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.

JetBlue Lets Family And Friends Earn Frequent Flier Points Together

JetBlue Plane
John Murphy, Flickr

If you’re one of those travelers who flies every now and then but not super often, you’ve probably all but given up hope of ever racking up enough frequent flier points for a free journey. Now jetBlue is giving less frequent travelers a better chance of earning a free flight by letting them pool their reward miles with family or friends.

The airline says its TrueBlue loyalty program will allow a designated group of travelers to accumulate points together. A family who is pooling its points can include a maximum of two adults aged 21 and over and up to five children. But friends who aren’t related can also decide to form a group for the sake of collecting miles. And you don’t have to share all your points either –- family or group members can choose to contribute a percentage of their miles to the group pool. Anyone who is part of the group can then use the points towards an award flight.JetBlue says the new point-sharing option now removes all the obstacles when it comes to redeeming an award flight. The carrier says it doesn’t have any blackout dates and loyalty points don’t expire, meaning families have better chance of accumulating enough miles to make that free trip a reality.

How Can Airline Websites Improve?

I recently visited the mobile website for midwest-based Sun Country Airlines, where I could check a flight status, view schedules or check my itinerary. Basically everything except what I came to do: book a flight. The confusing, unattractive, user-unfriendly design of airline websites is a common complaint of travelers, and a problem that the designers at Fi (Fantasy Interactive) have attempted to solve.

Their mock website and accompanying video highlights high-quality images, visual details such as weather temperatures, street maps and city sights, and a seamless, all-in-one-screen experience from flight booking to seat selection to flight status. Their design makes the airline more than a transportation company. It makes them a travel authority, tour guide and most importantly, a source of inspiration.

This wasn’t the first attempt at an airline website overhaul. In 2009, user interface designer Dustin Curtis published an open letter to American Airlines on his website, along with his idea of a website redesign. This was followed up by an anonymous response from one of AA’s designers, who was then fired for his message to Mr. Curtis. Funny enough, his vision of a new AA.com is pretty similar to what the airline unveiled this year with their new logo, with large images, links to deals and news and an overall streamlined look.

For something completely different, check out Anna Kovecses’ minimalist and vaguely retro design for American, along with a user-generated blog community where you might leave travel tips for frequent flyer miles.Delta relaunched its site last year with features including a travel “wallet” to store receipts to make their site more “customized” to travelers. Swedish designer Erik Linden’s gorgeous layout for a new Lufthansa site can be found online, but a visit to the German airline’s official site shows the same old crowded page. JetBlue.com has been consistently appealing and easy to use, touting the “jetting” experience rather than just a seat. Travel industry news site Skift has a nifty slideshow comparing booking sites now and from their early days. (The major innovation seems to be images over hyperlinks and text.)

One thing many of these designs have in common is suggestion and inspiration. Airlines seem to assume that most of us go to their website with a firm destination in mind, burying their route map deep in a sub-menu for us to hunt down. Yet if we are to be loyal to one brand or try to use frequent flyer miles, a map of their flights is the first destination. My husband is trying to make “million miler” status with American, and tries to book with them as much as possible, maximizing the distance and number of miles. While I can search for destinations from JFK, and even sort my number of miles, it’s harder to figure out what international destinations (such as Seoul) are served from another departure city. Shouldn’t the goal be for the airline to be one you want to return to, rather than a site you quit using out of frustration?

What matters to you in using an airline’s booking site?

Why Aren’t More Airlines Offering All-You-Can-Fly Deals?

Flickr user InSapphoWeTrust

With new start-up Surf Air offering all-you-can-fly pricing, will other, more established airlines follow suit?

Surf Air charges a one-time membership fee of $500, followed by $1,650 monthly payments. The six-seat, single-engine turboprops fly between less-used airports in California, such as Burbank and Santa Barbara, with additional destinations being considered for later in the year.

