker out airport anywhere in America. Curbside to gateside is literally a twenty-foot walk! The MCI experience is quick, quiet, and no-fuss — three rarities among airports these days. Worryingly, there’s a movement afoot to replace MCI’s terminals with something more “modern.” In other words, the existing layout doesn’t provide enough floor space for those “retail and dining options” that have helped turn every other big American airport into a hellish sort of shopping mall. Please keep Kansas City the way it is.
Eastward now to Atlanta. The Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has its negatives, to be sure. The low ceilings, beeping electric carts and endless public address announcements make the place noisy and claustrophobic. Many of the windows are inexplicably covered over, and the airport’s skinny escalators were apparently designed before the invention of luggage. On the other hand, ATL’s simple layout — essentially six rectangular concourses sequenced one after the other — makes for fast and easy connections. It’s one of the most convenient places anywhere to change planes. The neatest thing about it, though, is the underground connector tunnel. This is where you go to catch the speedy, inter-terminal train, but you can also walk it. (If, like me, you purchased a Garmin Vivofit 2 and have become obsessed with step-counting, note that it takes sixteen minutes and 1800 steps to cover the tunnel’s full walkable length.) Along the way you’ll pass a series of art and photography installations and, linking concourses B and C, an excellent multimedia exhibit on the history Georgia’s capital. My favorite section, though, is the newly renovated ceiling in the tunnel between concourses A and B. I love the color and minimalist-industrial look of the exposed pipes and wiring. They took an otherwise unattractive space, and, by by stripping it down, made it special.
PREVIOUSLY IN HIDDEN AIRPORT:
— THE QUIET AREA AT MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL
On the whole, the Minneapolis airport is about as architecturally unexciting as a parking garage. 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.
— THE GARDEN AT NEW YORK-LA GUARDIA
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
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.
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