"We’ve got rockers in about 40 airports around the country," Land says, perplexed by my call at first but clearly proud of his dominance in the airport rocking chair industry. "Philly has rockers, Burlington has rockers — right many of the North and South Carolina airports have rockers."
The chairs are called Kennedy Rockers, named after the type that John F. Kennedy used to alleviate his back pain. Kennedy had dozens of the chairs and placed them everywhere — in the Oval Office, at Camp David, and aboard Air Force One. Kennedy’s chairs were made by P&P, another North Carolina company, which the Lands bought in 2009. The chairs are tall and straight, with flat wooden slats running up the back and a curved seat. In airports, they’re usually painted white or stained and left unpainted.
"We didn’t realize how popular they were 'til we went to remove the exhibit," Gentry says. "We went to remove the rocking chairs and we got such a public outcry that we said, ‘Wow, we need to keep these here,’ and we expanded them."
From there, the rockers spread from airport to airport. The people I spoke to at Sea-Tac and Miami were a little hazy on exactly where the idea for the chairs came from — someone who worked for the airport saw them at another airport, thought they were nice, and contacted Land, who became the de facto supplier of airport rocking chairs.
They’re also an easy addition to terminals, which are ordinarily difficult to renovate. Airports are always in use; they can’t be simply shut down and redesigned, so any improvements have to be made piecemeal. Rocking chairs are basically modular seating that can be installed overnight and rearranged as needed. A bonus, Gentry points out, is that they can be moved near power outlets, often in short supply at older terminals.
Land gives a similar reason for his chair’s success. "A rocker is something that relaxes you, and everyone is uptight in an airport," he says. "If you get enough rockers in there, that’s at least that many people who aren’t going to be calling and raising heck about something."