Unlimited travel isn’t unheard of — commuter-train passengers purchase unlimited-use passes every month and Jet Blue offered its popular $499 “All You Can Jet” pass in 2009 and 2010 to great acclaim. So why aren’t more airlines offering it?

American Airlines offered an unlimited lifetime pass for about five years, before abruptly discontinuing it in the early 1990s. The passes, which sold for $250,000 at the program’s start, actually quadrupled in price by the program’s end after American realized how much the unlimited flights were damaging their bottom line. Sixty-six elite fliers had their passes cancelled, sparking several lawsuits.

So, is it possible for an airline to offer an unlimited flight deal? JetBlue seemed to have much success with their plan, limiting the pass usage to one month and the days you could use the pass (unless, of course, you paid extra). JetBlue never released details on the financial success of the All You Can Jet pass, but perhaps it’s telling they discontinued the plan in favor of GoPacks, a 10-ticket pass selling for $699 to nearly $2,500.

So can a small, limited-route all-you-can-fly carrier succeed? Or if your preferred airline offered a monthly unlimited travel pass, would you take advantage if it?

Travel Advice For The Royal Baby (And His Parents)

family travel advice for the royal baby
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Royal watchers greeted the new prince this week with pomp, circumstance and silly hotel packages. Prince George Alexander Louis’ first trip will likely be to his mother’s hometown of Bucklebury, about an hour west of London, or to visit his grandparents on their annual holiday in Scotland. As Gadling’s de facto baby travel expert, with 50+ flights and 14 countries under my belt with my (now) two-year-old, I’d like to offer some family travel tips, with some special considerations for the future king:

1. Take big trips early: The first six months are the easiest time to travel, before the baby’s mobile and while they still sleep round the clock. As a tot, jet lag is easy to manage when you nap every other hour, and entertainment is easy to find anywhere when you are mesmerized by your own toes. The new parents might aim to take Prince George to visit his subjects in Canada in early October, once they’ve gotten the hang of his schedule and before the fall weather turns cold, or perhaps down to Australia during the spring shoulder season.2. Learn some local baby talk: Traveling with a baby is a great way to talk to locals, share common experiences, get help and recommendations and (possibly unwanted) parenting advice. When traveling to a country with a foreign language, knowing a few commonly asked questions and answers will go a long way in making connections. The people’s prince will be undoubtedly be popular anywhere he goes, so learn how to answer “How old is he?,” “What is his name?” and “Where is he in line to the throne?”

3. Check out of hotels: With a baby in tow, a kitchen and a washing machine make more attractive amenities than a hotel bar or concierge. Renting an apartment or house makes sense for a family, giving you extra room for the baby to sleep while the parents stay up, and a place to prepare bottles and baby food. Surely the Duke and Duchess have some castle time-sharing agreement to stay local? You might miss the service of a hotel, but if you are traveling with your own royal butler, it’ll still feel like a relaxing vacation.

4. Not all airlines are created baby-friendly: Air travel has gotten more stressful and uncomfortable for all of us, especially when you are terrified that you’ll be the one with the screaming infant. Some airlines do offer a few ways to make the experience more pleasant for you and your lap child. JetBlue still offers early boarding for families and a free checked bag (a lifesaver when you are toting a baby with your carry-on), and Emirates offers a baby kit with supplies for young children. Staying loyal to the UK carriers, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have free baby bassinets, special meals, and entertainment for kids. Even if you are flying by royal private jet, there are still ways to make flying with a baby go smoothly.

5. Don’t rush the kid stuff: Many parents think that travel with a baby means finding specially-tailored activities and kid-friendly destinations right away, but hold off on Disney — it’ll be years before they can appreciate it. Look instead for places that I call baby-friendly, with plenty of things for Mum and Dad to enjoy: a trip to Sicily where His Highness will be cooed over by Italian grandmothers while you, Catherine and William, sip wine on a piazza and take in museums too “boring” for a child, or a second honeymoon to the Seychelles.