Tuesday, March 21, 2006

(From Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport) Tom’s Small Steps to a Better Air Travel Experience

by Tom Bozzo

1. Waiting area seats should have cupholders and/or small tables.

Many of us sleep for crap while on travel, and compensate with caffeine. Once arrived in waiting areas, the unappealing beverage storage choices include the floor and the palmrest of one’s laptop. The spillage risks are obvious.

The interior designer for the Madison airport’s renovation was kind enough to supply little tables between some waiting area seats.

2. The Passenger Facility Charge should pay for wireless internet access.

I suppose that a lot of users avoid the high day-rates from the hotspot concessionaires through subscriptions to other commercial access providers. That does the likes of café non-denizen me no good at all. Insofar as I’m paying to be here and am basically captive, being held up at the gateway to sweet, sweet data is a greater annoyance than facing padded but easily avoidable prices for stuff at airport retailers.

3. The layout of Kansas City International is brilliant. Or stupid. Maybe both.

MCI (*) has horseshoe-shaped terminals dating from the early seventies that feature remarkably short distances from curb to gate. A byproduct of the arrangement is that there is a low ratio of gates to security checkpoints. However, there are no services inside the checkpoints. The devil is in the detail of how well the TSA staffs and thereby maintains flow through the checkpoints.

Interestingly, the philosophy at MSN seems to be to make the additional dwell time inside the checkpoints relatively pleasant. (In the good old days, it was all about easy-in/easy-out) In particular, the Great Dane brewpub’s new airside location seems to be doing quite well. However, it would enhance local pride if the Wisconsin-themed shop could display higher-class merchandise than “Nothing Tips Like A Cow” T-shirts.

(*) KCI’s airport code, which dates from the days when it was known as Mid-Continent International. In a curious case of shortage-of-imagination, Wichita’s airport is called Wichita Mid-Continent Airport (code ICT).
Well, some would argue that the public waiting areas in airports are made unpleasant on purpose so as to encourage you to upgrade to the (pricy) private lounges.

So its unclear if these steps would be taken even if totally costless.
A problem with that argument is that the airlines by and large lease the space from airport authorities. Since many of those (see: the new MSN) cover their budgets solely from airport revenues, the authority's incentive is to encourage travelers to hang out, eat, and/or shop.

By that logic, I would argue, the steps (#1 and #3) might be taken even though they're costly. And the existence of cafes that give away Wi-Fi suggests that the wireless data amenity is a relatively cheap lure.
T-Mobile is offering free access to their wi-fi network through, I believe, the end of April. So find a Starbucks.

If you're looking for strange airport codes (says the former travel agent), try West Palm Beach (PBI, which at least makes some sense) or O'Hare (ORD). Cincinnati (CGY) may have been named after Cinergy (joke)--and the airport is, as Little Feat noted, in Kentucky, not OH.
A bunch of the airport code anomalies result from off-limits starting letters: K and W, so as not to conflict with radio station call letters, and I assume N to avoid confusion with U.S. aircraft registrations. The tendency was to use the letters in the name after the forbidden one -- hence EWR and ICT.
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