Logic missing from Twin Cities airport signs

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The Metropolitan Airports Commission’s decision to spend more than $2 million to upgrade airport signs providing directions to either the Humphrey or Lindbergh Terminal is low-hanging fruit for many people. “A waste of money” or “people should be responsible for figuring it out” are the most common complaints.

It actually makes a lot of sense because a real close look at the current signage reveals it doesn’t make much sense. (Push the play button below)

When I talked about this with Mary Lucia on The Current on Wednesday afternoon, Sara Bible of St. Louis Park was courageous enough to share her story:


I have to admit that when I first started taking the light rail to the airport, I once panicked when we arrived at the Humphrey terminal and so I got off and then had to run to get back on when I realized I really wanted the Lindbergh Terminal. Also, this past Memorial Day I had a friend arrive from Houston. He called to say he’d arrived but we couldn’t find him at the gate. He had flown in on US Airways and had no idea that there were two airports in Minnesota nor which one he was at. He checked his boarding pass and it wasn’t indicated. Even I don’t know which airlines are located at each terminal. And you can’t designate one the international terminal because flights fly internationally from both terminals. It is quite confusing and I’ve lived here for almost 4 decades.

Why do we have it “in” for airport travelers? And how many of the signage critics have never benefited from a highway sign telling us that the exit ahead is the one we want?

  • http://www.stpaulrealestateblog.com Teresa Boardman

    honestly you can’t miss the Lindbergh terminal but . . the Humphrey terminal is another matter. It isn’t all so easy. I fly on a regular basis and recently went to pick a a friend at the airport, I realized I had never been to the Humphrey terminal before and I had a very hard time finding it. It is cute and it seems to be where Southwest flights land . . Southwest is new to our market who knew? I also have lived here 4 decades . . longer even.

  • Sam

    The real problem here is that the local press (you included, MPR) keep reporting this story as if the MAC wants to spend $2m simply to replace the word “Lindbergh” with the word “One” and the word “Humphrey” with the word “Two.”

    As I understand it, that’s not actually the plan at all. The plan is to list the airlines that serve each terminal well in advance of the exits for that terminal, and to better indicate where the Humphrey actually is. (As your slideshow pointed out, the existing signs say “Follow 5,” but then 5 splits with no indication as to which split goes to the Humphrey.

    Personally, I don’t think names versus numbers matters at all, but by continually reporting THAT as the leading fact in this story, the media is giving a lot of people the wrong idea.

  • Mookie5 (Kristy)

    Thanks, Bob. That was excellent.

    The Calgary Airport is one I’ve been to the most. Good signage there–as far as I remember. But then, I’m always returning a rental car.

    Perhaps, some Twitterati will take their cams and go “film” at airports around the country and post their findings.

  • Bob Collins

    //but by continually reporting THAT as the leading fact in this story

    I couldn’t agree more. I pointed out as much on Twitter this morning, that it’s one of the most misreported stories in the Twin Cities I’ve seen in a long time.

    I just read the STrib comments — why do I do that? — and you’d think the issue is renaming the LIndbergh and the Humphrey. It’s not even close.

    It’s also worth pointing out that the original article that got people worked up — and I believe it was in the Strib — seemed to suggest that it was going to cost $1 million for just one or two signs. Now we see that it’s actually 44 signs for $2.2 million. Today’s articles didn’t clarify that discrepancy.

    I don’t know of any other major city in the U.S. that DOESN’T have clear signs for what airline is located where. I don’t understand why Minnesota is so passionate about being one.

  • Bob Collins

    By way of Rep. Jeremy Kalin on Twitter, we learn that we’re not really even talking about OUR (taxpayer) money here. Eighty percent of MAC money comes from either the airlines directly or the concessions licensing. It doesn’t get a direct appropriation from the state and it hasn’t levied taxes to service debt since 1969, and for operations and maintenance since 1961. It brings in more money than it spends.

    So given that (a) we all use road signs to help us get where we’re going and (b) we’re not talking about taxpayer money and (c) the current signs aren’t very good at all, it is still a mystery to me why this issue has risen to the level of passion that it has.

  • Joe

    Thank God for MPR listeners. Finally I find people talking about this story in an intelligent and informed manner.

  • David

    I agree with Joe above. I’ve followed the intense controversy about this issue over at startribune.com and it’s unfortunate how people have been mislead about the signage. I say this a change for the better. Thank you Mr. Collins and MPR for presenting this clear perspective.

