Memphis International Airport

Memphis Airport apologizes to artist

In mid-February, Memphis artist Tommy Kha shared an Instagram post celebrating the fact that one of his pieces was included among the artwork installed at Memphis International Airport as part of the newly reopened Concourse B.

“Termin[inal]s of Endearment,” the Asian American artist and Elvis fan wrote, “still kinda stunned to be part of this collection…”

The artwork, a self-portrait depicting the artist dressed as Memphis icon Elvis Presley, was one of 61 new art pieces Memphis pubic art non-profit UrbanArt Commission helped choose for the new terminal.

But at the beginning of this week, Kha was back on social media. This time sharing a photo of the empty wall at the airport where the artwork had been.

“Apologies to those who wished to see this piece: it is no longer on display,” he wrote. “After some disturbing complaints about my work, it was decided, and without my knowledge, the pictures were removed.”

Why was it removed?

In a statement shared with local media, airport president and CEO Scott Brockman said that after receiving “a lot of negative feedback” from Elvis fans, and a “small number” of complaints that referred to Kha’s race (and which MEM officials said were “completely inappropriate,”) the airport had decided to temporarily remove the piece.

“When the airport created its art program, our goal was to purchase and display artwork that did not include public figures or celebrities,” Brockman said in his statement. “Our selection committee made an exception in the case of Tommy Kha’s piece and recommended its purchase.”

As you may imagine, the decision to remove the piece didn’t sit well with art fans and many members of the community. Nor with the Urban Art Commission, which said on social media that it had worked with the airport authority and selection committee to curate “an art program that speaks to a diverse and authentic creative community representative of Memphis.”

“We are opposed to Tommy Kha’s installation being removed from display, especially considering the openly racist comments made online in the development of this situation,” the group added.

Good news: the airport authority listened and will reinstall Kha’s work

Constellations VIII by Tommy Kha

In a “doing the right thing” move, the airport has quickly decided to apologize to the artist and reintall the artwork.

Here’s the statement – and apology – from Memphis airport authority President and CEO Scott Brockman:

Over the past 24 hours, we have heard from many in our community regarding the temporary removal of Tommy Kha’s artwork in the new concourse. The Airport Authority appreciates the support that the community has shown for Tommy and we have made the decision to reinstall the artwork. We apologize to Tommy for the effect that this ordeal has had on him.

As stated yesterday, when the airport created its art program, our goal was to purchase and display artwork that did not include public figures or celebrities but made an exception in this case.

The Airport Authority will continue to emphasize local artists, diversity, and inclusion with this art program, and we will explore additional best practices to address how we handle complaints and public feedback about our artwork.

Right move.

Pitchfork has more on this story, along with some comments from Kha.

Places to go; things to see

Courtesy Memphis International Airport

New and improved Concourse B at MEM Airport

Memphis International Airport (MEM) is opening its modernized B concourse on Tuesday, February 15.  

Delta Air Lines will deliver the first arriving flight at MEM Concourse B at 6:18 pm on Tuesday. Departing flights kick off in the concourse on Wednesday, February 16.

The multi-year $245 million project features the modernization of the spine and east leg of MEM’s B Concourse as well as consolidation of all airline, retail, and food/beverage operations. Included in the redesign are wider corridors, moving walkways, larger boarding areas, higher ceilings, increased natural lighting, and seismic upgrades.

Travel Contests: You can’t win if you don’t play

Virgin Atlantic is hosting a Valentine’s Day “Tickets to Love” contest, offering the opportunity for single Americans a chance to apply to fly across the Atlantic to find romance in London.

Through February 13, 2022, interested participants can pitch their stories and explain why they deserve a trip to the U.K. to find long-term love.

Eight winners will be selected to fly from New York to London in Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class cabin on March 11, 2022.

Enter Virgin Atlantic’s “Tickets to Love” contest here.

NPS Photo Michael Cuff is hosting the second annual “Share Your Story” adventure writing contest.

Visitors to America’s federal public lands are invited to submit stories detailing their experiences exploring and spending time in the great outdoors.

Experiences must have taken place between January 1, 2020, and April 30, 2022, within the facilities of participating agencies: National Park Service; U.S. Bureau of Land Management; U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Forest Service; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; National Archives; and NOAA Marine Sanctuaries.

Submitted stories can be between 900 and 3,500 characters and include photos.

Categories include Traditions (Old and New), RV/Campbervans, Family Trips, and Activities and Adventures.

Deadline: April 30, 2022. Winners announced May 15, 2022.

Participants can enter up to two stories during the contest for a chance at winning one of 29 different prizes including merchandise from an outdoor retailer and America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands passes.

Good luck!

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 – Elvis at Memphis Int’l Airport

It’s Souvenir Sunday, the day we take a look at unusual and inexpensive items you can buy at airports.

This week’s souvenirs come from Memphis International Airport, where Ron Rundus – the Stuck at the Airport webmaster – discovered the Elvis shop, where it’s Elvis, Elvis, Elvis all the time – and where “Elvis” often performs at the airport’s Sun Studio Café.

Do you spend time shopping when you’re stuck at the airport? If you find something fun, inexpensive and “of” the city or region, please take a photo and send it along.

If your souvenirs are featured on, I’ll send you a special airport-related souvenir.

Music line-up at Nashville Int’l Airport (BNA)

Yesterday I wrote about the Memphis Symphony Orchestra ensembles scheduled to play at Memphis International Airport.


Keeping the beat, today I want to draw your attention to the music line-up at Nashville International Airport (BNA).  Free live music performances are offered year-round on stages near the A/B meeter-greeter area, in the Concourse C food court (beyond security), and on the Baggage Claim Level.

BNA Carissia and Tom Photo

Carrissia & Company peforms today at noon.  Here’s a link to the the two dozen other live performances scheduled during November, ranging from solo singer/songwriters to groups performing jazz, Big Band, country, and Rhythm & Blues.