The arrival: airports that do it right

[This is a slightly altered version of my “At the Airport” column published in  USA TODAY in May 2015]

Palm Springs International Airport _courtesy of the Airport

Palm Springs International Airports

Sometimes, the best part of going away is coming home. Or feeling at home in a new place. And for many travelers, that sensation begins at the airport.

Sound designer Peter Comley relishes his return visits to Vermont’s Burlington International Airport where, he’s welcomed by a view of the Green Mountains, Lake Champlain and the Burlington Air National Guard Base, which is “a sight just across the runway – with their F-16s.”

For Evan Deahl, an about-to-graduate college student in Philadelphia, it’s the approach into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. “You come in over Lake Michigan and directly over the Chicago skyline. Cue Rhapsody in Blue in head. It’s like a movie,” he said.

Washington, D.C.-based literary agent Anna Sproul-Latimer enjoys landing at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which has a “beautiful view coming into the Strip, and you can roll straight into gambling in the terminal. What’s not to like?”

In other airports it’s the immediate access to local culture, scenery and cuisine.

Passengers arriving at Fort Wayne International Airport in Indiana are greeted by local volunteers handing out cookies from a nearby bakery. At California’s Palm Springs International Airport, passengers exiting their planes enter an outdoor space with palm trees, real grass and a view of the mountains.

“I’m always happy to fly back to my old hometown airport in Atlanta and get my southern fried food fix of grits, greens and fried okra at Paschal’s or a Chick-fil-A sandwich and a sweet tea,” said Chris McGinnis, who writes the TravelSkills blog.

Some airport “Welcome Home” scenes take a moment to unfold.

When you walk off the plane at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, “the first thing you feel in the jet bridge is the thick sticky subtropical ether,” notes Christopher Schaberg, author of The Textual Life of Airports and the forthcoming book, The End of Airports. “This gradually gives way to the cool air conditioning of the terminal; then you see a bartender pouring a tall glass of Abita amber ale, and further down the concourse a sign beckons you to purchase some Crawfish Strudel—you know you’ve arrived in New Orleans,” he said.

Both San Francisco-based Kat Snow and Seattle-based freelance writer Pam Mandel appreciate the food offerings at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. “I was super impressed by the offerings for those arriving hungry,” said Mandel. “Austin BBQ and tacos … great coffee and tea from a local café,” said Snow, “It really helps to arrive at the airport hungry, because some of the best food is pretty rich and filling.”

Arriving passengers at AUS airport are also welcome to attend any of the almost two dozen live, local music performances held in the terminal each week. And, speaking of music, Chicago-based management consultant Mitch Lieber says, when at Kansas City International Airport, the interpretive panels sharing stories about the jazz-era history that earned Kansas City the title of “Paris of the Plains” help him feel welcome and plugged in.

Fast getaway routes are a big draw at other airports.

“I love small airports like Albany International,” said Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family travel expert at “There’s never a crowd at the baggage carousel, long-term parking costs a reasonable $12/day, and I can find my car without walking miles.”