  • Sam

    I don’t know of any other major city in the U.S. that DOESN’T have clear signs for what airline is located where. I don’t understand why Minnesota is so passionate about being one.

    I hate to say it, because I love this state as much as anyone, but I think it’s exactly because Minnesota is Minnesota. People here are so hung up on the idea that we live in the perfect state that any attempt to remedy a flaw or upgrade something that’s seriously lagging the rest of the country is taken as a personal affront by a shockingly large number of people.

  • Joanna

    And here I thought I was the only person who moved here from another state and got hopelessly lost the first time I had to drive to “the airport” (because I didn’t know there was more than one) and chose the wrong terminal, assuming the big one would be named after Humphrey.

    I was also confused about why 35W and 35E went north and south.

  • Chris

    How hard is it to figure out? Google the address before you leave home if you don’t know where you are going. What a waste of money!

  • Bob Collins

    Interesting that you’re assuming the people who are having a hard time are people who live here. Maybe they’re not from here. Maybe they’re travelers. Maybe they don’t have Internet access.

    But why the reaction to this? WHY do you consider it a waste of money telling people road directions. Why is it that for decades, MnDOT has been putting up signs to show people what highway interchange is coming up in a 1/2 mile — that’s actually tax money, by the way, unlike MAC — and nobody has gone on a crusade about that being a waste of money.

    That’s the puzzling part of this story. Why are we so passionate against helping people find their way around a portion of the Twin Cities?

  • Alanna in MI

    Thankfully, I’ve never had to drive to the airport. I’ve gone past it many times, but never realized it was so hard to find the right terminal. I also never realized that Humphrey and Lindbergh were two different airports. I only flew once, and that was with a school group. Hard to get lost in a huge group :)

  • Bob Collins

    The situation wasn’t so difficult when the Humphrey was just a big empty — but spanking new — terminal.

  • http://connermccall.com Conner

    I agree, and two million dollars isn’t really that much considering the benefits. One it saves people time, two it’s a safety concern. Good signs prevent people from having to cut across lanes of traffic to make their exit or figure out how to turn around and get back on the highway. As long as the signage includes the airlines at each terminal it will be worth the time and money.

  • http://lucydebate.blogspot.com Ryan

    “And why doesn’t it say ‘departures’ and ‘arrivals’?”

    YES! I’ve been saying that for *years* now. When I’m driving for the airport, I don’t think “I need to pick up some bags”, I think “I need to pick up a human!”

    We have a unique (or at least unusual) situation in Minneapolis where we really have two entirely separate airports that we lump together as “MSP.” Sure, there’s a free light-rail between the two, but if you are at one it’s not at all obvious how to get to the other via rail. More signage will be welcome.

  • Bob Collins

    My anthropological research — picking up my wife at the airport on Tuesday — revealed that there are a LOT fewer bags on the carousels these days. I presume that’s because of the cost of checking bags.

    the good news is the bags get to the carousels a lot faster.

    I also noticed there’s no sign anymore for the “Kiss n Go,” the last door on th eLEFT side of the roadway on the top of the airport terminal… the one with the check-in right inside the door. That’s one of the best-kept secrets at MSP, I think.

  • brad

    stellar work, Bob!

  • bsimon

    pedantic alert!

    The airport is the whole landmass bordered, roughly, buy Cedar Ave / Hwy 77 on the West, Crosstown/62 on the North, 5 / 55 on the east and 494 on the South. The terminals are the buildings where people embark / disembark, currently known as the Humphrey and Lindberg terminals. They are NOT two seperate airports, they are two seperate buildings on the same airport.

    Thank you.

    p.s. Chris – Google does not give proper directions to the Humphrey terminal – they use the logical route, Post Road, but MAC discourages that route & instead directs people to 34th Ave via 494. Secondly, most people don’t know that certain airlines use Humphrey and others use Lindberg – and thus don’t know to check their directions before going to the airport.

  • Jennifer

    I have to echo bsimon, in the reminder that these are NOT two different airports, but simply two different terminals at the same airport.

    However, if we are going to change the signs, I don’t think changing the signs to say “Terminal 1″ and “Terminal 2″ will really accomplish that much. If the goal is to make sure people know that there are two terminals, the current signs already do that. The picture in this post shows that the sign says “Terminals” (plural) with the names and different directions listed below.

