In November, I posted here a story about the “issues” at the Louis Armstrong International Airport. (See: myneworleans.com/terminal-trouble )
No doubt you’ve heard, read about or experienced the brand new state-of-the-art facility in Kenner which – at a cost of over a billion dollars – opened several months ago with a mission – or dream – of ushering New Orleans into the 21st century and to posit itself as the future of air travel, and maybe even capture the title of a “hub” as far as domestic and international flights go.
That’s travel lingo for airports where you don’t just leave from and arrive to, but where you switch flights between destinations and airlines swarm the premises. Think Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago.
It was easy enough back then to critique the new enterprise. Stories abounded. Traffic delays, parking mayhem, unready vendors, long lines, frustrated travelers, overwhelmed TSA agents, general chaos.
To some degree, that is to be expected of any new business operation. But this is not a restaurant or clothing boutique where you can afford a “soft opening.” This is a friggin’ airport. The front lines of immigration, drug imports, Homeland Security and all that.
Restaurants and boutiques don’t make you take off your shoes when you arrive, nor empty your pockets of coins and keys, pat you down – nor do they disavow yourself of any lotions of more than three ounces.
Now having had personal interaction with our new airport – a flight out and back to New Orleans last week – I can render first-hand experience.
Some of it was good, no doubt. It’s a beautiful terminal, albeit numbingly generic. It looks like Tampa, Memphis or St. Louis. Lots of natural light (an improvement over the old airport) and lots of space to roam around (another improvement) and that’s all good.
When we flew out of town last week, my partner and I took a cab, wary of the stories we have heard about access to parking facilities and general worry about how you actually “get” to the new airport from the Interstate.
There is no access road. That seems to have been forgotten in the early planning stages. But worry not, Dear Reader; they should be accessible in about two years.
We flew out of town very early in the morning, so the TSA lines were mercifully short, and the agents mercifully benign and accommodating, if sometimes somewhat confused.
Coming home was another story. There’s not a lot about the structure that speaks to New Orleans. Not even any of those old washed-out second-hand murals on the wall of jazz legends and such that used to decorate the old terminal. And I didn’t hear the old familiar brass band music playing over the terminal sound system, like the old place. Though there was a “stage” in the baggage claim area, which I assume is for the next generation of jazz legends, although nobody was playing, even though it was air traffic rush hour.
There are more and better local eateries and boutiques on the upper concourse – MoPho, Dirty Coast, etc. – and they were busy and much more energetic than the lame offerings at the old airport. But downstairs – baggage claim and getting out of the airport – was a whole ‘nuther story.
Like the old airport, you’ve got to walk a mile to find a restroom. Like the old airport, if you want a coke or a beer or a bag of Doritos while waiting for your luggage, you’re out of luck. (Although there seems to be a concession under construction.)
Funny, my companion and I were commenting about how the new airport looks like every other airport and that’s not so bad – the old one was admittedly…dank. But it was convenient and easy to negotiate. But hailing a cab was an episode from the Twilight Zone.
They ask us where we’re going and we say Mid-City and they point to a place on the sidewalk to wait. A cab pulls up and opens its trunk and we start to load in. A woman rushes up and says no, no, no!
We pull our luggage back out of the trunk and the cab driver is directed to other passengers. Behind that cab, a group that is already settled into their seats – seat-belted and all – is told to evacuate and unload their belongings.
They glumly abide and, thinking that’s our cab, we approach. But we are scolded and told to return to our place on the sidewalk – a place marked not by paint nor markings, but by her finger point.
That cab passes us by and another cab steward starts arguing with our cab steward and the folks who got kicked out of their cab walk past, mumbling in a foreign language. Presumably Uber-bound.
We are confused.
We are finally granted access to a cab. We get in laughing. Laughing, that is, until we get into traffic. It takes about four traffic light changes just to get out of the airport. We’re in a neighborhood, not an international flight complex. Cars are lined up for half a mile in every direction. It looks like Dallas or Atlanta or Chicago – but it’s not.
It’s New Orleans, and there are no more passengers (yet) than before, but it takes almost an hour longer to get in and out of there than before.
That dang rascal access road.
But just wait two years. And all the international airlines that come begging for a concourse. Then that’s the ticket.
Like Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, or…Denver.