As I write, I’m sitting on the outdoor observation deck at San Francisco International Airport. I am awaiting a flight to Sydney, Australia, where I will study how flight patterns between Australia and Europe with an intermediate stopover, known as the “Kangaroo Route”, have helped integrate the Australia in the Asian economy. Often, passengers stopping in places like Singapore decide to return for a vacation in the city where they stopped over on their way to Europe.
Now that the new Salt Lake City International Airport has been operational for two years, it’s fair to wonder if the airport will be able to achieve “stopover effect.” I adapted this term from my own research on the evolution of how airports stimulate tourism as well as the work of aviation specialists on how passengers select connecting cities and transform cities as stopovers in tourist destinations in their own right.
The “stopover effect” occurs when a transiting passenger has such a favorable experience at a connecting airport that they choose to return to the city as a destination in their own right.
Despite persistent complaints about the distance passengers have to travel between concourses at the new airport, among other criticisms, it may still be too early to give a final verdict on the form and function of the new airport until the second phase is completed in 2024.
What would turn a passenger in transit into a tourist in Salt Lake City simply by connecting at the airport?
While some factors are now fixed (like the orientation of the concourses), there are adaptations that could provide a more enjoyable experience for passengers. Some factors could include greater consideration for families traveling with children and a cultural experience associated with Salt Lake’s historic identity.
Frankly, Salt Lake City should be known as one of the most family-friendly airports in the world, given Utah’s high rate of natural increase per capita, its young population, and its cultural association with hardy families. The airport has received praise for its sleek lines, particularly at the link where Passport Control intersects with Concourse A, also known as “Terminal Plaza”.
The wide observation deck is pleasant, where families often meet, their children having little to do while waiting for their flight. The grand piano is elegant but has limited possibilities of use among the crowds passing through the space. This is the only area that could be turned into a children’s play area, possibly referred to as “the valley” – to continue the architectural metaphor that stretches from the “canyons” above the exit control, stretching up to baggage claim.
Given the incidence of “trampoline parks” and children’s playgrounds throughout Utah, a variety of activities – including perhaps modest rope ladders arranged around a foam or a ball pit – would brighten up Terminal Plaza, which will be expanded to include more stores when Concourse A is extended to its final length of 3,700 feet by the end of 2024.
To add to the family approach, a sweet spot in dining options should be considered. Images come to mind of long lines exiting the McDonalds at the old Salt Lake airport. The current airport offers what could be considered “premium price” dining options as well as the outlet of a convenience store, but little of the low-cost fast food that was in abundance at the old airport. A family airport has a place to buy an inexpensive pop, a small packet of fries, or a soft serve ice cream cone to keep an overworked child happy until the next flight.
Finally, a memorable cultural experience could help lure passengers to Salt Lake City for a two- to three-day vacation. Skiing sells, as do the state’s stunning national parks. Other airports in the region, however, have marketed their airports based on the airport itself or a cultural offering housed there.
Denver International Airport has embraced its conspiracy history (of cost overruns and what might exist in underground tunnels) and made it part of the airport sellout. San Francisco International Airport has a dedicated commercial aviation library, located indoors and open to anyone interested in flying.
If money weren’t an issue, it would be both an educational experience and a reflection of Utah’s heritage for Ancestry.com or FamilySearch to locate a highly interactive public or private space in one concourses, offering an array of opportunities for passengers to learn basic aspects of their individual family history – with an invitation to return at a later date, with Salt Lake City as a destination for further research.
Although the new airport has been the subject of much criticism, there are many opportunities to help the airport grow as an integral part of the community, which will also contribute to the economic and cultural well-being of the airport. ‘State.
Evan Ward is an Associate Professor of History at Brigham Young University, where he teaches courses in world history and researches the history of travel and tourism, with an emphasis on commercial aviation. It welcomes the continuation of the dialogue on the new airport of [email protected].