    The problem is that people get confused as to which terminal they need to be at. They don’t know which airlines fly from which. A far better use of the money would be to have signs that list the airlines at that location under each terminal’s name.

  • Joanna

    Well, there you go. I just learned something I didn’t know because I’m from “out of town”: one airport, two terminals. I was always told that there was the “big” airport, which was where Northwest was and all the other major airlines, and the “little” airport that was for smaller, local airlines. Perhaps I was misinformed, but that’s what people told me. Obviously this situation has changed, so there is more confusion.

    As to why I didn’t Google for directions? my story took place before Google existed, not THAT long ago!

  • Bob Collins

    Unfortunately, Jennifer, the Twin Cities news media has done you a terrible disservice by focusing on the Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 aspect of the signs.

    The strategy is EXACTLY the one that you have advocated. The story is that the signs WILL have the airlines’ names below the number of the terminal you want (in Chicago, for example, I think it’s terminals A, B, and C)

    Not every sign will need to have the airlines. But 28 of them will. So once you see one or more of the 28 that tell you which airline is at what terminal and you know you want, say, Terminal 2, the other signs pointing you to either Terminal 1 or Terminal 2 would be of service to you.

    THAT’s the story that would be told if — for some strange reason — the news media weren’t playing this story like it was Joe Souchery looking for a quick talk show buzz.

    By the way, let’s look at this as if we’re in another city. Let’s assume you were in, say, Boston and you needed to catch a Northwest flight back to Minneapolis-St. Paul.

    You drive into Logan Airport and you see three terminals. Eastern Airlines (later Pan Am). Terminal C and the International Terminal.

    For years, those were the three terminal names at Logan and that’s what the signs said.

    Guess which terminal you needed to get back to Minneapolis? The International Terminal.

    Boston finally changed the signs.

    That same illogical situation is the one some people in the Twin Cities seem to want to preserve. If what I just described in Boston doesn’t make sense to you, then MSP doesn’t make sense.

    I swear, this is the whackiest brouhaha over nothing in the 17 years I’ve lived here.

  • Jennifer

    Wow. That is some terrible reporting from local media. For all the constant debate I’ve heard about refering to the terminals by number and the cost of new signs, today is the first day I’ve seen a report that says the airlines will be listed.

    It seems like many news oulets often go for ratings by playing up the most controversial aspects of the stories they cover. That really is a diservice to the public.

    Thanks for clarfying, Bob.

  • Joe R

    Happy for the story Bob. I agree it’s one of the strangest controversies in the Twin Cities for a long time.

    That said, I’ll put my two cents in and agree with Jennifer. I’d like the MAC to keep the Terminals named Lindbergh and Humphrey, and just add signage that lists which airlines fly out of which terminals. Directions to get to Humphrey would also be good.

    As a rule though, most comments in the Strib are maddening. I swear I’ve never met one of those people anywhere in Minnesota before. Maybe they’re all newcomers.

  • Heather

    As a relative newcomer to this area, I can’t even TELL you the number of times that I’ve been frustrated by the lack of good signage here — and not only in relation to the airport.

    I have come to the conclusion that things are so poorly marked here because it’s assumed that if you’re here at all, it’s because you grew up here and never left, and already know where you’re going. And if you aren’t from here? Good luck to ya! We didn’t really want ya here, anyhow!

    Some folks should think about getting out more — and not just to “up north”. Traveling an unfamiliar track for a change might just quiet the outraged, and give people an idea of what a decent airport sign should look like.

  • Bob Collins

    //Maybe they’re all newcomers.

    Great line. That’s quality, right there.(g)

  • Chris

    Actually, if you have to ask where the airport is, you really do not belong here.

  • Ann

    How about some better signs at the LRT stops as well? I nearly missed a flight last week by getting off the train at the wrong terminal. I fly several times a year and am a reasonably experienced and careful traveler. But I have never flown out of Humphrey. None of my flight documents indicated the terminal, and no signs were there to help. My e-ticket simply said “MSP International Airport”. So, I went to Lindbergh, found out I was at the wrong terminal, raced back to the LRT stop to catch the next train to Humphrey, and barely made my flight. One good sign at the transit stop would have saved me a huge headache.

  • Bob Collins

    //Actually, if you have to ask where the airport is, you really do not belong here.

    Kind of a straw man, there, isn’t it? The issue isn’t where the airport is. The issue is which terminal?

    Chris, do you ever use directional signs on the highways when you visit unfamiliar territory? How is that different?

