The Experiential Side of Airport Marketing
On a recent trip to San Francisco, I got to experience firsthand the differences between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and New York’s go-to international hub, JFK. And the differences are enormous.
When people ask you whether you’re flying out of JFK or LaGuardia, and you answer the former, you get a wince, followed by a sympathetic “oh”. There’s a reason for that. In addition to the fact that getting to JFK is more difficult, it’s just an overall unpleasant experience, though sometimes a necessary evil to save money on a flight or get across the Atlantic as quickly as possible.
Full disclosure: when my family and I left for San Francisco, we were a bit flustered as my husband realized on the (not very clean) tram to the terminal that he left his phone in our car. In Long-Term Parking. So my in-airport experience may be somewhat clouded by the sense of urgency. But only somewhat.
JFK is dark and dank. The place needs to be cleaned up. Comparative word that comes to mind: oatmeal. Blah. We were in Terminal 8, which was renovated by American Airlines in 2007. Four-and-a-half years later, I can safely say, it is ready for another makeover. When I’m there, all I can think about is how badly I want to get out.
When we landed in San Francisco, the feeling was exactly the opposite. It was bright, clean and spacious. Comparative word: sunshine. And even as we were rushing to grab our bags and begin our California adventure, I noticed a few things that I would want to check out the following week, when we were heading back home – mainly the Keihl’s store, one of many upscale shops located throughout Terminal 2, and the retro board game display that was set up gallery-style.
When we came back to SFO a week later, we got to hop on the clean, swift AirTrain to Terminal 2, which we got to enjoy in its full glory. The first thing I noticed – there is coffee everywhere. A Starbuck’s before the TSA line, a Peet’s once you get in. Did a little browsing at Kiehl’s, stopped for breakfast at a little diner-esque eatery in the middle of the terminal, where my daughter had french toast with fresh berries and I got a pretty solid egg sandwich. The seating throughout the terminal was contemporary and comfortable. The bathrooms were impeccable.
Impeccable bathrooms at SFO
And best of all, there was a glass-enclosed “butterfly wall”, which had the little ones swiftly turning a hand crank to keep the “butterflies” in the air. Sounds complicated, but it kept my 3-year-old happy for 20 minutes straight.
There’s also the whole environmental sustainability thing, which earned SFO the “Greenest Airport” moniker. And I didn’t see it while I was there, but apparently there is a yoga room (yes, yoga!) in Terminal 2 as well.
Yoga, good food, yummy coffee, and happy toddlers. This is not an airport – it’s travel nirvana.
It’s also a brand. JFK is not. It’s just a dimly lit portal to better places.
JFK, take a lesson from San Francisco. New York is one of the world’s most amazing cities, and JFK is often America’s first experience for people traveling from abroad. It should make them feel welcome and happy. It should make people say, “John F. Kennedy would be proud.”