VIEWPOINT: Expect disruptions at midfield terminal

May 26, 2008

What frequent travelers dislike is disruption, and that's in your future if you travel through Indianapolis International Airport. If you're a frequent traveler like me, you'll need to be patient and learn some new tricks.

Due to open late this fall, the terminal is a huge shift, with its own entrance off Interstate 70. Don't go to the old terminal and look for a route to the new one, because there isn't a convenient one. The airport parking lots you've come to know and love might or might not offer shuttles to the new entrance, which is strictly off I-70. No announcements have been made regarding how logistics will change.

The parking garage at the new entrance holds almost 6,000 cars. No word yet on whether the current easy and fast access for pickups and drop-offs has been made. One of the current conveniences is being able to park in the garage for the first 30 minutes, free. The free parking policy was started after the parking meters adjacent to the current terminal were deemed unsafe for security after 9/11. This policy fomented a bit of congestion in the smallish garage, but it's rarely full, and even when its signs say it's full, it's usually not, in my experience.

What's not a fib is the fact that the current terminal is easy to get in and out of. If you're not sure, go to any other major U.S. airport for comparison. Our departure gates, while now sequestered by security entrances, are short distances to the main terminal, ticket counters and retail establishments. The "main" terminal is just a short walk to the D terminal, from which United and US Airways fly. Getting in and out is simple. Only the occasional jam-up in security increases wait time.

Other midfield airports are a hassle, and ours will be, too. The midfield terminal in Las Vegas requires a train trip, as do the terminals at Atlanta's Hartsfield. You can walk it in Atlanta if you need the exercise. In Europe, the distances can be more than a mile between an arrival and a departure gate, complete with visits through up to three shopping malls, as is the case in Copenhagen, Denmark. Ours will have only one big mall and some local artwork. The distance between the ticket counters, security checkpoints and the gates is currently unmeasured, but educated guesses say a minimum of 11 minutes at a brisk pace is the best time you'll make between security and your gate.

And you'll park your car in new lots, or the parking garage, whose costs haven't been quoted, but may be above the current $24 a day. The new garage will also be occupied by numerous car rental companies, making it more convenient for tourists, while adding to traffic around the garage for locals. Many outbound fliers currently park in adjacent, competitive lots. Today, shuttles add 10 to 15 minutes to the journey; these trips are likely to get longer.

The airport entrance, which is now pointed toward the largest population base, Indianapolis, will soon be pointed south. Interstate jams at the heavily used Interstate 465 to Interstate 70 ramps will cause major arrival frustration. It's no piece of cake to get from the current exit on I-465 to the Airport Expressway, but there are relief valves for the procrastinating occupants of cars via High School Road. Please add 15 to 20 minutes to get through the exit to the new terminal.

Your journey to your gate in the new terminal will be much longer and less convenient. The old terminal, which could have been renovated, may go the fate of the Hoosier/RCA Dome. It'll be sad to see it razed. Even Union Station's still around for the memories.

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