Image: Minneapolis Airport signs
Jim Mone  /  AP
Though signs do not say which airlines fly from which terminal and cause many travelers to pick the wrong terminal, new signage would come with a $2.2 million price tag.
updated 7/20/2009 9:51:33 AM ET 2009-07-20T13:51:33

It's a dilemma faced by every traveler who flies into or out of the Minneapolis area: Lindbergh or Humphrey?

The two terminals of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are three miles apart, on separate highway exits, marked by signs that give nothing more than the terminal name. Make the wrong choice — as thousands of people do every year — and the lost time can mean a missed flight.

"Dude, to be honest with you, I still find it confusing," said one frequent traveler, Jeff Daprizio, as he waited for a flight to Las Vegas. "Lindbergh and Humphrey don't mean anything."

With respect to famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, two of Minnesota's most historic figures, the commission that runs the airport agrees. It's considering spending $2.2 million for new signs to guide visitors and even some locals who aren't always sure which airline flies out of which terminal.

No road directly connects the two terminals, which means that drivers who take the wrong exit must first discover their mistake, then hustle back on the highway to get to the other terminal.

The Metropolitan Airport Commission estimates as many as 25,000 people go to the wrong terminal each year. In one recent eight-day stretch, measured by traveler questions at airport information booths, some 600 people did exactly that, said Pat Hogan, a spokesman for the airport commission.

It hasn't always been this way.

For decades, Humphrey was a little-used charter terminal, the place where pale Minnesotans passed through if they were hopping a small carrier to warm-weather vacations in winter. Back then, Lindbergh was listed on signs as "Main" and Humphrey was listed as "HHH."

The signs were changed in 2000 after Humphrey added more scheduled air service. Charter carriers like Champion Air and Omni cut or ended flights. The confusion has grown as more carriers have moved in and out of Humphrey — Southwest Airlines began service from the terminal in March, while Midwest Airlines switched to Lindbergh in June.

Complaints about the terminal signage have streamed in from around the country. Samples provided by Hogan ranged from mild disappointment to outrage. One traveler called it "terrible." Another called it "visitor hostile." A Pennsylvania man complained of missing an AirTran flight because he went to Lindbergh instead of Humphrey, and demanded an apology and compensation for time wasted waiting for another flight.

But spending $2.2 million to fix the sign problem has also caused some heartburn for locals, who wonder why the commission can't just add the airline names to the existing signs.

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The commission says that would run afoul of state and federal guidelines for how much information can safely be packed onto a single sign that drivers are reading at highway speeds.

The commission's proposal to fix the problem would install new signs that list the airlines that depart from each terminal. The signs would drop the Lindbergh and Humphrey names entirely in favor of "Terminal 1" and "Terminal 2," although commission officials say the terminals would still retain their historic names.

The nine airlines flying into Lindbergh would be split over two signs, a measure that allays concerns about overcrowding the signs.

Many of the signs will be large, requiring strong supports to withstand wind loads and driving up the cost of the project. But Hogan pointed out that existing parking and concession fees will cover the cost.

"The people who will benefit from the new signs — airport users — are the people who will pay for them," Hogan said in an e-mail.

Travelers at the airport agree more descriptive signs could help, even if their cost seems too high.

"It probably would," said Bob Fitzsimmons, who was waiting at Lindbergh for a flight home to Phoenix. He added, "I would think a coat of paint would do it."

The airport commission votes on the plan Monday.

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