Gander Airport Wants To Make Its Mid-Century Modern International Departure Lounge a Tourist Attraction

Gander airport opened in 1938 and was a point of departure for transatlantic travel – as the spot in contiguous North America closest to Europe. Gander Airport was a staging point for movement of Allied aircraft to Europe during World War II. And it’s long been a key refueling stop.

The town is in central Newfoundland, Canada located about 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of just about 11,000 people.

United Airlines, with all of its Boeing 757s flying between Newark and Europe, used to be said to operate a focus city at Gander because those planes often had to refuel when traveling Westbound in Winter due to heavy headwinds.

U.S. interest in the town peaked as a result of the Broadway show Come From Away, ,which tells the story of 38 planes that diverted to Gander on 9/11. There were over 7000 passengers stranded there for up to 5 days in a town that has just a few hundred hotel rooms.

Volunteers made lunches, elementary schools were turned into dormitories, and the hockey rink became a walk-in refrigerator. The “plane people,” as they were called, hailed from 95 countries, and they were welcomed with open arms by the people of Gander and nearby communities.

comfort inn gander
Credit: Comfort Inn Gander

The airport’s 1959 international departure lounge, opened by the Queen of England, has sat idle for decades. The airport is a strategic diversion point, but planes fly long distances now without the stop. And the old departure lounge was closed off in the late 1970s.

It’s one of the most significant modernist facilities in Canada, visited by over 200 bus tours last year, but it’s served other purposes or no purpose for years.

The International Lounge in Gander Airport, Newfoundland from r/AccidentalWesAnderson

Yet the airport has taken steps to preserve the departure lounge furnished in bright orange and yellow “by famous designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Robin Bush, Jacques Guillon, and Arne Jacobsen.” It features a “striking mural by Canadian artist Kenneth Lochhead, floor tiles that are reminiscent of Piet Mondrian, and swivel chairs in the ladies washroom[.]” And the pay phones!

The lounge is now getting a $1.5 million restoration and will be open for free to the public. The airport hopes it will be ready for summer tourist season.

The room will be left mostly as-is, with some fresh paint and interpretive materials like storyboards to help people guide themselves through the space. There are also plans for a small theatre to screen films.

Air Canada offers regional jet and turboprop service from Goose Bay, Halifax, St. John’s, Wabush and seasonally from Torotno (Pearson). Sunwing flies seasonally from Toronto and Varadero, and WestJet seasonally from Halifax. You take Exploits Valley Air if you want to go to Fogo Island from Gander. PAL offers services as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’d visit it in a heartbeat, as mid century design is my cup of tea, except that it is pretty isolated. Indeed, I did go in 1992 on an IAD-Gander-SNN-SVO odyssey on old Aeroflot. It was a pretty cool terminal then but my most distinct memory of it was how thick the cigarette smoke was.

  2. I can still remember landing at that airport on a charter flight to London, having just graduated from high school in 1976. At that time, it was routine for flights to land there for refueling and maintenance, I believe, before crossing the Atlantic. It was in the middle of the night, so we saw nothing outside of interest, but I do have memories of the inside of the terminal; I remember coming in the terminal and seeing the mezzanine and the stairs as shown in the picture above.

  3. A hydraulic failure on a JFK to BCN flight resulted in an overnight diversion to Gander, including about 3 hours waiting in the departure lounge. The Mid-Century Modern lounge was crowded with one 767 worth of passengers, the Eames furniture was uncomfortable (likely because it hasn’t been reupholstered since installation) but the people of Gander were a serendipitous surprise. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Newfoundland.

  4. As an aside, Come from Away is one of the most brilliant, heartwarming live show on stage these days. Do not miss the opportunity to see it if you can.

  5. US Military planes (or US military contracted planes) sometimes use the airport. Distinctly remember the mural passing though almost a decade ago.

  6. We were in Gander in 2018 and visited the airport. There are active flights from several airlines operating there daily. The surrounding area is definately worth a visit.

  7. Nice article; would love to make it up that way at some point.

    I think the point in “contiguous” North America closest to Europe would be somewhere in Labrador, no?

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