Hotels

Amelia Earhart slept at the first airport hotel

Where was the very first airport hotel?

Oakland Airport Inn

Oakland Airport Inn – Courtesy Port of Oakland

My “At the Airport” column on USA TODAY this month explores the history of airport hotels, including the three (so far) hotels I found that claim to be the first airport hotel.

SFO Airport Hilton

The sprawling San Francisco Airport Hilton opened in 1959. Photo courtesy San Francisco International Airport.

In its long “History of Firsts,” Hilton Hotels & Resorts claims to have pioneered the airport hotel concept with the opening of the San Francisco Airport Hilton in 1959.

Their claim is off by at least 30 years.

Aviation historians say that, in fact, the first hotel built at a United States airport opened its doors to the traveling public on July 15, 1929, on the grounds of what is now the North Field of Oakland International Airport.

“The Oakland Airport Inn was adjacent to the dirt runway,” said Ian Wright, Director of Operations at the Oakland Aviation Museum, “And the structure still stands today.”

At opening, Oakland Airport Inn boasted 37 rooms, a restaurant, a barbershop and a ticket office, according to Air & Space Magazine,.  But in 1931, in a article concluding that airport hotels would never catch on with travelers,  Aviation described the hotel as being “almost completely devoid of patrons after a year of operations” because two airlines had shifted flights away from the Oakland airport.

Restaurant that once served the Oakland Airport Inn. Courtesy Port of Oakland

To fill the rooms, the hotel management instead courted pilots and students from the Boeing School of Aeronautics, which operated on the airport’s grounds from 1929 until the early 1940s.

Courtesy Port of Oakland

Courtesy Port of Oakland

Today the building that housed the Oakland Airport Inn is home to the Amelia Earhart Senior Squadron 188, a local unit of the Civil Air Patrol.

That Earhart homage is fitting: Amelia Earhart was a regular guest at the Oakland Airport Inn. And in May 1937 she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, set out from the airport’s North Field for their ill-fated second attempt to fly around the world.

Dearborn Inn

Ford Trimotor plane flies over Dearborn Inn at Ford Airport in 1931. Courtesy The Henry Ford

While guests can no longer check-into a room at the Oakland Airport Inn, they are able to book rooms at the Dearborn Inn, in Dearborn, Michigan (near Detroit).

The hotel opened its doors on July 1, 1931 and along with claiming this to be the world’s first airport hotel, the Michigan Historical Marker out front says Henry Ford built the inn to serve Detroit-bound guests arriving at the Ford Airport, which opened in 1924.

Stout Air Services, run by Edsel Ford’s friend William Stout, began offering flights between Dearborn and Grand Rapids, MI in 1926 and in 1929 was flying daily (except Sunday) to both Chicago and Cleveland using Ford Trimotor aircraft.

Courtesy The Henry Ford

Courtesy The Henry Ford

“The Dearborn Inn was actually the brainchild of Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, and was intended to be the ‘front door’ to the city of Dearborn and to The Ford Motor Company,” said Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford, “Edsel wanted to provide employees, visitors and airline flight crews with nice, comfortable accommodations.”

Noted Detroit architect Alfred Kahn designed the building for a hotel Edsel wanted modeled after the charming New England inns with Colonial-style décor he’d stay in when traveling back and forth between his homes in Detroit and Bar Harbor, Maine.

Dearborn Inn

Cafeteria at the Dearborn Inn – Courtesy The Henry Ford

“The exterior of the hotel is vaguely a Colonial design,” said Sable, “But one feature that’s really cool is that at the tippy top there’s a ‘widow’s walk,’ or observation platform, where guests could go out and watch the planes land at the airport.”

Today the Dearborn Inn operates as a Marriott Hotel featuring modern rooms that are still decorated with Colonial-style furniture and fabrics. The 231-room hotel complex also still offers guests the option to stay on “Pilots Row” – in rooms once used by airline crews – or in one of the five replica Colonial-style homes of Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe and other famous Americans that Henry Ford had built at the inn.

Other ‘early’ airport hotels

Some of today’s travelers may remember a few other early airport hotels that are now also footnotes in history.

