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.

An Inside Look At The Old TWA Terminal At JFK

In 2012, it’s hard to imagine catching a flight as anything but a routine, frequently dehumanizing process – waiting in long security lines, bad food and cramped terminals conspire to make our flying experience less than enjoyable. This wasn’t always the case – back in the 1960s, flying was considered a glamorous, cutting edge industry, and the design of the airports matched that perception.

A great example of this is long-ago closed TWA Terminal at New York’s JFK Airport. Opened in 1962 and designed by visionary architect Eero Saarinen, the building’s soaring departures lobby, sleek waiting lounges and polished interior beckon travelers towards an optimistic golden age of travel that was just getting started. Today, that terminal lies tantalizing out of reach, a designated National Historic Landmark that rests unused and waiting directly in front of JetBlue’s massive new Terminal 5.

Earlier this weekend, Gadling traveled out to JFK as part of Open House New York to take a sneak peek inside the now-shuttered terminal of TWA to get a taste of what air travel used to be like. Want to see what the glory days of air travel looked like for travelers? Take a peek inside the gallery below.


Northwest Airlines memorabilia becomes big with collectors

Two years after being absorbed by Delta, Northwest Airlines has become a hot ticket again among airline collectors. Airline museums in Minnesota and Atlanta are seeking artifacts from Northwest and all things NWA-related are selling on eBay, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“It was the airline everyone loved to hate, but you know what? People are starting to miss it,” said Bruce Kitt of the NWA History Centre in Bloomington, Minnesota. The curator of the Delta museum is seeking NWA items such as children’s airline wings that represent the “passenger experience.”

The airline once jokingly referred to as “Northworst” joins other defunct airlines such as Pan Am, TWA, and the Concorde (technically a part of still-flying Air France but a big draw for aviation enthusiasts) as brands with hotly-demanded memorabilia. “Airline collectors are a dying breed, but if you go to any shows, the strangest one I’ve ever seen is a guy in a bright yellow baseball cap that says, ‘I buy barf bags,’ ” Kitt said. “Here’s a guy who just collects motion-sickness bags, including the first ones from the 1920s.” Airplane models, brochures, and safety cards are popular items, and silverware and china (they weren’t always plastic) are often for sale at New York’s Fishs Eddy home store.

If you’re visiting Minneapolis, or just flying through MSP Airport, you can visit the NWA History Centre via light rail to Bloomington’s 34th Street Station. The Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum south of Atlanta is free to visit with special hours to view aircraft interiors.

Do you collect airline items, from current or defunct airlines? Tell us about your finds.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Ted Kerwin.

Former TWA terminal at JFK airport could become boutique hotel

It appears second chances do exist in the travel industry. The Wall Street Journal reports that the former TWA terminal at New York’s JFK airport might re-open in the form of a boutique hotel.

The terminal was first opened in 1962 and welcomed travelers into the international port, but was closed in 2001 when American Airlines bought TWA, according to USA Today.

The rumor around the airport is that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the airport, would place a 150-room hotel into the unoccupied area that sits between the TWA terminal and the newer JetBlue terminal. The WSJ reports that the space would also house additional restaurants and shops.

Our prediction: If the airport turns this space into a hotel it could be a cash-cow opportunity for the airport. With JetBlue’s international affiliations and most flights arriving and leaving from T6, where the hotel would be near, this could mean a few overnight travelers thanks to redeye flights and international schedules.

Take a walk down memory lane with ten vintage airline commercials

Taking a page out of the “they don’t make them like this any longer” book, I’ve compiled a list of 10 fantastic vintage airlines commercials.

Take a walk down memory lane with me, and see how flying looked back in the 70’s, or listen to people tell you how awesome their (now bankrupt) airline is.

This article originally appeared on Gadling last year, but as part of our closer look at vintage America, the video clips have been updated and refreshed.

Wien Air Alaska – “When it comes to experience, Alaska’s first airline has the last word (1981)

Yes, that is a video of Captain Wien, father of our very own Kent Wien! The video took 35 takes to get right, because pilots are apparently better at flying a plane than acting on command. And here is a bit of trivia for you; Wien Air Alaska was the second airline in the country, and at one point they flew to more places in the world than any other airline (excluding Aeroflot). Sadly, Wien Air Alaska ceased operations back in 1984. I just hope they found a good home for the Canada Goose!
Eastern Airlines – “we earn our wings every day

Eastern Airlines is another airline that is no longer around. They closed up in 1991 leaving 18,000 people without a job or pension. This video clip taken in 1984 and shows a bunch of very happy employee/owners, completely unaware that just 7 years later their investment would be worthless.

Republic Airlines – “Nobody serves our republic like republic” (1982)

Catchy music? Check! Smiling flight attendants? Check! Catchy slogan? Check!

This 1982 commercial has everything that made 80’s commercials the hilarious relics they are today. Republic Airlines was born in 1979 out of a merger of 2 other airlines, and in 1986 Northwest Orient Airlines and Republic Airlines merged to form Northwest Airlines, which is still operating strong today. The old Republic Airlines hubs (Detroit, Minneapolis-Saint Paul and Memphis) are still the main hubs for Northwest today.

Northwest Airlines – first airline to ban smoking on domestic flights (1980)

Remember when checking in at the airport meant picking smoking or non-smoking? This commercial from 1980 shows Northwest Airlines bragging that they are the first airline to ban smoking on domestic North American flights.

Continental Airlines – “If you can’t fly Continental you might as well not fly at all” (1977)

Ah, the 70’s… This commercial is the cheesiest of them all. The theme song is soap opera meets bad radio jingle, but it’s the kind of bad song that sticks in your head.

United Airlines – Gene Hackman flying the friendly skies (1994)

This is the youngest commercial in the list, but even at 14 years old it shows how much has changed since then. The commercial brags about the 1000 flights and 135 destinations United flies to every day. In just 14 years they have grown to 3200 flights and over 200 destinations. Of course, it also shows that 14 years later, they are still using Rhapsody in Blue for all their commercials.

United Airlines – The new DC10 jetliner featuring the Friendship Room lounge in coach! (1971)

Here is an early United Airlines commercial where they get to show off their new DC10 jetliner. Featuring specially designed spacious seats, and a luxurious lounge in coach! This 1970’s plane shows just how miserable flying as become nowadays.

Braniff International – The end of the plain plane (1965)

A funny commercial from a time when it was still considered acceptable to brag about your attractive flight attendants. This clip tries to convince people that Braniff has the most colorful planes and “that they won’t get you there any faster, but it sure will seem that way!”

American Airlines – Doing what we do best (1982)

Warm meals in coach, full service no matter what you pay and a skycap who opens your cab door to help you out. It’s how flying used to be, just 26 years ago. This vintage AA commercial is another from the feel good era.

TWA – Steak in coach! It’s the new widebody L-1011, it’s built for comfort! (1977)

The last Lockheed L-1011 rolled off the assembly line in 1984, after just 250 of them were built. They can still be found today, but none are in operation with any major US carrier. This TWA commercial shows the spacious wide body cabin, the fantastic steak dinner in coach and the captain explains that their Rolls-Royce engines mean you’ll get a smooth ride!