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.

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?

Delta’s New T4X Pop-Up Celebrates New Terminal Opening At JFK

t4x
Delta is celebrating the launch of JFK Airport’s new Terminal 4 (opening May 24) with a SoHo-based pop-up dubbed T4X. The high-design concept will showcase elements of the new terminal, as well as offer some perks for visitors.

Open Tuesday though Sunday each week, the building at the corner of West Broadway and Broome will serve four $4 daily sandwich and salad offerings created by Chef Michelle Bernstein, consulting chef for Delta’s International BusinessElite flights. Playing on the pop-up’s terminal theme, a flight information screen will display the daily menu and a baggage claim style conveyor belt will deliver the food in a mini Delta suitcase. The lunch items are inspired by the many international destinations Delta services from JFK, including London, Rome, Istanbul, Athens and more.

The second level of T4X features the Delta Sky Club where visitors can recharge their mobile devices and relax. An adjacent Sky Bar area offers TVs, reading materials or simply a place to enjoy a T4X international lunch.

Visitors will also experience a re-creation of The Sky Deck, the distinctive rooftop terrace to be located at Terminal 4′s new Delta Sky Club, created in partnership with Architectural Digest.

The space at T4X will feature video projections that capture the essence of looking out to the JFK tarmac from the Sky Deck. Similar to the actual terminal experience, T4X will feature travel-related retail essentials, both complimentary and for-purchase. Complimentary items include passport holders, luggage tags and mugs, while those for purchase include the popular Beats headphones, iPhone cases and amenity bags.

The pop-up runs from May 1 through May 22.

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[Image Credit: Delta]

Cockpit Chronicles: DC-3 Flight Over Manhattan Celebrates Mechanic’s 70 Years (With Video)

Al “Blacky” Blackman has reached a milestone few can claim. He has worked for 70 years as a mechanic for American Airlines based in New York, starting when he was only 17 years old.

Surprisingly, he has no plans to retire. “I don’t consider this work. It’s being able to do what you like and getting paid for it.”

On Tuesday last week the folks at AA threw a party for Al, his friends and his co-workers arranged for a painting sufficient in size to make even Al blush, which covered the back wall of Hangar 10 at JFK.

The next day they arranged for a few fellow employees, along with representatives from the media, to join Al in what has to be the most fitting way to mark the occasion, a ride in an original AA DC-3 around Manhattan.

The DC-3, which is operated by the non-profit Flagship Detroit Foundation, is the oldest DC-3 still flying. It is an airplane that AA operated until 1947 – five years after Al started as a mechanic.

Members of the press gathered around and asked Al a few questions before we were led across the ramp for our chance to fly with Al in the vintage airliner.

After he had a slight misstep while boarding, someone offered to hold Al’s cup of water for him. Handing it off, he joked, “You know what they say, If you can’t hold your drink … “

Soon after the 20 passengers found their seats on the plane, some remarked about the lack of air flowing through the cabin. Zane Lemon, the president of the Flagship Detroit Foundation, and our flight attendant for the trip, pointed out the gasper vents that would only supply cool air as we gained some airspeed, and the narrower seats from the time period.

“You have to remember, in the mid ’30s, the average passenger weighed 136 pounds,” he said.

“What was the average temperature?” someone quipped.

I was thrilled to be embarking on such a time-warp, even if the temperature was 95 degrees that day. A flight up the Hudson right by the Freedom Tower in a DC-3? Sign me up.
But my enthusiasm couldn’t come close to that of my friend Sebastian Toovey, dressed in an AA hat and T-shirt, who saw this as the flight of a lifetime. Sebastian’s article will appear in the October issue of Airways magazine, and the assignment was destined for him, as I’m sure you couldn’t find a bigger fan of American Airlines.

As promised, shortly after liftoff the cool air flowed as the view of the New York skyline came into view. It was explained that the flight path would take us north up the Hudson River, giving those on the right side a good view of the city followed by a turn over the George Washington Bridge that would offer the left side passengers an equal view.

The cockpit door was open, allowing those who were interested a cockpit view of the city. We managed to fly past the Freedom Tower, still under construction, which dominated the copilot’s window since we were only at 1,500 feet. It felt surreal to be in an antique airplane while puttering by New York’s newest monument.

Al pointed out the area where he attended school, the Aviation High School in Manhattan. “It was a long time ago!” He shouted over the engine noise.

It was clear that Al was enjoying himself, occasionally talking with pilots over the intercom. Instead of a southerly flight back down the Hudson, air traffic control surprised us with a direct routing from the bridge over Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge before entering the pattern at JFK. The captain later told us that this was extremely rare, and a few of us wondered what it looked like from the streets of New York.


