With national security on high alert and new airport check-in measures in place, many passengers returning to air travel following the events of September 11, 2001, were anxious. New rules and regulations meant that passengers had to arrive at the airport hours before their flights and wait for flights without non-ticketed guests. Airports were tasked with keeping guests relaxed and occupied for the extended times they were spending in the terminals before takeoff.
Leah Douglas, now PHL’s Director of Guest Experience and Curator of the Airport Art Program, joined PHL in 1998 as an independent contractor to establish the art program. “Our program was still relatively new on 9/11, and it quickly became an important amenity for passengers,” said Douglas. “We received comment cards from guests who were surprised by the breadth of PHL’s exhibitions and happy to have a diversion to occupy their time as they waited to fly. Walking through the terminals to explore the art was a way for passengers to de-stress.”
Douglas notes that airports began a shift to a hospitality-centric focus after 9/11 because of new passenger expectations. “We needed to have things for the public to do while they were here,” she said. “Music and entertainment, shopping, a variety of food offerings—coming to the airport became more of an experience than just a place to catch a flight.”
PHL’s B/C Terminal Connector with the Philadelphia MarketPlace food court and shopping area opened in June 1998, offering passengers additional in-terminal dining and shopping options. “Having this area of the airport up and running prior to 9/11 was helpful in meeting passenger demand,” said Mel Hannah MarketPlace PHL LLC Vice President and General Manager. “Post 9/11, we saw substantial increases in the average check for food and beverage purchases, as well as some retail transactions. Since we had already allocated locations for concessions, we were better prepared to serve guests.”
While reflecting on the impact of 9/11 on PHL, Douglas noted similarities to the airport’s COVID-19 response. “There was a concerted effort then, much like we have had over the last year, for stakeholders to pull together to make our guests feel comfortable about flying again. It was a team effort from all organizations operating within PHL.”