Long Live the Airport Marquee

Harkening to an earlier age.

December 3, 2020

I WAS IN Madrid the other day and was able to snap the photograph above. This is the old Terminal 2, built in 1954, when the field was known as Barajas Airport. Like many old airport buildings, it instantly evokes another time, another era. I can easily picture an Iberia DC-8, or maybe a Caravelle, parked below the control tower, passengers in hats and suits climbing a set of drive-up stairs.

What I love best, though, is the airport name up on the facade. This was a common flourish in decades past, a nod to the platform signs often seen at railroad stations. The purpose, in this case, isn’t for orientation; obviously the airline passenger knows what city he or she has arrived in. That’s not the point. Rather, it’s a matter of greeting. The thrill of air travel isn’t so much the journey as it is the destination, and like the title frame in the opening credits of a film, this is a way of welcoming the visitor with a bit of drama and flair.

And I’m happy to report that location signs still exist, even at some of the newest and most modern terminals. You’ll find them on the apron side, facing the runways, or on the roadway side where passengers enter and exit the terminal. The latter are perhaps more common — the enormous lettering atop the departure hall at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport being the most dramatic example. But it’s the apron-side marquees that I like the best, the ones glimpsed from the airplane window, adding a touch of excitement as you prepare to disembark.

I always get a picture when I can. Most of my collection is posted below. Readers are invited to submit photos of their own, and I’ll add the best of them to the page.


Welcome to Amsterdam.

Bucharest’s Henri Coanda – Otopeni Airport.

A Royal Jordanian A320 at Cairo International.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

The old terminal at BOM, seen here, was replaced 2014.

Dakar’s newly opened Blaise Diagne International.

Victoria Falls Airport, Zimbabwe.

“Town of the hurdled ford.”

Kenneth Kaunda International, in Lusaka, Zambia.

A down-home effort at Roberts Field, Liberia.

The Sudanese-style main building at Timbuktu, in Mali.

Once a bustling stopover point, Gander sits empty. If there’s a Canadian equivalent of tumbleweeds, there should be a few bouncing around the tarmac here.

The colorful terminal at Cheddi Jagan airport in Guyana.

Another shot from Cheddi Jagan. Notice the topiary.

Under the wing at Prague’s Vaclav Havel International.

Nnamdi Azikiwe is the airport serving Abuja, Nigeria.

John Paul II Airport in Ponta Delgada, on the island of Sao Miguel in the beautiful Azores.

Your favorite pilot at Amsterdam-Schiphol.


Fes (Fez), Morocco.   From Daniel Foster.

The old terminal at DCA.   From Itamar Reuven.

Valetta, Malta.   From Rick Wilson.

Tenerife South (TFS).   From Rick Wilson.

Vienna, Austria.   From Andrew Nash.

hciruZ ot emocleW.   From Andrew Nash.

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26 Responses to “Long Live the Airport Marquee”
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  1. Mark says:

    I also like when they list the elevation, like the airport in El Paso.

  2. Justin says:

    Not the best photo, but here’s Moscow Sheremetyevo: https://www.dropbox.com/s/02y9je4u8u8x51g/IMG_1046.JPG?dl=0

  3. Michael says:

    SFO had its name on the old tower, facing the runways, but I believe it is gone now, along with the old tower. I have photos from 2009 when I toured the construction of the current Terminal 2 when I last saw it in person. Here are some nice historic photos from the SFO Museum. (Thanks many times for this blog)


  4. Rafael says:

    Definitely, a great sight at any airport, which makes every passenger feel the sensation that it has reached its destination. A remarkable example is Manchester airport with a sign at ground level at the main apron, next to Terminal 1, which states “I Love MCR”. Funny though, since it would quite hard to spot from an aircraft window. 😉

  5. Richard Waitt says:

    To me it’ll always be Washington National, or National Airport. Somehow I can’t honor Ronald Reagan…

  6. SFO (on the new international terminal, facing the road and BART approaches):


  7. David Bunin says:

    It’s not a major international airport, but Dallas Love Field has a nice big sign on the new terminal building (road side). Television reporters often stand in front of it (from atop the nearby parking garage) when filming stories that involve aviation, even if the story is about neighboring DFW. There is also a sign at the edge of the airport property, in front of the fence at the intersection of Mockingbird and Denton avenues.

  8. ambrosen says:

    My favourite was taxiing in to Berlin Schönefeld past the unfinished Berlin Brandenburg airport, and the general consternation those marquees caused.

  9. Steven Marzuola says:

    I grew up in Venezuela and traveled through Maracaibo regularly. The “old” port was Grano de Oro, which closed in 1969 and was replaced by “La Chinita”. Pictures of the old and new:



  10. Philip White says:

    I grew up in Madrid with American parents, and we were lucky to travel every summer to see our extended family on Cape Cod, MA. I can trace my aviation geekery to when I was a young child. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, there were few carriers which flew to the east coast from Madrid. We flew a TWA 747-100 from MAD to JFK (Flight 903, also known as the “noon balloon”, a cutesy reference to the departure time). On the return flight, I loved being able to pick out the “Aeropuerto de Madrid – Barajas” sign from the plane, pressed against the window, as we landed. You’re right, Patrick; it’s a modest but significant welcome, and it always filled me with a sense of homecoming.

  11. chandelle says:

    I’m sure function overrides form nearly entirely but not unlike airplanes, there’s a sameness to airport terminals that I find tiresome. Or maybe it’s just me.

  12. Mike says:

    “If there’s a Canadian equivalent of tumbleweeds, …” I believe they call them “snowdrifts”.

  13. Chris H says:

    I’ve always loved the one that welcomes you to the airport in Key West, FL. Plus, it’s one of few airports in the US without jet bridges and where you still exit the plane down the stairs and walk across the tarmac to get to the terminal.


  14. Jarmil says:

    I love Havana airport. It’s absolutely brutal!

  15. See http://www.weinstock.us/iqaluit.jpg for a photo I took when my DL flight from DTW to HKG was diverted due to a medical emergency. We could not get off the plane but the border protection guys let me out to the top of the boarding stairs. The airport name is barely visible over the wing.

    See http://www.weinstock.us/wellington.jpg for a photo from a visit to Wellington, NZ. Not exactly an airport marquee, but along the same lines.

  16. Evan says:

    I love that at the new terminal at HOU they have the original William P. Hobby marquee inside overlooking the security area.

  17. David Lester says:

    Central Nepal – Pokhara:

  18. Ruth A Quinn says:

    Gander is the airport of “Come From Away.”