Welcome to “Hidden Airport”

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. Now, 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: THE A/B CONNECTOR AT BOSTON-LOGAN

Earlier this year at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massport put the finishing touches on a new pedestrian tunnel connecting terminals A and B. Previously, walking between these two buildings required a noisy sidewalk excursion. With floor-to-ceiling windows that face the Boston skyline, the connector is calm, quiet, and flooded with natural light. They’ve outfitted the space with wooden rockers. It’s all very similar to the connector tunnel linking terminals B and C, highlighted below in an earlier installment. (Unfortunately, the brightly painted chairs there have been replaced by ordinary ones like those in the new tunnel.) Both are peaceful spots to grab a little relax time between flights.

Which reminds me. Massport really, really, really needs to do something about the public address pollution in the otherwise beautiful walkways that connect terminals A, E, and the central parking garage. We don’t need to hear Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Walsh blathering on in their Boston accents about what a great place Massachusetts is. Pardon me, but nobody gives a shit. What we want is a little peace and quiet on the way to or from our flights. Either of these promo recordings is intrusive enough, but often they play simultaneously. Plus, if you’ve parked in the central garage, you already live here, and the last thing you need to hear is a couple of politicians boasting about local attractions. Even if you’re a tourist there’s no reason to hear this. The noise level then gets exponentially worse once you enter the terminal proper, with speakers blaring out gate changes, arrival and departure announcements, and Massport’s idiotic safety announcement “… We call it SAFE: Security Awareness for Everyone! So if you see something, say something.” Over and over again we have to endure this pointless spiel, layered in with the rest of the racket.

Why are we so in love with public address noise in this country? At the airport, all it does is make an already stressful experience more stressful. Airports in Europe and Asia are so blissfully quiet in comparison.

BOS A-B Connector

 

PREVIOUSLY IN HIDDEN AIRPORT:

— 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.

ATL's history of Atlanta exhibit.

ATL’s history of Atlanta exhibit.

The awesome blue ceiling between concourses A and B.

The awesome blue ceiling between concourses A and B.

 

— 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.

MSP Quiet Area

MSP Quiet Area 2

 

— 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.

Logan Chairs 2

 

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LETTER FROM MIAMI. SEARCHING FOR SOUL AND SKY IN FLORIDA AND BEYOND.
POVERTY, HEDGEHOGS, AND THE WORLD’S WORST AIRPORT

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87 Responses to “Welcome to “Hidden Airport””
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  1. Craig says:

    “Massport really, really, really needs to do something about the public address pollution in the otherwise beautiful walkways that connect terminals A, E, and the central parking garage.”

    This is a problem everywhere. It reminds me of that Harrison Bergeron story by Vonnegut where smart people aren’t allowed to think for very long so are interrupted periodically by very loud noises. You get shouted at about generic security warnings – shouted at about “welcome to (whatever local city this is)”, and then shouted at about flight announcements. Often the shouting is in stereo. They shout at you on the train “please stand clear of the doors, this train is departing”, shouted at in line, and shouted at near the gate. On the plane they shout at you – by the time the pilot comes on all I want is for him to keep it down to 3 sentences at most. If you are unlikely you are on a united flight offering DirecTV and the loudest shouting is reserved for the ads trying to get you to pay for DirectTV.

    • Patrick says:

      Isn’t that from the “Welcome to the Monkey House” collection? Wow, it’s been so long since I read that.

      Vonnegut’s best book was “Slaughterhouse Five,” but his funniest was “Deadeye Dick.” My sentimental favorite, though, was the lesser-known “Jailbird.”

      I have a framed autograph from KV hanging in my office room. He drew me a caricature of himself.

  2. Dan says:

    I totally agree on the announcements in the passageway to central parking – if you parked your car in the garage, it’s because you live there…having mayor Walsh welcome you to Boston is sort of pointless. Is there a petition we can sign?

  3. Alex says:

    Sorry Patrick, gonna have to go ahead and uh, disagree with you there. I fly to Kansas City frequently for work and I can’t stand that airport. Sure, it’s a nice short walk to the gate, but that’s about it. There is absolutely nothing (save for a small food/drink stand) past the security checkpoints. To even so much as use the restroom airside you have to trudge down a flight of stairs to the basement. And outside of security ain’t much better. Newsstand and a couple of crappy no-name bars is all you get. Good luck finding a power outlet if you need to charge, and even better luck finding one that actually works! And thanks to the airport’s ancient design, everyone tries to remain outside of security until the last possible minute, making for long lines at the checkpoints. I’ve gotten through at places like Newark/PHL faster than I do at MCI. And no PreCheck lines. Oh, I get the little pink card that lets me keep my shoes on. Whoop-de-doo.

    End of rant.

    • Gary says:

      Dead on right. Once you go through security it’s absolute hell. Headed there tomorrow, and I’m already dreading the return trip.

    • Craig says:

      I have to agree that MCI stinks. Most of the pluses are basically because it’s a small city airport with relatively little traffic so not crowded. I do like the arrival experience – luggage is quick because the luggage truck doesn’t have far to travel, a quick walk outside, and since they put all rental car companies in one location it’s usually a short wait for the rental car bus. But departing – very bad, man. First, the unique design of the airport means you can’t go through security and then access all of the gates, so they created little 4-gate security zones with basically no amenities. This means any restaurant – and there are very few – is outside security. Lines generally aren’t bad, and I haven’t been there since 2010 so don’t know if they have pre-check, but you still realistically have to hang around the gate area a long time just in case.

    • Craig says:

      The MCI wiki page has a very detailed write-up and this is an example of an airport with a unique and promising vision that fell totally flat. It was built with the intent of being a mid-country hub for TWA, but was immediately obsolete. The main problem they were trying to solve was reducing the long walk from parking to the gates, and they did that. But large planes like 747s overwhelmed the hallways. The early 70s hijacking era quickly made it clear that the airport simply had no room for security checkpoints – this was made much worse after 9/11. Soon, it became clear that a true hub would need more gates than the semi-circles allowed, and a faster way to transport people from gate-to-gate. But like DFW, the semi-circles prevented moving walkways from being installed. TWA asked KC to rebuild the terminals to fix these problems, but KC refused, TWA moved out, and now KC has this funny albatross.

      The only advantage is that no one ever connects through MCI, so there is a lot less traffic. Flight delays are far fewer. Unfortunately, when a flight is delayed there is virtually no where comfortable to hang out.

  4. Clark says:

    And while we’re at it, here are some of my favorite spots in airports outside of the US (yes, I travel a lot):

    HKG – One of my favorite airports anywhere. Can be a long walk between gates, but an enjoyable one because the ceiling is so high (4 stories?) and floor-to-ceiling windows means the planes are right there in front of you, the least claustrophobic airport in the world (along with PEK). No buses or shuttles to navigate (although there is a train if you want to take it). And you can always find quiet spots at the ends of the two offshoot terminals; it never feels very crowded (unless you’re in the food court).

    Tokyo HND – Well laid-out and efficient, and so much easier to reach from Tokyo than the long haul to Narita – hop on the monorail at Hamamatsucho and you’re there in 15 minutes.

    Berlin TGL – A real relic, what flying must have been like in the 1960s. Taxi drops you off and you’re 100 feet from the boarding gate. Like flying from an aviation museum.

    SIN Changi – Some great things about my current hometown airport, although I don’t rate it as high as some. Many places to chill out (the butterfly garden is nice), but it bugs me that I can’t bring a bottle of water or soda on the plane because of the gate-by-gate security. No major airport is quicker from offloading to the taxi, though, and the lounges are huge.

    Paris CDG – Don’t get me started; some interesting architecture, but the worst airport anywhere for passenger convenience.

  5. Clark says:

    I live overseas and don’t fly around the US as much as I used to these days, other than a few times a year through the usual hub hellholes like ORD, ATL (so unbelievably packed with people), CLT, and my old hometown LAX, which has really become a 3rd-world airport. If not for Global Entry, arriving there from overseas would be a 2-hour nightmare resembling the last scene in “The Year of Living Dangerously”.

    But my favorite flying-related place anywhere has to be the temporary art installation in the United terminal walkway at SFO. It rotates every 4-6 months and is always full of the most interesting exhibits, not necessarily air-travel related (prior to the Super Bowl this year they had display cases with old memorabilia from each of the 32 NFL teams), but also exhibits on what it used to be like to fly United to Hawaii back in the 1960s, with menus, uniforms, promotional material. Or displays of old family board games, or the history of personal electronics. Always a treasure trove of some aspect of American social history, laid out in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t slow you down if you are in a rush to get to the gate. I make time for that on every trip through SFO. The airline museum in the International Terminal is also interesting, although as noted, is often closed.

  6. Sheila Hartney says:

    MCI was built right before any security at all, and so the layout was even better back then. As you’ve noticed it’s a twenty foot walk curbside to jetway, although often longer because of the roundabout way you might have to go through security.

    After 9/11 and the ludicrously enhanced security that ensued, there were no restrooms inside security, which was a huge problem. They’ve since constructed some, which is a help, but there was never much in the way of eating or shopping, and for some reason those things are considered necessary inside security. The terminals are simply too narrow to accommodate those things, and so a total rebuild has been considered.