Memphis International housed the Skyport Inn from about 1972 until around 2012. The in-terminal hotel had about 30 rooms split between the A and C Mezzanines and was popular with pilots and flight attendants who had early morning flights. Many, if not all, of the rooms may have lacked windows: in an article about the hotel being razed to make way for office space, the Memphis Business Journal noted that each room at the Skyport Inn had its own skylight.

The Airport Mini Hotel that once operated at Honolulu International Airport closed its doors not long at 9/11. But for many years the hotel offered travelers on layovers a space to nap and freshen up for less than $10 an hour. “Apparently the rooms were small, but the bathrooms were decent,” said airport spokeswoman Claudine Kusano.

And while we now know that th sprawling Hilton that operated at San Francisco Airport from 1959 until the late 1990s was not the world’s first airport hotel (by a longshot), we do know that a night club at the hotel called Tiger A-Go-Go was quite popular with passengers, airline crew and employees.

So popular, it seems, that in 1965, the pop duo Buzz & Bucky released a single about the lounge titled (what else but) Tiger-A-Go-Go (click on the link to give it a listen) which spent four weeks on the Billboard charts.

What are your favorite airport hotels?

Fresh news about old airport hotels

Where was the first airport hotel in the United States?

Oakland Airport Inn

Oakland Airport Inn – courtesy Pacific Aerial Survey, GeoSpatial

For a column to post on USA Today later this week, I’ve been having fun researching the location and history of the earliest airport hotels.

To no suprise, several hotels lay claim to this title.

Candidates include a Hilton that no longer exists near San Francisco International Airport; The Dearborn Inn, which still exists near what was once the Ford Airport in Dearborn, Michigan; and our winner: the Oakland Airport Inn at Oakland International Airport.

Oakland Airport Inn - restaurant. Port of Oakland

Oakland Airport Inn – restaurant. Port of Oakland

When it opened in 1928, the hotel was a marvel to behold, with 37 rooms, a restaurant, a barbershop and an airline ticket office. Among its guests: Amelia Earhart and othe early aviation pioneers.

Stay tuned for more details about the earliest airport hotels.

 

Skip the shuttle: choose a cool airport hotel

I’ve got a story this week in the CNBC Road Warrior section all about  airport hotels and some of the newest ones on the horizon. 

Here are the highlights of that story.

Skip the shuttle: At-the-airport hotels take flight

With the official ribbon-cutting this week for a new four-star hotel at Minneapolis-St. Paul International, travelers now have one more major domestic airport where it is possible to skip the hotel shuttle and go directly from a hectic day of flying to a comfortable night’s sleep in a fluffy bed.

The 12-story, 300 room InterContinental Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Hotel is connected to Terminal 1 via a sky bridge and has a spa, conference center and its own security checkpoint, offering quick access to the gates for those flying with just hand baggage.

MSP’s hotel is a public-private partnership (with Graves Hospitality) and is just the latest example of airports recognizing that in addition to offering convenience, having an on-site hotel is a revenue generator that can give an airport a competitive edge.

In 2015, Denver International Airport opened the doors to the 519-room Westin Denver International Airport hotel and conference center on the plaza adjacent to the Jeppesen Terminal. In addition to on-site dining and an indoor pool and fitness area, the hotel has an extensive art collection and commuter rail access to the city.

Courtesy Denver Westin International Airport

At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport there are two hotels directly accessible from the terminals: a Hyatt Regency DFW at Terminal C and a Grand Hyatt DFW inside Terminal D with an outdoor rooftop pool overlooking the runways, multi-dining options and a Terminal Re-Entry program that gives guests access to the amenities inside the terminals.’

The Wayne County Airport Authority recently partnered with Starwood Hotels and Resorts to give the Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport Hotel attached to the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport a $15 million makeover.

The hotel has conference rooms, day rates and a fitness enter with a pool offering runway views (day passes $15), and a TSA security checkpoint adjacent to the lobby. Hotel staff can also arrange gate-passes into the terminal for guests.

Miami’s airport has had an in-terminal hotel since 1959. The Miami International Airport Hotel now sits pre-security in Concourse E and offers day rates as well the first airport Air Margaritaville restaurant (on the lobby level) and, on the top floor, the country’s first Viena Brazilian restaurant.

