Iconic Airports: Where Are They Now?

Original LAX airport design
Original LAX plan, courtesy LA World Airports Flight Path Learning Center

Yesterday, I went out to JFK Airport with no flight to catch and no visitors to greet. It was the annual Open House New York event, where private buildings and homes all over the city open to the public for a few hours, and it was a last chance to see the iconic TWA Flight Center before it is turned into a hotel. (You can see our photos from last year here.)

Native New Yorkers, retired flight attendants, tourists and architecture enthusiasts flooded the airy terminal, closed since TWA ceased operations in 2001, taking photos and sharing stories about the good old days of air travel. The mid-20th century was the high point in airport design; its airy and futuristic buildings can be appreciated by any modern day traveler who has ever had a layover at La Guardia.

We looked at some of the most iconic airport architecture in the U.S. and their current status. Is your favorite still flying?

%Slideshow-100872%DCA Terminal A – Washington D.C.’s first airport opened in 1941, and was considered to be the most modern in airport design at the time. In addition to its status as historic landmark and aviation icon, it’s also an archaeological site: the airport was built on a former colonial plantation and the birthplace of George Washington’s granddaughter.

Status: The original terminal was restored to its original look in 2004 and 2008, with the interior currently undergoing a massive renovation. You can still see many parts of the original lobby and building as it looked when President Roosevelt dedicated it. Check out some vintage postcards of the airport from the Boston Public Library.

IAD Main Terminal – One of Swedish architect Eero Saarinen’s airport designs, Dulles was designed in 1958 and dedicated in 1962, the same year the TWA terminal opened. The architect called the building and control tower “the best thing that I have done,” and inspired the design of Taiwan’s international airport. The “mobile lounges” were one of the most innovative concepts, carrying passengers in relative luxury from the terminal right to the plane

Status: Dulles wasn’t a popular airport from the beginning, as it didn’t allow jumbo jets until 1970 and the distance from the city is still off-putting, but it’s now one of the busiest in the country and is continuing to expand. The mobile lounges are still around, but the new Aero Train is more commonly used.

JFK Pan Am Worldport - The 1960 “flying saucer” was designed to bring the airplane to the passenger, sheltering the planes under the overhang for all-weather boarding. It was opened for Pan Am and renamed the Worldport in 1971 when it was expanded to accommodate the Boeing 747, and was the biggest passenger terminal in the world for several years. After Pan Am went bankrupt in the ’90s, Delta acquired the terminal and used it for many long-haul flights.

Status: Although it is on the list of the most endangered historic buildings and beloved by many airline and architecture enthusiasts, it looks like the Worldport is permanently grounded. While Delta just completed a major renovation of their other terminal at JFK, they need the room for airplane parking, and the flying saucer is already beginning to be demolished.

LAX Theme building – The distinctive Theme building is a perfect example of 1960s futuristic architecture, resembling something out of the Jetsons and actually inspiring the cartoon’s design. Part of the original ambitious plans for the airport was to connect terminal buildings with a giant glass dome, with the Theme Building serving as the main terminal, as in the picture above. One of the most famous buildings in the world, it’s photographed more than the Eiffel Tower.

Status: The Theme building has been a restaurant since 1997, and you can visit Encounter for a meal even if you aren’t flying. The free observation deck is open on weekends only if you just want to watch the planes taking off.

LGA Marine Air Terminal – For a passenger who arrives at one of La Guardia’s many dim and low-ceilinged gates, it’s hard to imagine that an Art Deco beauty is part of the same airport. Opened in 1940 and funded by the post-depression Works Progress Administration, the Marine Air Terminal originally served the glamorous Clipper planes, carrying 72 passengers on long transoceanic flights with sleeping berths and a high-end restaurant. The second World War made such flying boats obsolete, and the terminal sat unused for several decades.

Status: It’s now the main hub for Delta’s shuttle service to Boston, Chicago and Washington, even after a massive renovation to Delta’s other terminal at LGA. While it might have less modern facilities, it’s the only terminal to feature an original mural dedicated to flight (with a secret message).

LGB Main Terminal – The first trans-continental flight landed at Long Beach in 1911, but the Streamline Moderne terminal wasn’t built for another 30 years. The modernist building was considered avant garde at the time, but now feels classic and a bit romantic among airports, the kind of place you can imagine passengers boarding with hat boxes and cat eye sunglasses. Much smaller than nearby LAX, JetBlue made it a west coast hub in 2001 and put the California airport back on the map.

