The Metropolitan Airports Commission says it gets about 15 complaints a month from travelers confused by the highway signs near the two terminals. A wrong turn here can mean a missed flight.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Do I turn here?

Do I turn here? MAC gets complaints on current signs.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Confusing signs targeted at Twin Cities airport

  • Article by: SUZANNE ZIEGLER
  • Star Tribune
  • June 3, 2009 - 6:09 AM

Quick: Is your flight at the Lindbergh terminal? Or the Humphrey terminal? It can be confusing, airport officials say, especially for out-of-towners.

Faced with a growing number of complaints from travelers, the Metropolitan Airports Commission is considering a $1 million proposal for new signs on the freeways approaching Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport directing drivers to "Terminal 1" (Lindbergh) or "Terminal 2" (Humphrey). The new signs would also list which airlines fly out of each terminal.

The terminals still would be officially named after Charles Lindbergh and Hubert H. Humphrey, but their names would vanish from the road signs. A MAC committee is considering the proposal this morning; if it passes, it will go before the entire commission on June 15.

The idea has at least one opponent: Sun Country Airlines, which has long used the Humphrey terminal as a marketing tool.

MAC spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski said people driving to the airport to catch a return flight, especially if they're not from the Twin Cities, find themselves thinking: "'Hmmmm. Where did I come from?' There are two terminals here, and Humphrey and Lindbergh don't mean anything to them.''

Compounding the problem: The terminals have separate freeway entrances -- Lindbergh on Hwy. 5, Humphrey on Interstate 494 -- and no other public roads link them, so getting off at the wrong terminal means a return to the highway. Other major U.S. airports have one access point, with internal roads on airport property that split off to different terminals.

"It's an ongoing issue and seems to be getting worse," said Dennis Probst, the MAC's deputy executive director of planning and environment. The MAC gets about 15 complaints each month and hears anecdotally that there are many more. Sometimes, he said, people who arrive at the wrong terminal miss their flight because they could not make it to the other terminal in time.

On Monday, Andy Lundgren of Plymouth had just arrived at MSP from Denver, which he said has a "fantastic airport for getting around" -- it was designed and built from scratch in the 1990s -- and has signs listing which airlines fly out of each terminal. Lundgren, 33, said better signs at the Twin Cities would be helpful.

"If my friends or family fly in, it's always confusing where they get picked up, where they need to go," he said. "If you miss that exit, you'd better not be running late."

Opposition brewing

Sun Country Airlines is "vigorously opposed" to changing the signs to Terminal 1 and 2.

"The name of the terminal, Humphrey, is very firmly linked to the Sun Country brand and has been for 27 years," spokeswoman Wendy Williams Blackshaw said Tuesday. She said that a recent marketing survey found that the ease of the Humphrey terminal is one of the top reasons people fly with them.

The airline supports putting the airline names on the signs but is seeking a compromise that would retain the Humphrey and Lindbergh names as well. "I don't know why Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 would be any less confusing," she said, adding that she plans to speak at today's meeting.

Probst said he is sympathetic to Sun Country's concerns, but he said the MAC believes that the new designations "will give the passengers who are having the problems better information to get them to the right spot on the first try."

Southwest Airlines, which flies out of the Humphrey, said it supports the change, saying that anything that helps ensure travelers arrive at the right terminal is a "win for the traveling public."

Paige Wilcox, who was waiting for her luggage at the airport on Monday, said she likes keeping them designated as the Lindbergh and Humphrey.

"My grandpa was friends with Hubert Humphrey," said Wilcox, 27, of Minneapolis. "I like the traditions about it and keeping the names that go with our history. That means more than like Target Airport or TCF Terminal."

Federal dispensation needed

Several issues are being worked out, including state and federal rules that limit the number of characters on highway signs.

Cassandra Isackson, an assistant state traffic engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said her agency has been working with the Federal Highway Administration.

"Only so much information can go on a sign," she said. "A sign is engineered so a driver can see it, understand the message, make a decision and make the required maneuver. Typically, they only have a couple of seconds to do that."

Probst said that under the proposal, the signs would go on Interstate 494 in both directions, and on Hwy. 5 westbound from St. Paul. He estimates the new signs and public information campaign will cost at least $1 million. If approved, he expects the new signs to be up by early next year.

Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707


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