At Orlando International Airport, the 25 year-old in-airport Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport is owned by the airport authority and operated by Hyatt,

“The hotel serves as an extension of the airport’s goal to provide the best ‘Orlando Experience’ possible and is a wonderful amenity for all airport customers,” said airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell, “It is also a significant driver of the airport’s annual revenues.”

Among a variety of perks offered guests staying in the Orlando airport hotel is luggage delivery service. “Just get off the plane, come to the front desk, provide your bag claim ticket and our bellmen will deliver the bags directly to your room,” said Fennell.

Elsewhere in the U.S., travelers will find hotels inside or connected to several other airports, including Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (a Marriott), Boston Logan International Airport (a Hilton), Philadelphia International Airport (a Marriott), Hartford’s Bradley International Airport (a Sheraton) and Chicago O’Hare, which offers day $20 passes (with discounts for Hilton Honors members) to the indoor pool and extensive fitness center.

Airport hotels of future

In the next few years, travelers will be able to check into on-site hotels at more airports.

A Grand Hyatt with 351 rooms, 15,000 square feet of meeting space and direct access to the AirTrain light rail system is scheduled to open in summer 2019 at San Francisco International Airport.

An InterContinental hotel is set to open at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2020.

And the Chicago Department of Aviation hopes to both build a new hotel next to Terminal 5 and renovate and modernize the current O’Hare Hilton by 2023.

In the meantime, work is progressing on the much-anticipated TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

When it opens in early 2019, Eero Saarinen’s iconic 1962 TWA Flight Center will be transformed into a swank 505-room retro-modern hotel with 50,000 square-feet of art, meeting and event space; a 200,000 square-foot lobby that may lay claim to the title of the largest hotel lobby in the world; and a rooftop observation deck with a pool and an aviation museum.

Have you stayed at an in-airport hotel- or choose these over near-the-airport hotels? Please share your comments and suggestions in the comment section below.

Freebies + cool offers to take advantage of now

Like the free ice water that made South Dakota’s Wall Drug famous, free stuff is a great treat when you’re on the road or out and about in your own town.

Here are few free offers and cool deals to take advantage of this weekend and into next week:

Free Museum Admission

On the first full weekend of each month, anyone who has flashes a Bank of America, Merrill Lynch or U.S. Trust credit or debit card and a photo ID gets free admission to more than 200 museums, science centers, gardens and other attractions participating in the Museums on Us program around the country.

Free food 

PotBelly Sandwich Shop is offering a bunch of free food items to members of its free-to-join Potbelly Perks program August 6-12.

Air fare deal

Need to bring a few suitcases of cash to the Cayman Islands? Or just want a great deal on a flight to this vacation destination?

From August 3 to 11, Cayman Airways is celebrating its 50th anniversary with some great discounted fares, plus extra perks such as 3 checked bags and lounge access, for flight from Miami, Tampa and New York booked for travel September 7 through November 7.

Fun hotel package for Pearl Jam fans

Not free – but fun: In Seattle,  The Edgewater over-the-water hotel has put together a package with the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). The Rock the Suite package includes tickets to the museum’s Pearl Jam: Home and Away exhibition, overnight accommodations at the hotel’s Pearl Jam Suite, and signature Pearl Jam cocktails in the  Six Seven Restaurant & Lounge.

Pearl Jam fans should also note that there’s a free Pearl Jam exhibit put together by the Museum of Pop Culture in the-presecurity area of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Know of a great freebie for travelers? Please send it along.

Travel Tidbits from SEA, TPA and Changi airports

Happy Friday! Here are some travel tidbits and ‘coming atttractions’ from several airports.

Happy Birthday Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is marking its birthday month with a variety of local events. The airport first opened to the public on July 9, 1949,

Courtesy Port of Seattle

Looking forward, travelers will soon be able to drink beer brewed on-site at Tampa International Airport:

And for long-haul travel, Singapore’s Changi Airport has rolled out a new stopover program that includes a (one-way) hotel transfer, a SIM card and an overnight stay at one of 20 participating hotels.  Packages start at S$63 – about $46 US dollars.