Status: Last year, LGB was fully modernized to make it more green and “resort-like,” with outdoor spaces outfitted with fire pits and cabanas. The renovation uncovered more of the mosaic tile art by WPA artist Grace Clements, then 28 years old, and covered by carpet for 70 years.

Association of Flight Attendants champions female employees

pan am flight attendant associationThe Association of Flight Attendants-CWA wants to point out that a lot has changed since the days of girdle and weight checks.

The world’s largest Flight Attendant union, recognized the season premiere of Pan Am as a reminder of the extraordinary accomplishments of Flight Attendants at the forefront of the jet age, but noted that despite the glamorization of these women in the television series, “it also highlighted the myriad of social injustices overcome by the strong women who shaped a new career. Weight checks, girdle checks, the no marriage rule, sexism, gender discrimination, racism – all of this was challenged by intelligent, visionary women who helped to usher in the call for social change throughout the country and around the world.”

We think they might be taking it a bit far by saying that Pan Am stewardesses ushered in a call for social change around the world, but the general gist of their statement seems correct – flight attendants and stewardesses have certainly evolved from the “coffee, tea, or me” age into today’s role of safety professionals certified by the FAA.

“The fictional, glamorized world of Hollywood‘s Pan Am is a far cry from today’s realities of air travel that ditches high fashion for ‘low cost,’ jam-packed airplanes and massive cuts to Flight Attendant staffing,” the association stated.

That’s for sure. After seeing the season premiere, we’re pretty sure we’d much rather have been a flight attendant in the “jet age” than in current times. Girdle checks and all.

[Flickr via The Convention Fans Blog]

Pan Am: The first episode recap

pan amFrom Mad Men to The Playboy Club and everywhere in-between, the 60s are hot, hot hot on the small screen this season. Last week, we caught a sneak preview of ABC’s latest, Pan Am, at the DC-area Renaissance Capital View before it takes off on TV this Sunday at 10 PM (EST).

We’ll admit to being skeptical – any show featuring overly perky flight attendants just seems suspect – and reviews had ranged from downright terrible to middling-ly mediocre.

A word to the lovers of Mad Men: this isn’t it. Pan Am is a light and funny romp that touches on historic subjects with as much accuracy as possible but doesn’t aim for more than a fun hour in front of the television. It’s a glamorization of the “jet age” and (semi) embraces the new feminist ideals, sort of.

As with any pilot, it took some time to figure out who was who and what, exactly, was going on with all those flight attendants. But as we settled into the story, we were pleasantly surprised. The dialogue was for the most part well-written, with the occasional zinger of a line, and the story arc left plenty of room for further developments throughout the season.

What do you need to know? (Spoiler alerts ahead!)
Newly-minted captain Dean is sleeping with Bridgette, a sexy stewardess who also happens to be a CIA agent, although he doesn’t know it. He proposes, but she disappears shortly thereafter, much to Dean’s dismay.

Maggie, played by Christina Ricci, is a wild bohemian who fills her wish to travel by buttoning up and playing the rule-abiding flight attendant who may or may not have a thing for pilot Dean. While we didn’t get much of her personality in the first episode, there’s no doubt in our minds that she’ll amp up her screen time soon.

Sisters Kate and Lauren Cameron are highlighted in several scenes of the pilot. Kate, the eldest, has defied her parents wishes and become a Pan Am stewardess – and a CIA agent, although we’re not quite sure how she is smart enough to do so. We learn midway through that Lauren ran out on her own wedding to join her sister in her travels and that their love for each other may be tempered by a bit of competition and by Lauren’s naievete. Lauren, despite getting ample screen time in the first episode due to her Life cover feature, seems like she’s doubtful of her own abilities – will she stay in the flight crew?

Colette, the sexy French stewardess, takes the “coffee, tea or me” route as we learn she had an affair with a passenger, who shows up on the next flight … with his wife and child.

Historical accuracy, for the most part, exists, but the former stewardesses we spoke with during the party said that the uniforms were far too blue and that the stewardesses spent too much time interacting and not nearly enough time working.

Was it groundbreaking television? No. Was it amusing? Yes. Will we be watching, at least for the next few episodes? Of course.

Christina Ricci Talks to Kelly Ripa and Dana Carvey About Her New Show 'Pan Am' 09/23/11 - TV Replay

Galley Gossip: A letter to the producers of Project Runway regarding flight attendant uniforms

Dear Project Runway Producers,

Have I got a challenge for you! With the premiere of the new television show Pan Am airing September 25th on ABC, there’s been a lot of talk about airlines in the news lately. One can’t help but compare stewardesses of yesterday to flight attendants today, and yet the job rarely resembles what it once was so many years ago. Long gone are the days of glamour when stewardesses had strict age, weight and height requirements, and only averaged 18 months on the job. Nowadays flight attendants are allowed to be married, grow old, and gain weight – just like the rest of society!