Passing by Central Park heading north

After we parked, Sebastian asked Al to sign an info sheet that described the senior most employee at AA’s career progression. By this time, it wasn’t clear who had enjoyed the event more, Sebastian or Al.

I have to offer Kudos to American for commemorating such an accomplishment, not only of an airline employee, but for anyone who works for a living. Seventy years is nearly three full careers for most people.

And congratulations to Al, who says, “if you enjoy what you do, why stop?”

I couldn’t agree more.

Photos by the author and Nicolas Mace.

Cockpit Chronicles” takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as a captain on the MD-80 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the “Cockpit Chronicles” Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

JFK’s Georgetown

John F. Kennedy was one of the greatest orators in American history. But as a single congressman and then senator, his Sunday morning routine in Washington involved food and newspapers and no chit-chat. Each week, the magnetic politician would occupy a tiny, one-person booth called a “rumble seat” (see photo right and video below) at Martin’s Tavern, his favorite restaurant and watering hole in Georgetown, the neighborhood he lived in for nearly 15 years.

JFK liked to have his breakfast alone, poring over the Sunday papers in the rumble seat. He liked Martin’s so much that he asked Jacqueline Bouvier to marry him in the same place; today that booth bears a plaque and the moniker “the proposal booth.” Nearly sixty years after he popped the question in booth three, men from around the D.C. area who want to propose in this historic spot call ahead to reserve the same booth.

Georgetown is D.C.’s most celebrated neighborhood. It was founded in 1751, nearly 40 years before the city of Washington was established, and it remained a thriving, independent town, distinct from D.C., until it was annexed by the city in 1871. The neighborhood has long been a magnet for tourists but sadly many of them just walk up and down M Street, Georgetown’s commercial strip, which is filled with overpriced cupcake shops, chain stores and traffic, both human and vehicular.
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But venture up the hill, north of M Street and you’ll find Georgetown’s real treasure: a grid of quiet streets filled with historic homes built mostly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. JFK once very accurately called D.C. “a city of “Southern efficiency and Northern hospitality,” but he loved Georgetown. The Kennedys lived, worshipped and played in the neighborhood between 1946, when JFK was elected to the Congress at 29, until 1964, when Jackie moved out, nearly a year after her husband was assassinated.

For a wealthy family, the Kennedys moved often while in D.C., but didn’t stray beyond Georgetown. They lived in nine different homes, ranging from a humble row house to a 7,394 square foot mansion. Today, these homes are worth between $1.2 and $3.8 million dollars. (See gallery for details) The Georgetown Business Improvement District has established a self-guided walking tour that allows visitors to see these homes (now all in private hands and not open to the public). I’ve made some slight modifications to their route and included a stop at Martin’s Tavern.

Even if you have no interest in JFK, the walk, which takes about 90 minutes depending on your pace, provides a great introduction to D.C.’s most iconic and historic neighborhood. Nearly all of the homes on the tour look the same now as they did when the Kennedys lived in them. If you look at this photo of the Kennedys, for example, you can see that their home at 3307 N Street, looked the same then as it did now.

And this video of Jackie and the kids moving into a home at 3038 N Street after JFK was assassinated will give you an idea of what this stately home looked like in 1963. Even today, the house has a bit of a somber look to it.

According to The Washingtonian, JFK was a foodie before his time who favored French cuisine. But other than Martin’s, his other dining haunts are all long gone. That said, he is still remembered as the man who revolutionized drinking in D.C. In 1962, Kennedy signed a bill that repealed the city’s archaic drinking regulations, which mandated that bar patrons drinking beer or wine be seated on a stool and those drinking liquor be seated at a table.

JFK was back in the news earlier this month when Mimi Alford, a 69 year-old woman who interned at the White House, published a book claiming that she had an 18-month affair with JFK that began when she was 17. The revelation that Kennedy was a playboy isn’t front page news, but he was also a devout Catholic, and you can visit Holy Trinity Church, founded in 1792 as the city’s first Catholic church, where he and his family worshipped. It’s a small, square room with no confession booths.

The 11 stop JFK in Georgetown self-guided walking tour: (see slideshow for details on each stop)

1. 3260 N Street, NW
2. 3307 N Street, NW
3. 3513 N Street, NW
4. 1400 34th Street, NW
5. 3271 P Street, NW
6. 3321 Dent Place, NW (just north of Q Street, between 33rd and 34th)
7. 1528 31st Street, NW
8. 2808 P Street, NW
9. 3038 N Street, NW
10. 3017 N Street, NW
11. 1264 Wisconsin Ave, NW