Harriet Baskas

Museum Monday: St. Louis Gateway Arch museum

Courtesy Gateway Arch Park Foundation

July 3 is opening day for the new museum at the iconic Gateway Arch, the iconic 630-foot-tall concrete and stainless-steel structure on the St. Louis riverfront that commemorates Thomas Jefferson and the role St. Louis played in the westward expansion of the United States.

Completed in 1965, the arch began offering tram rides to a viewing platform at its top in 1967. Now $380 million of upgrades to the parkland around the country’s tallest man-made monument and to the underground museum below it are being readied for visitors.

Here’s a preview of the upgraded ground-level Gateway Arch experience that I originally prepared for CNBC.


The arch itself and the tram ride that brings visitors to the small observation room at the top of the arch remains unchanged, but the way visitors get to the arch and experience the Gateway Arch Park has been transformed.

“You don’t change a masterpiece,” said Eric Moraczewski, Executive Director of the Gateway Arch Park Foundation, “What we’ve done is renovate about 100 acres of park space, added 46,000 square feet of museum space, a café and raised the riverfront about 30 inches to prevent flooding and give us more useable days on the riverfront. We also built a land bridge over Interstate 44 to make the park more accessible to visitors.”

When the free museum inside the Gateway Arch reopens on July 3, visitors will see some old favorites, such as the statue of Thomas Jefferson, and many new artifacts, including a resin version of the much-loved taxidermy buffalo that park officials say was showing too much wear and tear.

The new museum has six galleries: Colonial St. Louis explores the founding of St. Louis and the indigenous and Creole culture before the Louisiana Purchase; Jefferson’s Vision documents how St. Louis shaped the west; and Manifest Destiny follows the trails, the settlers and the conflicts for those heading west. The Riverfront Era gallery shows how steamboats created an American metropolis at St. Louis and New Frontiers presents the history of railroads, industry, and the myth of the West. Finally, Building the Gateway Arch presents the history of the Eero Saarinen-designed monument itself.

The Riverfront Era gallery in the new museum at the Gateway Arch features a façade made with stones from the Old Rock House, a structure built as a warehouse in 1818 that was demolished to make may for the construction of the arch.

“The history preservation team for National Park Service kept the stones, carefully stored them and was able to reuse them. Now you walk into the museum through the stones of the Old Rock House,” said Eric Moraczewski, Executive Director of the Gateway Arch Park Foundation.

A new feature in the tram lobby will offer visitors on the ground a live webcam stream of the view from the observation space at the top of the Gateway Arch. The webcam will give those waiting for the ticketed tram ride a preview of what they’ll see and also make the view accessible to people who use wheelchairs, visitors afraid of heights and others who choose not to purchase a ticket to the top.


The new museum and visitor center on the renovated grounds of the Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, MO will be celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony on July 3 as part of Fair St. Louis, a July 4th celebration dubbed “America’s Biggest Birthday Party.”

All phoots courtesy Gateway Arch Park Foundation

Arts program at Philadelphia Int’l Airport turns 20

Christine Larson’s Farewell to Night

The arts and exhibitions program at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and, after 425 temporary exhibits and artist demonstrations, one of the first airport arts programs is still going strong.

Over the years, the exhibits have featured a variety of media including painting, photography, printmaking, wood working, ceramics, glass, and found objects such as a 20-foot clock made of hundreds of empty Yuengling beer bottles

Beer Bottle Clock

The current exhibit in Terminal A-East features a montage of Philadelphia’s 67 Historic Landmarks, recognizing the city’s designation as the nation’s first World Heritage City by the International Organization of World Heritage Cities.

Other exhibits in the terminals today include Christine Larsen’s Farewell to Night, a 100-footlong illustration of an imagined landscape where mystical characters celebrate the coming of morning  and Custom Bikes, which showcases hand-made bicycles from 5 different local bike shops.


The Exhibitions Program was founded by PHL Director of Image and Chief Curator Leah Douglas, who was kind enough to answer a couple of questions about the program via email:

What have been some of the challenges and successes of the art program during these 20 years?

