Looking for ways to make airports fun

Jun 12, 2018 3:00 AM

Although never a big fan of most airport facilities, it’s now quite apparent major international airports are certainly mini-cities in their own right, offering conveniences and amenities that would enable one to live quite nicely at an airport, if it were allowed.

After all, some have shower facilities and health clubs, many have numerous restaurant choices and like our own McCarran International some offer gambling. There seems to be a competition among many of the major domestic and international airports as to who has the nicest accommodations. Travel experts and airport executives will tell you the nicer the airport the better the air travel experience. Yet, I still wonder if many of us would settle for an airport that wasn’t quite so luxurious in exchange for more reasonable prices for air travel?

Anyone who flew before the ramp up of extreme security measures in recent years can recall when flying was fun. One of the outgrowths of the extra security measures is flying is now more of a chore than previously. I recall when a vacation started when you arrived the airport to depart. Taking off my shoes and the mandatory (for most) security pat down means the vacation starts when you arrive at your destination.

Although I understand the need to have your liquids in plastic bags that are easily accessible from your carry-on luggage, pulling those bags out and putting them back is not one of life’s great joys.

We all know someone who suffers from the need to get to the airport ridiculously early, from two to three hours before his or her flight leaves. That someone just cannot relax unless they’re sitting at that gate a few hours before check-in. I know more than a few people with this compulsion and you probably do as well.

In the other extreme, I have a friend who enjoys being the last one on the plane, often arriving at the last moment possible. It’s another behavior I can’t quite comprehend, but the possibility of missing his flight doesn’t faze him in the least. A buddy of mine once insisted I drive him to the Las Vegas airport even though another friend was leaving on a flight that departed at just about the same time. He said he couldn’t handle the extra stress of getting to the airport late and rushing to make the flight, as is the custom of our other friend.

Most flyers have been stuck at the airport for weather reasons or perhaps a victim of a poor connection or a mechanical problem. Reading, surfing the internet and people-watching help pass the time. Now, there’s word from New York City’s La Guardia Airport of a satellite terminal with a new twist.

Just outside security in what used to be a newsstand, two friends have set up a writing nook complete with stacks of books, wooden furniture, throw rugs and a vintage typewriter.

Whatever for?

The New York Times reports it’s part of a residency program called “Landing Pages” established by the Queens Council on the Arts and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, operators of La Guardia. They do not solicit any customers. Those who want to participate provide a flight number and contact information. The writers then create a fictional story about them while their flight is in the air, texting it to them when they arrive at their destination.

Friends Gideon Jacobs and Lexie Smith say they write about six stories a day. When they finish about 50 by the end of this month they hope to publish a book.

When the writing duo leaves at the end of the month they will be followed by a multi-media producer who plans to record various sounds around the airport and make a map with them. Those interested can go online, click on a spot and listen to the sounds heard everyday at that location.

After that, a visual artist will take over the space and sketch passengers walking by. Using these drawings, he plans to create a large mural. The last announced use for the former newsstand space is by a designer, Brian Soliwoda, who, using sustainable and regenerative products, will create a sculpture of a clipper ship in honor of the terminal’s seaplane history.

Lysa Scully, Las Guardia general manager, told The Times, “A lot of airports have art. But, having active and involved art customers can engage with, that is a unique model. I haven’t seen that anywhere.”

This program is officially called ArtPort Residency and although quirky I’d like to see it at more airports, including McCarran.

Because this is Las Vegas, with its reputation of doing everything better than anyone else, I’d like to see some interactive programs that would make an arrival or departure from McCarran part of the vacation experience instead of the end of it.

How about cooking demonstrations by some of our top chefs? What about mini-concerts by aspiring performers? It could be comedy, jazz, pop or rock. There was talk some years ago about opening a sportsbook at McCarran. That’s about as interactive an experience as it gets.

The ideas are endless.

I like the concept of improving the airport experience this way rather than more lifeless chrome and steel. Making the airport experience fun again works for me.