Honolulu International Airport

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?

Souvenir Sunday at Honolulu’s Daniel Inouye Airport

It’s Souvenir Sunday – a day to look at some of the inexpensive, locally-themed gifts you can find when you’re stuck at the airport.

Here are just a few Hawaii classics  from Honolulu’s Daniel Inouye International Airport:

 

 

Next time you find a charming or unusual locally-themed item for sale at an airport, snap a photo and send it along. If your item is featured on Stuck at The Airport, you’ll receive a special souvenir.

Stuck at the airport? Smart Money banks on fun

In response to my At the Airport column in USATODAY.com last week: How the airport experience has changed since 9/11, I got a couple of calls from folks at Smart Money who were also pondering then and now changes.

Quentin Fottrell, one of Smart Money’s Pay Dirt bloggers, wanted to know if there was anything fun to do at airports.

I put down my coffee and rattled off some of my faves, starting with the Chinese, Japanese and Hawaiian gardens at Honolulu International Airport.

 

Based on our chat, here’s how Fottrell wrote up the five other airport diversions we talked about for his Pay Dirt post:

 

“Palm Beach International Airport: Practice Your Golf

Operated by hospitality firm HMS Host, the airport provides an indoor putting green and, for $3, you can walk away with a souvenir golf ball.

Boston Logan Airport: Make Your Own Sundae

The MooBella vending machine makes Sundaes in 30 seconds. You can choose from 12 flavors on the touch screen. They’re at Terminal C near the Back Bay Café and Lean & Green food store.

Chicago O’Hare International Airport: Workout at the Gym

For $15, take a workout in the Hilton Hotel gym, which is attached to the airport, or relax in the sauna and steam room, or have a dip in the pool. AirportGyms.com has details of similar offers.

San Francisco International Airport: Visit the Museum

On Level 3 of the International Terminal, there are free exhibitions on vintage televisions and a photography exhibition on the San Francisco Seals Baseball Team from 1903-1957.

Portland International Airport: Take Your Bike Apart

After you’ve taken the cycle track to this airport, you can use the tools and facilities at this area near the Lower Terminal roadway to take apart your bike so you can bring it on the airplane.”

Thanks, Quentin!

Honolulu Airport gets free Wi-Fi; you may get a free trip.

The folks at ShakaNet and FreeFi Networks have teamed up to offer free wireless internet access throughout the concourses, lounges and concession areas at Honolulu International Airport.

Hooray!   Let’s hope the signal reaches out to the cultural garden areas as well.

And if you’re not lucky enough to be in Hawaii this time of year, perhaps you’re somewhere where you need to wear a sweater.  A really ugly Christmas sweater.

If your sweater is truly ugly, take a picture of yourself in it and upload the photo to the Air New Zealand Facebook page by December 31st.

The person with the ugliest sweater will receive roundtrip economy class tickets for two from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Auckland on Air New Zealand.

Enter the ugly Christmas sweater contest here and good luck!

North Pole ice santa

Souvenir Sunday: Pineapple presents from Honolulu Int’l Airport

Sunday here at StuckatTheAirport.com is Souvenir Sunday – the day we take a look at some of the inexpensive and sometimes wacky souvenirs many of us end up buying when we’re stuck at the airport.

This week’s souvenirs come to us courtesy of Pam Mandel, a lucky Seattle gal who just returned from an adventure in Hawaii. (Am I jealous? No way. I love cold, rainy June days in Seattle. Really…)

(Photo courtesy Pam Mandel)

You can read about Pam’s journey – and see some truly lovely photos – on Pam’s Nerd’s Eye View blog, but I caught up with her – via Twitter – when she was hanging around Honolulu International Airport.

It’s always hard to end a vacation. Especially one in Hawaii. But the Honolulu airport softens the transition with plenty of open spaces, art and history exhibits celebrating Hawaiian culture, and a trio of tranquil cultural gardens – Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian – that can almost make you forget that you’re at an airport.

(Photo by Harriet Baskas)

But this is Souvenir Sunday – which is all about shopping.  I asked Pam to look around the airport shops for something under $10, “of” Hawaii and, ideally, sort of offbeat.

This pineapple slicer caught her eye – but at $13, it was a bit outside our Souvenir Sunday budget.

(Photo by Pam Mandel)

Plus – hello, TSA – wouldn’t a pineapple slicer need to have something built in – like a blade- that can actually slice a pineapple?

So instead we’re settling on these cute pineapple magnets.  Cute as a button, under $10, and a great choice for this week’s Souvenir Sunday.

Thanks Pam, for sending along these photos!

(Photo by Pam Mandel)

Have you found a great souvenir while you were stuck at the airport? If it’s $10 or under, “of” the city or region and, ideally a bit offbeat, please snap a photo and send it along. It may end up featured on a future edition of Souvenir Sunday.