“Twenty years ago there were few airport art programs to emulate so it takes time to model a program that works best for your airport, city, and region. Now passengers and employees are familiar with rotating art programs in airports and it something that they look forward to seeing.  The program has evolved into one of the area’s prized locations to exhibit because of the quality of our presentations and the quality and variety of the work that we show–in addition to the massive exposure with 82,000 passengers flying through PHL every day.”

What are some the most memorable exhibitions for you to put together?

“It’s always the next exhibition that I am looking forward to most and in particular, it is one that I am curating for this anniversary–It’s A Wrap: 20 for 20. This exhibition has to be the first-ever for an airport:  Twenty artists are invited to create interventions on existing architectural elements and furnishings. Several artists will crochet over top columns and rockers; 6 artists have been given ceiling tiles to paint on; 1 artist will apply colored tape in patterns along the glass of the moving walkway; and another artist will paint directly on 2 cement columns.”

Find more information about past, present and future exhibitions at Philadelphia International Airport here.

Fresh arts/entertainment at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport

 A fresh program of live local art and entertainment offerings – “ArtsWave Presents” – begins today, March 16, at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) and continues on Friday afternoons through May.

Here’s what’s on tap for the next few weeks.  

·         2-3 PM: Friday, March 16: Northern Kentucky University Philharmonic

·         2-3 PMFriday, March 30: James McCray Choral Ensemble

·        More to come  Fridays: April 6April 20May 4May 25

CVG, which is currently undergoing a $6 million terminal modernization project, is also displaying a nice collection of items from the Cincinnati Museum Center, including the spacesuit of Neil Armstrong.

And, of course, this is the airport that has miniature therapy horses come visit with travelers.

New tech makes airports friendlier for blind travelers

Courtesy AIRA

My ‘At the Airport’ column on USA TODAY this month is about Aira, a new service that makes airports more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Here’s a slightly edited version of that column. 

Airports around the country are beginning to offer travelers an augmented reality service that uses Google glass-style technology or a smartphone app to offer greater mobility and independence to blind passengers and those with low vision.

And, for now, airports offering the service are doing so for free.

How it works: off-site eyes

San Diego-based Aira offers a paid subscription service that provides blind and low vision customers smart glasses and smartphone software that connectsto remote live agents who use the cameras on the glasses or the smartphone to see what’s around the user and offer guidance.

Subscribers (Aira calls them ‘explorers’) can call on a remote agent to have them help with anything from tasks in the home, grocery shopping or traveling around the world.

“I’ve had help identifying receipts and papers on my desk, identifying the colors of things in my wardrobe and reading labels on spices if I’ve been smelling too many spices and my nose is tired, ” said Christine Ha, an Aira advisory board member.

Ha has also used the Aira service at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental which, along with Houston Hobby, Memphis International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Spokane International and (soon) others, picks up the per-minute costs associated with using the Aira app or subscription service in the terminals.

“Many, but not all, airport employees are well trained to help people with vision impairments,” said Ha “But I like to be independent and find that Aira agents can pull up airport maps and serve as a virtual concierge, talking in my ear and describing what’s around,” including shops and restaurants, restrooms, gate hold areas and art.

The Aira service was not specifically designed for use in airports, but users been telling the company how their experience at airports has been transformed.

“We learned that at airports, visually impaired travelers often have to call ahead for assistance and might be met at the curb by someone who puts them in a wheelchair and just delivers them to their gate,” said Kevin Phelan, Aira’s Aviation Lead and head of Sales. “This service allows users to be independent and enjoy the airport like everyone else. So, we’ve been meeting with airports to let them know this service exists.”

Airports adopt Aira

Airports offering the Aira service for free see it as a customer service.

The Houston Airport System, which operates Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental, chose to participate as part of its goal “To be a role-model of accessibility for all travelers and to make the airport experience as memorable as possible,” said Tim Joniec, the airports’ Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator.

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, spokesman Patrick Hogan said providing the Aira service for free at the airport was a “no brainer,” because “It’s a great way to ensure people with little or no vision can enjoy the same airport experiences that sighted people do.”