  • Cherie

    Paleeeeeeeze… what a huge waste of $$$!!! People can figure this out, what difference does it make Humphry / Lindberg or #1 / #2 it still has to be figured out just like in New York with JKF and LaGuardia. Do you think they would waste $$$ to rename their airports???

    I think not!!!

  • Jared

    Cherie, did you read any of the comments above prior to posting? MAC is paying the lion’s share of the cost for this project. If SOME people who either live here or are visiting can’t find their way to Humphrey, it should be re-marked. You know where it is, I know where it is.. great! Let’s get everyone else there without a problem.

  • David

    //Actually, if you have to ask where the airport is, you really do not belong here.

    Well, Chris, why don’t we make it easier for them to get to the airport so they can leave?

  • Bob Collins

    I’m still confused over the objections. Is the point that directions signs on highways should be targeted only toward people who know where they’re going? That doesn’t make sense to me.

  • Drew Geraets

    Why did you decide to blur out the Twitter user name?

  • Peter Martin

    I marvel at people’s inability to follow directions.

    The signage is as clear as it can be. User error is the problem here.

    As for the specific example sited in the clip above: there’s actually 2 signs on the Lindbergh Terminal access road, one on the way out (which was spotted), and one on the way in, at ticketing (which was not). And as one can clearly see in the video, your directions are to follow 5 West to 34th Av. where, had you done so, more clear as day instructions await.

    I agree that signage on the freeways servicing the airport that would fill people in on what terminal they need to go to for their respective airlines would be helpful, but I refuse to believe that this information is difficult to obtain before leaving the house (or hotel room).

    And any cost the MAC incurs will of course be passed on to it’s customers in the form of service/user fees placed on anything it sees fit.

    All because people can’t follow directions.

  • Bob Collins

    I wonder how many people who think the signage is just fine now have ever been anywhere else. Because they’re not fine. They’re far worse than other metropolitan airports.

    Direction signs aren’t for people who know the way. They’re for people who don’t.

  • Peter Martin

    Signage is indeed for people who don’t know where they’re going. In this case, it simply couldn’t be any clearer, save for spelling out what airlines are at what terminal. Take This to That, where further instructions await. You need not worry about the truck route unless you’re in a truck. Just do what the directions tell you to do. How could it be any more simple? Teleportation, I suppose.

    Navigation is a skill. Should we compensate for people who don’t get it? Perhaps.

    And for the record- yes, I’ve been around.

    Please forgive my zealousness, Bob. It’s a bit of a pet pieve of mine. I’m done now.

  • Jon

    Feel free to correct my timeline here… but at some point (10 years ago?), the Humphrey Terminal only had charter flights. So, signage was not as big of an issue back then. If you had a regular flight on any airline, you went to Lindbergh. But then Sun Country, a charter airline, changed to scheduled flights, yet still operated out of Humphrey. Then AirTran came to town, and they’re at Humphrey. Now Southwest has landed at MSP, and they’re at Humphrey. Heck, even Icelandair flies out of Humphrey. Icelandair, who knew?

    So, now, MSP has two terminals with regularly scheduled flights. This change requires a change to the signage. All big-league airports (Logan, O’Hare, etc.) have signs that denote which airlines are at which terminals. This change is especially needed here at MSP, because the two terminals are not on the same loop road off the highway.

    It’s a no-brainer to do this.

  • Margaret Thomas

    The first memory I have of an airport I frequented was TPA in Tampa, FL. While they do not have multiple terminals (or didn’t) when I was there, you did access some airlines from one side of the building and were routed to the other side for the remaining airlines. Signage there not only indicates what route to follow, but lists which airlines are on a given side. It’s a similar protocol to what I’ve seen followed at LAX, ORD, MCO, and elsewhere, including airports who have distinct terminals that are not side-by-side.

    When I was first new to MSP, I could not have told you who flew out of which terminal. It was not labeled on my tickets. It was not labeled on airport signage. It is confusing, not to mention unwelcoming, for travelers who are not life-long residents or who are visitors to the Cities not to post which airlines are at Lindbergh vs. Humphrey on the directional signage.

    Minnesota prides itself on the practicality of its citizenry. Adding labeling on the road signage on the airport approach that will help travelers efficiently navigate the terminals is long overdue.

  • Jeff

    I may have missed it on another post- but WHY would it cost so much to replace the airport signs? 2 MILLION dollars? wow, they are pieces of steel with paint on them…