HENDERSON: Airport terminal, one long year later

As an all-too-frequent flier, I’ve had a chance to get the full-love experience of the new airport terminal numerous
times in its first year. The summary is that it’s both tolerable, and I have no choice. The management seems to know
this.

I can park in what seems like Terre Haute, also known as the Economy Lot. The price was an intolerable $7
per day, now $9 per day. The nice competition that was a hallmark of the old terminal is gone. No concierge services can be
found in a convenient nearby competitive lot. This is somewhat assuaged by the fact that when my car battery died while I
was out West, a subsequent jump-start was easy to find from lot personnel—and I was on my way quickly.

There
are kudos to the Transportation Security Administration for frightfully fast (yet thorough) security clearances, especially
compared with those at other small airports, like San Diego and San Jose, Calif. In those airports, the lines can be measured
in terms of furlongs per fortnight. We’re lucky here. If the design of the old terminal was bad in this regard, it’s
been improved.

There’s free IndyAirport WiFi—and it works nicely. I like the benches where I can plug
in my notebook, charge my phone, and log on to various sites. The downside is that the WiFi has no security whatsoever, and
most people don’t realize just how vulnerable their privacy is on such hot spots.

But the midfield terminal
is losing money. Quelle surprise, as the French might say. Travel is down. Flights (landings make up a large fraction
of the airport’s revenue) are often packed like cattle cars and the airlines have no choice. The revenue cut from vendors
inside and outside the security perimeter is at the breaking point. A simple bagel with shmear from Shapiro’s is nearly
as expensive as a McDonald’s Big Meal four miles away.

If the economy doesn’t improve, something else
is going to happen that’s a potential convenience of design of the midfield terminal: usage tollgates. In the terminal,
as in many of today’s modern hotels, you pay for everything.

The economic troubles have rattled the cage
at the Indianapolis Airport Authority. Randall Tobias, president of the IAA board, resigned in April as, ostensibly, the house
he’s building in Carmel prevents him from serving on the IAA board. This seems strange, given that one has to drive
through Hendricks County to get to the terminal. Board member Mike Wells left in 2008. Then John Kish, executive director,
left for projects in Evansville. The IAA hired John D. Clark III, the controversial head of Jacksonville, Fla.’s airport,
as his replacement.

Now the grapevine says parking, expensive as it is, may be outsourced. Perhaps the move is
anti-union, or a strange way to squeeze a few pennies. My preference would be a nice and convenient $6/day spot somewhere
off the Ameriplex Parkway or near State Road 67. It would have to be nearly as fast to get to the terminal as the current
fleet of tortoise-like buses that service the huge Economy Lot.

I was always suspicious of this “investment,”
now at more than $2 billion, in the first place. Yes, the terminal is pretty, and it no longer leaks rain. Yes, the security
lines are fast. No, the prices for retail goods and food aren’t delightful—just under the pain point. No, there
is no competition for parking, and it’s getting pricier. And, yes, management will have a legacy of huge expenses to
deal with.

I’m reminded of a cartoon in which a doctor is on the phone talking to his wife, while a patient
sits on the examination table listening in. The caption says something like, “OK, dear. I know tuition is expensive,
but we’ll find the money somewhere.” The poor fellow on the table is wondering what he just came down with. So
am I.•

__________

Henderson is managing director of ExtremeLabs Inc., a Bloomington computer
analysis firm.

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