"Everything has changed. The flying changed. The airports have changed."
As I sit here working on a very busy Year in Review column, I want to take a brief moment to post a thought or two about the airport experience, particularly at my local hometown -- and favorite --airport: Long Beach (LGB).
There is something exciting about an airport. The adventure, the milling crowds, the sense that, if given half a chance, you could jump in line, book passage to exotic places and be off before common sense was allowed to reestablish itself.
The new Long Beach Airport, which a few years ago completed a major overhaul, brings back a good sense of adventure commonly missing from today's labyrinthian aviation leviathans.
As I sit at the gate, I have a full view of the northern half the runway as a JetBlue flight from Las Vegas lands less than a quarter mile away -- and within minutes is pulling up at the terminal gate. Moments later another JetBlue A320 pushes out, and in a few minutes I watch the flight as it thunders down the runway and launches into the air. It roars gracefully upward, gently curving southward towards the Pacific, a flight path I've ridden dozens of times.
Just fifty or so feet away from me is a US Airways CRJ jet being prepped for the short flight to Phoenix. I am at ground level too, and it's a perspective lost in the gigantic raised caverns and swing gates at LAX, or PHX, DFW and most other city airports. At Long Beach we march out onto the Tarmac, boarding up a switchback ramp to get to the aircraft door. It's an easier ascent than the long-ago rolling stairways mounted on the backs of modified pickups that were a staple of airports in the 20th century.
This, I think to myself, is what we thought -- hoped -- the future would look like. Not the sterile bus boarding platforms and busy gates, but a more casual, adventurous energy that early air travelers no doubt felt as they, too, stepped out onto the open air Tarmac and up the ramp. It's an energy and exotica that I remember from my childhood before all air terminals became virtual carbon copies of design. Yes, some small accents here and there to tell you where you are, but other than a handful of North American facilities -- Vancouver, Austin, Santa Ana, Denver, among others -- they're pretty cookie cutter. Shopping malls with airline gates.
To me a well-designed airport is not a matter of size, it's a matter of design. Of intent.