airport museums

Visit an Airport Museum on Int’l Museum Day

New England Air Museum adjacent to Bradley International Airport (BDL)

May 18 is International Museum Day, which gives us an excuse to talk about some of the great museums in and adjacent to airports around the country.

Having a museum or museum program in an airport just makes so much sense. Millions of people pass through airports each year. Many passengers have plenty of downtime before their flights. And art or history exhibits in airports can connect passengers with a place, inspire them, educate them, or create those sought after moments of suprise and delight.

Here are a handful of airport museums and museum programs to look for on your next trip. Let us know if we missed your favorite.

Phoenix Airport Museum

The Phoenix Airport Museum at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) is one of the oldest and largest airport art program in the country. You’ll find permanent artwork and temporary exhibitions throughout the sprawling airport facilities, including in the rental car center and at the Sky Train stations.

SFO Museum

The SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is accredited by the American Alliance of Museum (AAM). In addition to permanent public art and more than a dozen temporary exhibitions at a time, the museum maintains a video arts program , student art programs, and photography galleries.

While the airport’s wonderful Aviation Museum & Library is currently closed for renovations, temporary exhibitions throughout the terminals currently celebrate everything from Early Women Aviators and their Aircraft to Victorian Wallpaper.

Julia Clark (1880–1912) at the controls of a Curtiss biplane  c. 1912. Courtesy SFO Museum

Mitchell Gallery of Flight at MKE

The free Mitchell Gallery of Flight at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) is located pre-security and open 24 hours a day. Exhibits include airplane models, aviation paintings, propellers, a scale model of the Milwaukee airport terminal as it looked in 1941, and sections dedicated to famous Wisconsinites in aviation history such as astronaut James Lovell and General Billy Mitchell, known as ‘the father of the U.S. Air Force.

You’ll find aviation-themed history exhibits and full-fledged aviation museums in and adjacent to many other airports too.

Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) in South Carolina has a 350-square-foot museum in its Grand Hall. The Frontiers of Flight Museum is on the southeast corner of Dallas Love Field Airport. And the New England Air Museum is adjacent to Bradley International Airport (BDL), in Connecticut.

And there are lots more.

Courtesy New England Air Museum

More airport museums and museum programs not to miss

Take a few moments to look around next time you’re at an airport and it’s a very good chance you’ll spot art and history exhibits you may have rushed by in the past. Curators at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), New York’s Albany International Airport (ALB), Denver International Airport (DEN), Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ), Miami International Airport (MIA), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), and many others do a great job filling the terminals and concourses with art and exhibits you’ll enjoy.

Quest by Bert L. Long, Jr

Holiday travelers will find busy airports, but with plenty of free things to do

(This is a slightly different version of a story we prepared for NBC News)

Over this holiday, the Transportation Security Administration is expecting to screen a near pre-pandemic number of passengers.

Many travelers will be visiting an airport for the first time in almost two years but will be pleased to find a wide range of free services and amenities at the ready to help ease the journey. 

Security Checkpoint Reservations

Travelers who haven’t paid for expedited security lane access with a TSA PreCheck or CLEAR membership may still be able to skip the long lines. A handful of airports now host free programs that allow travelers to reserve a time slot for going through the security checkpoint during the busiest hours. Look for the SEA Spot Saver Program, the LAX Fast Lane, DFW’s Fast Pass Pilot Program, Newark Liberty International’s Virtual Lane, and Orlando International Airport’s Reservation Lane, operated by CLEAR.   

Gate Passes

A handful of airports offer free gate passes to non-ticketed visitors who want to meet an arriving passenger, see someone off at the gate, or spend baggage-free time dining, shopping, or plane spotting in the terminal. Pass seekers apply online ahead of their visit and, if approved by TSA, go through standard security screening. Airports currently offering gate passes include  Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA), Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (MSY), Bishop International (FNT) in Flint, MI, and California’s John Wayne Airport. The gate pass programs at Pittsburgh International and Tampa International airports are still on hold due to the pandemic.

Holiday Entertainment  

Many airports have brought back free live concerts, performances, and other forms of entertainment just in time for the holiday season. For example, Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) has a bright red mailbox set up to collect letters to Santa and promises a personalized response to anyone who includes their address.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) has a robust holiday performance series underway, and the 25-foot-tall water feature in Terminal B at New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) is rotating in a holiday-themed show with its signature program

Movies and Games

At Dallas Forth International Airport (DFW) there’s a new, free interactive gaming experience at gate D-18 featuring a 40-foot-long media wall with a touchless tracking sensor.

The free 22-seat Hollywood Theatre Microcinema at Portland International Airport (PDX) has reopened, showing short films by Pacific Northwest filmmakers. (The films can also be viewed online). The free Video Arts gallery in the International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has reopened as well, showing four new films a month every 20 minutes or less in the gallery and online. Free short films are also screened at the See 18 Film Screen Room (by Gate C18) at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP).