Image is important to an airline. This is why most airlines have established very strict grooming standards flight attendants must abide by. I’ve been told passengers have more confidence in an airline when its employees look good. That makes sense considering when I look good, I feel good, and that in turn has a positive affect on passengers. But in America we come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors, opposed to our foreign counterparts who are hired because they are a specific size, shape and color. This is why it’s more difficult for US carriers to design a uniform that looks good on everyone.

Since 9/11 airlines have had to reduce expenses to stay in business. I’ve been working as a flight attendant for sixteen years, so I’ve experienced first hand just how much travel has changed in the last decade. Food was the first thing to go, followed by magazines, pillows and blankets. Even a few colleagues and a couple of airlines disappeared. This might explain why our polyester uniforms are no longer quite as impressive as they once were when air travel was considered a luxury and only the wealthy could afford to fly. Needless to say our uniforms have to be cheap enough to outfit tens of thousands of employees.

What most people don’t realize is that flight attendants today work ten times harder than ever before. A 12-14 hour work day followed by an 8 hour layover is not uncommon. Nor is working three back to back trips in a row. This adds up to a lot of wear and tear on a uniform in a short period of time. That being said, durability should play a major factor in our uniform design. Comfort would also be nice. Remember being able to move, stretch, bend and work in a cabin that alternates between hot and cold is very important.

The pencil thin, girdle wearing stewardesses of yesterday have evolved. Even so we, too, would love nothing more than to walk through the airport terminal with the same pride they felt by wearing a distinguished uniform that is fashionable, but also age appropriate and practical to work in. Why not take on this challenge for those of us who work the not so friendly skies and design stylish coordinating uniform pieces that are affordable and comfortable and will look good on your daughter, son, wife, brother, mother or father. Not an easy task, I know. This could be your biggest challenge yet. Think you can do it? Millions of flight attendants would be forever grateful if you could at least give it a try.

Sincerely,

Heather Poole

Photo courtesy of JFithian

Galley Gossip: Age, weight and height requirements for flight attendants (and why Christina Ricci could never be a Pan Am stewardess)

“In this male-dominated world, in that famously openly chauvinistic culture, these women were really taking the reins and running their lives in a way most women didn’t,” Christina Ricci said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about her upcoming television show, Pan Am, a night time soap opera revolving around the lives of flight attendants and pilots in the 1960’s. Think Mad Men at 30,000 feet.

Christina Ricci has been cast to play Maggie, a head stewardess. What’s funny about this is Ricci wouldn’t have been hired to be a stewardess back in the day. At five foot one, Christina is too short. Pan Am required its stewardesses to be at least five foot two and weigh no more than 130 pounds. They also couldn’t be married or have children. On top of that the mandatory retirement age for flight attendants was 32. So even if Ricci had managed to squeak by Pan Am’s minimum height requirement, she wouldn’t have flown for long. The actress, born in February, is already 31 years old. With Pan Am scheduled to air in September, Christina only has five months to travel the world before being forced to hang up the uniform and retire. That’s not enough time to establish oneself as a head stewardess for a major airline. At my airline it takes six months just to get off probation! But back in the 60’s stewardesses averaged eighteen months on the job. A year and a half. By those standards, Christina Ricci would already be three-quarters of the way through with her career. Sad, but true.

Thankfully a lot has changed since 1960…




HEIGHT: Today US airlines have height requirements for safety reasons only. Flight attendants must be tall enough to reach overhead safety equipment. Typically flight attendants range between five foot three to six foot one. There may be a lower height restriction at some regional airlines where the aircraft type operated has a maximum height allowance of 5’10”.

WEIGHT: In 1990 all US airlines dropped weight requirements for flight attendants. The only requirement today is that weight must be in proportion to height. If a flight attendant can not sit in the jump seat without an extended seat belt or fit through the emergency exit window, they can not fly.

AGE: Most airlines have a minimum age requirement, usually between 18 and 21 years old. There is no maximum age limit. As long as a flight attendant can pass their yearly recurrent training, and does not have any health or physical problems that would prevent them from flying, they can continue to work for as long as they like.

NOTE: Foreign carriers still follow strict height, weight, and age requirements.

Photo courtesy of ABC