Iconic Airports: Where Are They Now?

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.

Muslim civil liberties org calls for apology from Air France

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling on Air France for a formal apology after a Muslim passenger service agent at Washington Dulles International Airport allegedly fell victim to the fashion police and was told she could not wear her head scarf because of an Air France dress code.

After refusing to disregard her religions beliefs and practices by taking off her hijab, a head covering that hides hair and drapes over the neck, the woman was sent home. France enacted a controversial “burqua ban” in April that affected up two 2,000 women who wore head-to-toe veils in public.

“It is clear that a discriminatory dress code implemented in France would not superseded American laws protecting the religious rights of employees. Air France must follow American law and grant reasonable religious accommodations for its employees,” wrote CAIR Staff Attorney Gadeir Abbas in a letter to Patrick Roux, vice president and general manager of Air France, U.S. Operations.

Abbas maintains this case is symptomatic of the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in American society, and points to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion.

It is unclear how long the woman worked for Air France before the incident took place.

[Photo by Orrling, Wikimedia Commons]

Icelandair launches service from Washington’s Dulles Airport

D.C. has been hot, hot, hot, recently – or should we say ice cold? Beginning on May 17, 2011, Icelandair will launch their eighth North American gateway with seasonal service from Washington Dulles International Airport. From May through mid-September, the airline will offer four weekly flights.

Early bird fares begin as low as $429 round trip, perhaps giving travelers reason to hop the pond and hit up the Blue Lagoon.

“Icelandair is very familiar with the Baltimore-Washington market and looks forward to serving the metropolitan area that Icelandair called home for nearly 15 years,” said Thorsteinn Egilsson, General Manager – The Americas. “Dulles Airport will offer convenient connectivity for U.S. travelers and will serve the large International market surrounding Washington, D.C. The launch of service from Washington, D.C. will serve our passengers traveling to Iceland and beyond well into the future and we look forward to welcoming them aboard.”

Currently, the airline services more than 20 destinations in Europe, making Iceland an ideal stopping point for travelers looking to spend a few days (perhaps in an ice cave?) before heading off to other cities. Conveniently, Icelandair allows passengers to stopover in the country with no additional airfare, further adding to its attractiveness.

[Image courtesy of Icelandair]

TSA job demographic: must eat lots of pizza

The TSA is looking for fitness freaks and health gurus to keep our planes and airports safe. This is a pretty important job, so it makes sense that the agency would be committed to sourcing the best of the best. When you walk through airport security, the goal is to make you think twice about that box-cutter tucked in your boot.

That’s why the TSA is advertising its open positions on pizza boxes.

Before stuffing your pie-hole with a slice, the TSA wants to own your eyeballs for a moment, using that moment before you flip the top of the box back and dive into a greasy delight to entice you to apply. These ads, the only thing standing between you and caloric heaven, are for positions at Dulles and Reagan National in the Washington, DC area. Potential candidates are offered careers “where X-ray vision and federal benefits come standard,” according to USA Today.

So, what kind of hopeful TSA pro can we expect to find responding to a pizza-box ad? Do we really need to ask?

[photo by @tjohansmeyer via TweetPhoto]

Flight delays and making the best of it (Or, Zen and the Art of Airplane Maintenance)

May 1; Leesburg, Virginia — Sometimes you don’t have to travel far to have an adventure: I re-learned this lesson yesterday in the usually predictable confines of Dulles International Airport just outside Washington, DC.

I’d been in DC for five fabulously stimulating days and was scheduled to fly home to San Francisco on a 5:35 pm United flight. I arrived at Dulles around 3:00 and settled in for a sandwich and some airport email and reading time. My plane — a Boeing 777 usually reserved for international flights, which had flown in from Geneva earlier that day — was listed as on time. The afternoon sailed smoothly by until 4:45, when a gate agent announced that the flight was going to be delayed for mechanical reasons. She said they would make an updated announcement at 5:30.

By 5:25 the boarding area resembled a refugee scene: A long queue of people waited to confront two beleaguered ticket agents, and around them a ragged semicircle of travelers brandished their cellphones, complaining to colleagues, lamenting to loved ones, exasperatedly seeking alternative flights.

Then one of the ticket agents made an announcement that only about half the people could hear. “Can anyone fly to San Jose instead?” At once everyone who did hear assaulted the counter and those who didn’t began to call out, “What did she say? What did she say?” Afraid of missing something, they rushed the counter too. It was a stampede, with people waving their tickets in the air, elbowing their way forward, demanding their rights.After a few frantic minutes, five fortunate passengers sprinted across the corridor, clutching precious new boarding passes, and raced onto a Denver-bound plane just as its doors shut. The rest of us looked worriedly at each other. Casablanca, I thought.

I overheard a man in a business suit say something authoritatively to a young couple and followed him to the wine bar to ask what he’d found out. “There’s no way that plane is going to fly,” he said. “They’re trying to find another plane that could be flown here, but then they have to find a flight crew as well. They said they won’t know for three or four hours if they’ll be able to get a plane here tonight or not. So basically we just need to sit tight until they know what the situation is.”

Fifteen minutes later I Skyped to my wife: “The agent just came on and said that they’re looking for another plane that can come here and take us to SFO but they’re having problems, because it’s a larger kind of plane that usually just flies internationally, so they’re having trouble finding one that’s available…. I have a feeling we’re going to end up spending the night here….”

About ten minutes later the gate agent came back on the intercom and said that the flight was cancelled and that we should all proceed to the United service counter where we would be given a voucher for a hotel and dinner and a ticket for a flight to SFO the following day.

Like wildebeest we galumphed down the corridor toward the service counter, where two more harried agents waited. After standing in line for an hour and 20 minutes, I was handed a voucher for a hotel, a dinner voucher for the grand sum of $15 (woohoo!), and a boarding pass for the 4:08 pm flight to SFO.

“What about my check-in bag?” I asked.

“You’ll pick that up at the United baggage area when you arrive in SFO tomorrow,” the agent said brightly.

“And where am I staying?”

“The Lansdowne Resort, you’ll really like it,” she said.

Resort? I had been expecting an airport Hyatt or Hilton. The Lansdowne Resort sounded, well, vaguely thrilling.

“Go to transportation pick-up area 2H, and a shuttle from the resort will pick you up.”

I left the counter and realized that I had no idea what lay ahead. I was going to spend the night at a place called Lansdowne Resort, a place I was certain I would never otherwise have experienced in my life. I didn’t have to worry about my bag; all I had in the world was the laptop-bearing backpack that I’d kept as carry-on. A voucher was burning a $15 hole in my pocket. I felt lighter and lighter with each step. I was on an adventure!

That’s what happens when our well-laid plans go astray. One moment the day is all organized and itineraried; we’ve already lived it in our minds, we’re already arriving in San Francisco. And then the universe sends a little gift – your flight is cancelled; there’s a rupture in the fabric of certainty and expectation. The itinerary is out the window. Suddenly an alternative stream of possibilities, sunlit, floods into the scene.

Or at least, that’s the way I chose to take it….

As I write these words, it’s a sun-washed morning in northwest Virginia, and I’m swaddled in terrycloth splendor in my very comfortable room at the Lansdowne Resort. Last night I arrived at this spacious retreat set among green rolling hills and white golf carts and had a delicious dinner of grilled salmon and Sauvignon blanc at the estimable On the Potomac restaurant. The tab was considerably more than my allotted $15, but it was worth it.

After dinner I went for a walk under the stars. The night was beautiful, warm enough that I was comfortable in just a sport coat, quiet, the air almost caressing. A convivial group was gathered around a terrace fire pit, drinking and laughing. As I walked farther, I came upon an area of what looked to be expansive and expensive homes, no doubt following the contours of the resort’s lush fairways.

Of course, there were challenges to overcome. First there was the toothbrush issue. I channeled my inner Bear Grylls and briefly considered foraging for a twig and a few sprigs of mint among the resort’s manicured grounds — but as it turned out, I foraged in my bathroom and found, nestled among the stalks of Shampoo, Conditioner, and Body Lotion, a blue extract called Mouthwash, which served as the perfect toothbrush-in-a-pinch.

Then there was the clothing conundrum. I didn’t have a change of garb, but luckily, I discovered a stream in that same bathroom, peeled off my sweaty clothes and plunged them into the flowing water, then washed them in the sap of the Bath Gel plant. Finally, after laying them out to dry nearby, I crept up to the closet, carefully pried it open, and spied a woolly white Lansdowne-Crested Bathrobe. With a single leap, I wrested it from its perch and subdued it. That would serve as cover for the night.

This morning my hair looks like it’s been dancing to the beat of savage drums and my beard recalls Tom Hanks in Castaway, but this just adds a little more gritty glamour to the scene. I can hear myself at a future cocktail party: Yes, my flight was canceled at Dulles and suddenly I was thrown back on my own resources; I had to use all my wits to survive….

The truth is: I feel marvelously light. I don’t have to make any decision about what clothes to wear; I don’t have any choice. I don’t have to lug my check-in bag around; I’m as buoyant as the pack on my back. The sun is shining, the golf carts are revving up, the golfers are cleat-clattering on their way to the course, and the birds are tweeting the old-fashioned way from fulsome green trees. The day stretches infinitely, invitingly ahead.

This morning I’ve re-realized a truth that I once lived by: Traveling without baggage – of both the literal and the figurative kind – is wondrously lightening and liberating.

This morning I’ve re-realized a truth that I once lived by, and that too much business and too little adventure has obscured in the past year: Traveling without baggage – of both the literal and the figurative kind — is wondrously lightening and liberating. The metaphor has woken me up like the Virginia sun: light pack, light feet, light soul. And now, for half a day, I’m soaring, suspended, with nothing to do, nowhere to be, adrift on the winds of possibility.

Before long I’ll take a shower, exchange terrycloth for Oxford cloth and corduroy, wander around the grounds a bit, plug in my laptop and do the work I would have done if I were at home – some reading, some writing. But I’ll get to do it among the rolling green hills and gracious estates of this corner of Virginia I would never otherwise have known existed. One more piece in my picture-puzzle of the world will have been serendipitously filled in.

Sometimes we need these little ruptures to refresh us, to renew our sense of wonder and wander. In the end, a flight cancellation for mechanical reasons can be a ticket from the universe – a Zen koan that retools our inner engine: How do you fly when there is no plane?

[Image credits: JoshuaDavisPhotography.com; SalimFadhley; Jurvetson]