Free books and short stories

Reading is a great way to pass the time when traveling and a handful of airports offer passengers free reading material.

In Houston, there are two free Little Libraries at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and three inside Hobby Airport (HOU). Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) has a book exchange corner in Terminal A West and a machine that dispenses short stories between Terminals D and E. Oakland International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport, and Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) in Madison, WI, have short story dispensers too. And at San Jose International Airport (SJC), anyone can access the Pop-Up Library to download and access eBooks from the San Jose Public Library for free.

Free Airport Museums

In addition to permanent and changing art and history exhibits, airports in San Francisco, Miami, Phoenix, Albany, NY, and many other cities have free on-site museums and professional museum programs. For example, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is home to the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum, with its main exhibit up above baggage claim, and Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) recently reopened the Mitchell Gallery of Flight, a free aviation museum open 24/7 in the pre-security area.

More free airport amenities

Look around and you’ll find plenty of other free things to do at airports this season.

Free yoga rooms are available at airports in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, and Miami. American Heart Association kiosks offering free training in lifesaving, hands-only CPR are operating again at many airports. And cute as a button teams of therapy dogs are out in force in dozens of airports this season offering stress-busting visits and accepting free pats and hugs.

Airport Lobster and other great amenities

Airports are still spending lots of time and energy reminding passengers to wear their masks, wash their hands, and observe social distancing protocols.

But we are pleased to see that airports are also getting back to the business of promoting (OK, showing off) some great, unusual, and much-appreciated amenities.

Here a few that popped up on Twitter just today:

*Free goodies, including historic postcards from Jacksonville International Airport (JAX):

*The return of lobster for sale at Canada’s Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ);

*A two-fer from Sacramento International Airport (SMF) – a reminder of their “Flying Carpet” offering a birds-eye view of the area and their convenient CVS vending machine:

*And the news from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) that the Flight Path Museum will be reopening August 7.

Know of a great airport amenity we could be celebrating? Drop a note in the comments section and we’ll check it out.

See Style in the Aisle at PHX Airport


Style in the Aisle: Mid-Century Airline Identity

The newest exhibition at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) highlights the “Golden Age” of air travel.

From the exhibit notes:

From hot pants and go-go boots to disposable paper dresses, the 1960s and 1970s were known for breaking fashion norms and traditions – even in the airline industry. Mid-century air travel had progressed into a posh experience and airlines built unique brand identities to set themselves apart. Each airline found new ways to attract passengers with amenities like onboard movies, gourmet meals, and glamorous flight attendants.

This exhibition is put together by the Phoenix Airport Museum and includes eight flight attendant uniforms, historic photographs, and a variety of airline amenity objects.

If you are passing through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, look for the Style in the Aisle exhibit in Terminal 4, level 2 near ticketing through October 2021.

In the meantime, we’ve got some images to share here.

Highlights of the exhibit include Hughes Airwest’s 1977 “sundance yellow” dress with matching bucket-style hat and an American Airlines plaid “Americana” uniform with a raccoon-fur cap. A Trans World Airlines (TWA) single-use, gold paper dress – part of the “Foreign Accents” collection – is also on display.

Airline amenities on display include fine china and themed cocktail swizzle sticks. There’s also a first-class menu featuring caviar and lobster, and an ashtray and lighter with airline logos.

SFO Museum presents Early American Motorcycles

Flying Merkel twin-cylinder racer 1912- courtesy SFO Museum

If we can’t fly anywhere right now, how about a ride on a motorcycle?

A new exhibition by the SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) explores the history of motorcycling from the 1890s to 1915. On display are fourteen motorcycles that were made prior to 1916, rare engines, and photographs from the pioneering era of motorcycling.

Harley-Davidson Model 6  1910 – Courtesy SFO Museum

From the exhibition notes:

Along with the automobile, the motorcycle was one of the earliest and most exciting applications of another new invention, the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine. Motorcycle technology progressed rapidly during the early 1900s, and as motorcycling gained traction, riding evolved from a novelty to a hobby, sport, and reliable source of transportation. By the 1910s, there were approximately 100 motorcycle manufacturers in the United States, all vying for consumer attention with distinctive attributes and designs.

Today, early American motorcycles are prized by collectors around the world who showcase their bikes on vintage rides, endurance runs, and at special events.

Here are some photos of the motorcycles on display in the Early American Motorcycles exhibition in the International Terminal of San Francisco International Airport. The exhibition will be on view through September 19, 2021.

Jefferson twin-cylinder racer  1914 – Courtesy SFO Museum
Pierce Four Cylinder 1911- Courtesy SFO Museum
Two women on a Pierce Four and sidecar  c. 1910
Courtesy of Pierce-Arrow Museum