Memphis International Airport, the first to adopt Aira, is pleased other airports are following its lead in offering the service to passengers. “This shows a collective commitment in the airport industry to ensure greater accessibility and convenience for all passengers,” said MEM spokesman Glen Thomas.

While some airports have found out about AIRA by word of mouth, others are learning about this and other useful services through a matchmaker-type program for airports and start-ups.

“We recognize airport leaders are very busy and don’t have the wherewithal to scout the startup community for solutions,” said Chris Runde, director of the Airport Innovation Accelerator at the American Association of Airport Executives, “We try to bridge the gap by finding out what airports need and then finding what’s out in the marketplace.”

In addition to helping the Aira team understand how airports work and making introductions for them in the airport community, AAAE’s accelerator program is also making airport connections for several other groups, including Elerts, which offers See Something Say Something mobile apps that can help improve airport safety, and Sleepbox, a micro-hotel company that just signed a contract to place 16 units at Dulles International Airport.


Dog dies after United tells flyer to put carrier in overhead bin

[UPDATED statements from United at bottom of story]

United Airlines has confirmed the death of a dog on United flight #1284 Monday night from Houston to New York. The dog’s owner was instructed by a flight attendant to place the pet carrier in an overhead bin.

“Tonight I was on a plane where I witnessed a @united flight attendant instruct a passenger to place her dog carrier (with dog) in the overhead compartment. The passenger adamantly refused but the flight attendant went on with the instruction,” tweeted Maggie Gremminger, a passenger who says she seated nearby the dog owner.

Passengers interviewed by The Points Guy heard barking from inside the bin during part of the flight. “By the end of the trip, horrified passengers found the dog had died in-flight,” The Points Guy reported.

“Immediately after the flight landed, myself and another witness stayed to speak with various United employees,” Gremminger told the One Mile at a Time website, “The flight attendant denied knowing it was a dog, but the man seated next to me said he heard the flight attendant respond to the passenger, ‘You need to put your dog up here.’

United Airlines’ statement on the incident expresses condolence to the dog’s owners and assumes full responsibility for the incident which, the carrier says, is being thoroughly investigated.

“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.” 

For now, United says it has refunded the family’s tickets and the $125 in-cabin pet charge and has offered to fund a necropsy (an animal autopsy) for the dog.

“Incidents like this one are inexcusable, and every member of the flying public should be outraged at United’s callous disregard for the safety of this family’s beloved pet,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, “United was right to quickly apologize and take responsibility for this shocking event, but more needs to be done to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Placing an animal in an overhead bin – even in an approved pet-carrier – is not part of United Airlines’ (or any airline’s) in-cabin pet policy.

United’s policy states that, “A pet traveling in cabin must be carried in an approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennel. The kennel must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times.”

Passengers are also required to make advance reservations when taking a pet in the cabin. United places a limit of four pets in the economy cabin of any flight and two pets in the premium cabins of select aircraft.

U.S. carriers are required by law to report the incidents involving the loss, injury or death of animals during air transportation to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

For 2017, 24 incidents were reported by carriers. 18 of those incidents were on United airlines and involved injuries or deaths of animals that had traveled as cargo.

Of the 18 incidents, United reported that several animals injured themselves clawing at the interiors of their shipping containers and that medical exams determined several others died during the journey due to natural causes. An Abyssinian dog named Riko escaped from a shipping container and was hit by a vehicle and Lulu, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, died from heat stroke on a flight to San Francisco although the incident reports notes that two other animals on that flight arrived healthy.

And then there is the case of Simon the 3-foot long prize rabbit that died either during – or after – a United flight from London to Chicago.  

Update 3/14/18: United has issued an updated statement on the dog-in-the-overhead bin incident.

We have spoken to the family, our crew and a number of passengers who were seated nearby. We have learned that the customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier. However, our flight attendant did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin. As we stated, we take full responsibility and are deeply sorry for this tragic accident. We remain in contact with the family to express our condolences and offer support.

 To prevent this from happening again, by April we will issue bright colored bag tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets. This visual tag will further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin.