Hectic. Annoying. Uncomfortable. These are just a few words that normally come to mind when talking about airports. An airport can be scenic (like Wyoming’s Jackson Hole) or design saavy (like Amsterdam’s Schiphol), but rarely do you ever land at an airport and immediately want to take pictures, let alone leave the place feeling charmed by it.
But that’s what’s different about the Branson Airport in Branson, Missouri. It’s unlike any airport I’ve ever been in. In most airports, travelers sit for hours in intolerably cramped chairs staring at computer screens or carpet stains. In Branson, there are plenty of picnic tables and oversized, comfy chairs to sit in and more country kitsch to look at than there are hours in the day. The entire place is outfitted like an Ozark outpost, which includes plenty of wood paneling, pine trees, rustic signs and exposed beams.Adding to the airport’s appeal it its simplicity. Don’t expect miles upon miles of corridors in this place, which is comparable in size to a Target shopping center. From the luggage conveyors to the car rental stand, every detail is reminiscent of a log cabin. Instead of a Hudson News, Bass Pro Shops operates a “General Store.” Replacing the usual McDonalds is a Famous Dave’s made to look like an old mill–complete with a water wheel on the side with koi swimming below. There’s even a one-seater airplane suspended overhead. Does is get more charming than that?
Maybe it’s simply good old Midwest hospitality, but one really feels welcome here. Would you believe that an airport exists where the personnel actually takes the time to wave goodbye to each and every aircraft that departs? It happens in Branson. Even the customer service representatives and TSA agents were friendly. So friendly, in fact, that I didn’t even bat an eye when an TSA agent spotted a horseshoe-shaped door knocker I had purchased as a souvenir (please don’t ask, it’s just what you do in Branson–particularly if you can’t find a suitable pair of cowboy boots to take home) and made a joke asking if I was “the one with the knockers.” I swear, if I was in the hellhole known as JFK I would have nearly slapped him and then marched over and filed a complaint in two seconds flat. But in Branson, I actually kind of giggled a little bit.
As it stands, Branson Airport is the only privately owned, privately operated commercial service airport in the United States. And believe me, the private investors who developed the place knew what they were doing. Instead of treating the airport like some sort of glorified bus station, they turned it into point of entry that offers an exciting first glimpse of a place. The Branson Airport is about more than taking off and landing–it’s a place where even the people stopping over for connecting flights leave curious about what’s out there in the Ozarks.