Naming Airports After People: Why?!?

S houldn’t airport shorten their names?” is a question asked by FlyerTalk member Box5 — and my initial answer is yes, as I have found it somewhat absurd to name an airport after a person and never really understood the purpose of naming airports after people.

Washington National Airport was named after Ronald Reagan in 1998 to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport — supposedly against the wishes of officials of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority officials and political leaders in the region. The cost alone to renaming the Washington National Airport Metro stop to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport station was reportedly approximately $400,000.00, according to this article by John Hendel for TBD.

I opposed the name simply because the airport was already named after a president: George Washington. Remember him?!?

“At Reagan National, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which also oversees Dulles International Airport, spent about $29,000 to add the former president’s name”, according to this article written by Ivan Penn for The Baltimore Sun. Other costs associated with the new name were absorbed by Virginia for road signs and by Metro, the public transit system for metropolitan Washington.”

That same article — written in March of 2005 — also claimed that “Fiscal analysts estimated that the cost to change BWI’s name would be as much as $2.1 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, because the state would assume responsibility for signs at the airport as well as for road signs and other incidentals.” That airport is now known as Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport — but who in the world actually calls it that, anyway?

Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport was already named after the late William Berry Hartsfield, a former mayor of Atlanta who was credited with developing the airport into a national aviation center; but when Maynard Jackson — another former mayor of Atlanta who helped arrange for the rebuilding of the huge terminal of the airport to modern standards — died on June 23, 2003, there was a movement to change the name of the airport to Maynard H. Jackson Atlanta International Airport. As you might imagine, the supporters and descendants of William B. Hartsfield opposed that idea and prompted a compromise by the City Council of the City of Atlanta.

I am not sure why the descendants of Asa Candler — yet another former mayor of Atlanta who was chiefly responsible for the success of Coca-Cola after purchasing the formula from John Pemberton, who was a pharmacist credited with inventing the formula and never had an airport named after him — did not oppose the renaming of the airport. After all, the original name of the airport was Candler Field before it became Atlanta Municipal Airport.

The official name of International Concourse F in Atlanta — in which I was taken on a private tour before it opened to the public in May of 2012 — is Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Jr. International Terminal…

…and in a strange bit of irony, Maynard Jackson suffered from cardiac arrest — which lead to his death — at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

There is at least one airport which to me seems to have an identity crisis: is it John Wayne Airport, which is named after the actor? Is it Orange County Airport — the Uniform Resource Locator or URL is — to which I still hear people refer to it as its name even though it was changed decades ago? Is it Santa Ana Airport, which was never its official name but has been referred to that by people anyway? Santa Ana Airport should be its name, in my opinion.

I can understand naming airports to differentiate them from other airports which serve the same metropolitan area — such as LaGuardia Airport from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. LaGuardia Airport was named after Fiorello La Guardia, who was a former mayor of New York. The original name of that airport, though, was Glenn H. Curtiss Airport — not named after a former mayor of New York — before it became North Beach Airport and then New York Municipal Airport–LaGuardia Field.

I personally believe that John F. Kennedy International Airport should go by its original name: New York International Airport. The name says it all. It is simple and to the point. That is so much better than its subsequent names, one of which was Idlewild Airport. What is an Idlewild, anyway? Is that what happens when an airplane engine races uncontrollably while the aircraft sits on a tarmac?

Going one step further — in my opinion — all areas served by a single airport should have that airport named after that area — such as Atlanta Airport, Memphis Airport, or Miami Airport. Why use the word international, anyway — other than as a differentiator from another airport within its proximity from which flights do not serve international locations? “Oh, I would much rather use that airport because it has the word international in its name.”

As an aside, I never understood the naming of roadways, either. I am not sure I would appreciate a Brian Cohen Expressway where cars run over me all day long, getting into accidents and spilling oil on me. When someone in Chicago says that the Dan Ryan is backed up again, is that an indication of a recurring constipation problem of the former president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners?

All I know is that when I think of LaGuardia, I think extensive delays. Even Joe Biden — the current vice president of the United States — recently compared LaGuardia to a “third world country.” Is that how Fiorello would like to be remembered?

Naming airports — as well as highways, buildings and other edifices — generally seems to cause problems. Did you know who was William Hartsfield before you read this article? Do you know who was Edward Lawrence Logan? How about James Armstrong Richardson or Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel? Do you care, really? Will anyone care who were Hartsfield or Jackson or Logan or Richardson or Patel 100 years from now? Other than in places such as in New York or Paris as examples, do you know of people who refer to airports by the names of the people who were honored to have those airports named after them?

In general, airports should be named after the regions they serve. There would be no debates about after whom they should be named; no name changes; and no expenses every time the names were changed. The names would be easily remembered for generations: “Um…what is the name of that airport which serves Little Rock?” Before 2012, that question would not be asked, as it was known as Little Rock National Airport. Today, its official name is Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field.

As for a Brian Cohen International Airport? Well…that idea would never take off — let alone get past The Gate

  1. I love named airports. Else we’d all end up with “San Francisco International” or “Hong Kong International” … zzzzzzzzz

    1. Yeah? Okay, johnnyPHL — I have a fun quiz just for you…

      …name two completely different airports which are named after the same person; what is the name of that person; as well as where the airports are located…

  2. The naming of Chicago expressways is actually really useful. The Interstate numbers can be misleading and the directions are completely useless unless you’re traveling cross-country. Eastbound 90/94 south of downtown, for example, goes due south.

    But the Kennedy goes from the airport to downtown. The Ryan goes from downtown to 95th. The Edens goes from the junction to Lake Cook. The Ike goes from downtown to Woodfield.

    Taking useful terminology and ruining it is a different story. The Tri-State does exactly what it sounds like – connects Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. But now the East-West Tollway is the Reagan, the Northwest Tollway is the Jane Addams, the North-South Tollway is the Veterans’… WHY?

    But would it be even easier if we had never renamed the Northwest Expressway (now the Kennedy)? Probably. Would it be helpful if the Eisenhower were still the Congress Expressway? Not unless you really, really, really want to get to Congress Pkwy downtown.

    Basic rule: choose the shortest name that’s still clear on its purpose. Or, in UNIX philosophy: each road name should do one thing and do it well.

    Also, it’s worth noting that no one in DC wanted to change National Airport’s name. It took the threats of Congress for WMATA to make the change, because Congress is a terrible mayor.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Chris — as well as clarifying the Washington National Airport issue.

      I suppose the only good name is the one that actually sticks with the public at large…

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