    I know that a few years ago, which airlines used which terminal got reshuffled, and one of them (terminal 3?) was mostly empty. There was originally an intention to build a fourth terminal, which is pretty obvious if you look at Googlemaps, or possibly when flying in our out, depending on how much sight-seeing you can do when landing the plane.

    Two other wonderful small airports are the one in Evansville, Ind (EVV) and the one in Traverse City, MI, (TVC). The former has rocking chairs along one concourse also. TVC is simply pretty, well-designed, with a fairly new terminal.

  7. Don Beyer says:

    Glad you finally made it to MCI. It’s all that an airport needs to be. A place to get on/off the plane. Other than Southwest, there is no reason to connect. We never became a big hub and that was a good thing. As we’d now be like STL, PIT, MEM, CLE and CVG. With all the mergers and bankruptcies, we went from over 200 mainline jet departures to around 160 today with half or more RJs on the three majors. Terminal A was closed and and the other two are not fully used with several empty gates unlikely to ever be used. The current airport needs 750 million or more in renovations for infrastructure, not for unneeded frills like shops and restaurants. The airport commission has been convinced by the airlines, mainly SWA, that a new single terminal with fewer gates is needed. A new single terminal is not that much more costly than fixing the current ones.

    • Alex says:

      “all that an airport needs to be”

      Try saying that when you have a few hours’ delay there. Happened to me twice in the last year at MCI. It’s nice to be able to get a decent bite to eat.

  8. Msconduct says:

    I’d like to nominate the airport at Jackson Hole as a scattered exception. It is, as we say in New Zealand, pretty as. (Outside, obvs, but inside too.)

  9. Terminal-to-terminal transfers at MCI used to be a bad hassle, as the buses ran infrequently and only in one direction around the circle. I came in once on a flight whose touchdown was delayed by a sudden and very histrionic hailstorm. By the time I got clear of the gate, my connection, at the terminal furthest away in bus topology, was due to leave in 18 minutes. The buses would not have got me there; after requesting, but not receiving, advice, I walked, which one is clearly not *expected* to do. My flight was just finishing boarding when I got there.

  10. Ad absurdum per aspera says:

    One of ABQ’s many grace notes “hides in plain sight,” smack in the middle of everything, yet mostly unnoticed by people rushing around with their head down and their mind in a cellphone: a 1914 biplane hanging from the ceiling.

    https://www.cabq.gov/culturalservices/albuquerque-museum/museum-collections/history/online-history-exhibitions/the-1914-ingram-foster-biplane

    Airports with aircraft on display are always a favorite of mine. Another great one is MDW, with its WW2 Douglas Dauntless dive bomber as showpiece of an educational exhibit about the eponymous battle; and of ORD has an F4F Wildcat fighter similar to the one flown by their namesake “Butch” O’Hare.

    O’Hare also has what I think of as the Minbari Cathedral, officially “The Sky’s the Limit” — what might have been just another people mover connecting two concourses was turned into an experiential art installation with a mile of neon and 23,000 square feet of mirror, not to mention New Age music.

  11. 2 Stories about airports. Where there is always an opportunity to do good!

    Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.”
    –Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine)

    1. In the tunnel at ATL: http://southgeek.blogspot.com/2010/11/normal-0-false-false-false-en-us-x-none.html

    2. ICT -wichita… great little airport as well!
    http://southgeek.blogspot.com/2010/11/wichita.html

  12. Barry Gold says:

    I have some fond memories of SJC (San Jose, CA) back in the mid-80s. Nothing fancy, but easy to use. My job was field support for a computer system, and it required going to SJ one week out of 3. We had a corporate apartment to use during the week, but on Friday afternoon I got to go home.

    I would leave the customer’s building, get in the car, drive to SJC, and park it in the Hertz lot. A moment to fill in the quick check-in form, hand it and the keys to the Hertz employee. Maybe 50 feet to the terminal door, walk in, walk right through the metal detector, and off to the gate.

    I would plan to arrive at the airport 15 minutes before my flight departed, and if traffic slowed me down by 5 minutes I would still be okay.

    Then the powers-that-be decided they needed more space, or something. Now the rental car lot is most of a mile away. You drive in, check in (that part is still fast), and wait for a shuttle bus to the airport proper. For some odd reason I left that job a few months later.

    • Mark Maslowski says:

      I had an interesting experience at the old SJC terminal in the mid-90’s. I flew in from Portland and as I turned to walk through the terminal to get to baggage claim, I ran straight into a full grown Indian elephant standing in front of the ticket counters! “Now that’s something you don’t see everyday.” I told myself.

