Airport honoring Bob Hope may change its name

Nobody in the history of American popular culture devoted more time and effort to the welfare and morale of our troops than the late comedian Bob Hope. When he died in 2003, the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport, a commercial airport serving millions of passengers a year, changed its name in his honor to Bob Hope Airport. In my years of frequent flying as a consultant, I used it quite often, for many parts of Los Angeles and its suburbs, including Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, are far closer than Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).  The last time I used it, displays honoring Hope and his decades of service entertaining troop overseas, often in combat zones, were a touching tribute to his patriotism.

But trends in air travel have not been kind to Bob Hope Airport, and many other secondary metropolitan fields. Ontario International Airport, in the eastern exurbs of Los Angeles has suffered catastrophic declines in passenger count. At the busiest and most competitive airports like LAX, airfares tend to be cheaper than at the secondary fields. Despite a recent small uptick in traffic, Bob Hope Airport is well below the post 9-11 peak year of 2007 in passenger boardings.

As a result, the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, which owns the field, is considering “re-branding” and dropping the name of Bob Hope. Anthony Clark Carpio of the Los Angeles Times reports:

A branding firm told Bob Hope Airport officials the possible benefits of having Los Angeles in its name. However, some residents do not want any of it.

The company, Anyone Collective, was contracted by the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority to develop a brand name for the airfield in an effort to attract more passengers.

Company officials said that Los Angeles was searched online by Americans an average of 671,560 times a month when it came to travel and tourism.

In comparison, Burbank is nationally searched an average of 73,400 times each month, while Bob Hope has an average of 47,240 searches per month.

I am not certain how many people would be swayed by a name change. But at least Bob Hope would not be formally dropped, even if public identifier is changed.

The legal name for the airfield would remain Bob Hope Airport, but officials are considering a branding name in an effort to draw more travelers.

On the other hand, John Wayne Airport, serving Orange County, is thriving, despite being named after another deceased figure in popular culture. (Incidentally, I am certain it drives California lefties nuts that the two airports in the state named after Hollywood figures both honor notable conservatives.) That’s because Orange County is so wealthy and full of frequent travelers who would prefer to avoid congested freeways necessary to reach LAX, or Long Beach Airport to the north. In fact John Wayne is slot-controlled, so airlines vie for the right to fly there. The terminal at John Wayne, recently expanded, is among the fanciest and most elegant in the United States. Bob Hope, by contrast, uses a beautiful but outdated art deco terminal supplemented by added pre-manufactured (i.e., trailer-like) structures. There are no air bridges, so passengers hike outside and climb stairs to board aircraft. It has a bit of retro charm, but the boarding areas get very crowded and climate control is not always up to snuff on hot afternoons with the sun beaming in.

I think the basic problem with Bob Hope’s lagging passenger numbers has more to do with the local economy and the age of the facilities than with the name. I would hate to see a great patriot dishonored by branding consultants.