Lots of debate on my show about the five-year, $105 million facelift that’s been announced for Lambert Airport. The basic thinking seems to be that we need a better, prettier airport to show visitors and business people that St. Louis is a city they should be happy to come to.
That won’t be accomplished by beautifying the airport. That will be accomplished by having more flights landing and taking off from here — and more real planes like the 737, as opposed to the 50-seat flying cigar tubes we have to endure for many trips now. Since American Airlines downgraded us from a hub, and the number of daily flights dropped by a couple hundred, we have a lot fewer people passing through, and thus the build-out may not be justified. If another airline committed to more flights more often, then it would make sense, but I doubt that will happen just because the terminal has a few more amenities.
All I want from an airport is to move through security quickly, have the plane on time, and get to wherever I’m going. Of course, I want my flight to be at Gate C1, not C33, and if I have to connect somewhere, I want to land at C1 and then depart from C2, instead of coming in at A22 and having to run a marathon to get to my next plane at gate D49.
When I return, I have no interest in lingering in the terminal — I’m headed for the door, then to my car, then to my house. I’m not stopping to see what the stores are offering today.
The proponents of the plan talk about adding more retail and restaurant space. I know this has been done elsewhere, but I’ve never understood it. I don’t go to the airport to go shopping. It’s good to have a place where I can get a newspaper or magazine, some candy, and a bottle of water (that’ll be $19, please!). I understand the place that sells cheap, cheesy local memorabilia for those on a business trip who remembered at the last minute that they promised to bring home a present for their kid and are now in desperate need of a Cardinals shirt or a Gateway Arch snow globe.
But I don’t know who is shopping at the golf store (what, you forgot your plaid pants and had to have them for this trip?), or making last-minute jewelry purchases, or visiting most of the other retail outlets I’ve seen in other airports around the country. Frankly, if I’m at the airport, I’m probably going somewhere on a vacation that already is costing me more than I can afford, so I’m not looking for opportunities to spend a few more dollars before I even leave my hometown.
That’s not to say there aren’t things that should be fixed at Lambert that would make the experience of using the airport better for everyone. These are basic, functional problems that should be addressed before you build a mall inside the terminal:
- Get the luggage to baggage claim faster. There’s no reason people have to wait over a half-hour for their bags to come down the chute. No wonder so many of us cram all our stuff into carry-ons.
- Fix the parking garage once and for all. You’ve been working on the thing for almost a decade, and it’s worse than ever. While you’re at it, get the cabs out of there. Set up a real taxi stand that’s easier to access.
- Fix the signs. I challenge anyone, on their first visit to Lambert, to find the main parking garage without having to go around the loop at least once.
- Move the bagel place to the other side of security, so when I have to take an early morning flight and want to pick up breakfast, I can also get a bottle of orange juice without worrying about setting off the TSA’s liquids-and-gels security alert system.
- Tell the employees to smile every once in awhile. The airlines are in trouble because flying has become a pain to most passengers. It wouldn’t hurt to have the people who are paid to work there show us a little courtesy and thanks for keeping their industry propped up. If you want to scowl at someone, wait for Carl Icahn to get on a commercial flight. In the meantime, show me a little appreciation — I’m your customer!