      Turns out they were filming a Bill Murray movie where he inherits an elephant and has to take it cross country… http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116823/

  13. Eric says:

    Having traveled most of my life I completely agree with you about MCI. Other than airports in some African countries (where I received special treatment) I have never had a quicker experience with any airport.

    Having said that, I love spending time in airports and usually arrive 4 hours before any international flight I take, much to the chagrin of my wife. Every human experience can be seen at any given airport on any given day and if you know just a little about how airports work, you can always find the best places to relax and either people-watch or just sit back and enjoy. I still remember a hidden bar & grill at JFK that allowed smoking even after the indoor ban took affect. It was occupied by mostly airport workers with very few travelers, all of whom had been given instructions on how to navigate the empty hallways and unmarked doors leading to it.

    I don’t comment often but I wanted to thank you for your posts and to let you know that I enjoy them immensely.

    Safe travels,
    Eric

  14. David Grossblat says:

    Thanks PS as always. Let’s not forget one of the most pleasant spots at one of the pleasant airports around: HNL. Near the interisland terminal, before it connects to the main Hawaiian Air terminal (I think the gate #’s are in the late 50s), there is the most lovely sunken garden, filled with grass to lie on, benches to sit on, and plumeria trees almost always laden with flowers.

  15. John says:

    Too bad MCI is an hour drive into town!

    • Don Beyer says:

      John
      MCI is 12 miles to downtown Kansas City down I29. 15 minutes at most. I am 30 miles from MCI and it’s a 30 minute drive to the Terminals or Economy Lot.

      • Sheila Hartney says:

        Downtown Kansas City isn’t too far away, but if you live in Overland Park (as I did for 18 years) or Olathe, it’s a good 45 minute drive. Once I went to a concert by some Irish group, and while they loved coming to Kansas City, they said that you could drive across most of Ireland in the time it took to get from the airport to the city!

  16. 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.

  17. tim hartzerery says:

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

  18. 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.

  19. 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….

  20. 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!

  21. Robert says:

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

    • Robert-Ain’t gonna happen. Cheers!

    • Alex says:

      I actually like Philly! Maybe I’m biased because it’s my home airport, but there’s plenty of shopping and eating options, and you can walk between all of the terminals (except for F) airside.

      My only gripe with PHL (with the exception of A West & F) is the narrow concourses. The passageways are only about 15 feet wide and always get choked up with slow-moving people. If you’re late for a flight and need to run this can be a big problem.

      Security can be a little longer than average but I’ve always breezed through PreCheck with ease.

  22. MS42 says:

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

  23. 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.

  24. Rod says:

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

  25. Ruben says:

    This is excellent!!

  26. 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.

      • David says:

        I’m partial to the observation deck, as well. It does, however, have final boarding announcements for flights. Mercifully, it does not have every flight, every group, every announcement, piped in. All in all, it’s pretty palatable.

        But much to Patrick’s chagrin, I’m sure, there are no CNN tv’s wailing away.

    • 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.

  27. 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.

  28. cornbear says:

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

  29. Anthony says:

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

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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!

  34. […] 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 […]

  35. 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?

    • MKE is great! And you get get cheese curds there too!

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

    • Alex says:

      Bus? You must use the economy lot. EWR has a monorail connecting all its terminals.

      Agree that terminals A & B are crap but the Continental (now United) terminal C is very nice, especially the newest concourse with the high ceilings.

  38. 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.

  39. 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?

  40. 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? :)

  41. […] 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 […]

  42. 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.

  43. Mark says:

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

  44. 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.

    http://hawaii.gov/hnl/customer-service/images/2006HNLJapaneseGarden01.JPG/image_preview

    http://hawaii.gov/hnl/customer-service/images/2006HNLHawaiianGarden05.JPG/image_preview

    There’s also the interisland terminal garden.

    http://hawaii.gov/hnl/customer-service/images/CBLansing.JPG/image_preview

  45. Sarah says:

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

  46. 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. :-)

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

        • Anonymous says:

          When I used to work for Allegheny (whose headquarters were in a terminal in DCA), we would often go to gravelly point at lunchtime (along with some libations).

    • 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.

    • Sheila Hartney says:

      I worked for ten years at DCA, and I will NEVER call it by the current name. I just hope I live long enough to witness them changing the name back.

      Especially when you take into account his firing of the Air Traffic Controllers, it’s sacrilege to name an airport after him.

  49. 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).

  50. 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!

  51. 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!

    Klaus