Facilities: Baggage, Indeed

One of the truly pleasurable SoCal travel experiences is flying in to and out of Long Beach Airport. With it's WPA-ish terminal -- actually, it predates the New Deal by a decade -- and lack of such refinements as miles-long passageways and cramped loading funnels, boarding and deplaning are swift and enjoyable.

On foggy nights, climbing up the back stairs to steerage on JetBlue's red-eye to New York or Florida, LGB Baggageyou feel like Louie and Rick on the tarmac in Casablanca.

So it's dismaying to learn from a report in the Times that "[b]usiness leaders, led by the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and JetBlue, want a modernized airport terminal of up to 133,000 square feet that offers more amenities." <"Airport Has Baggage," The Los Angeles Times>

This is about money, natch. The business leaders in question argue that the city has failed to take advantage of business opportunities, such as concessions -- not enough that there is a restaurant, a fast-food outlet, a gourmet coffee kiosk, and a gift shop -- and is thus missing out on tax revenue. They also are trying to make an argument for the project out of the fact that fewer than 1% of the facility's 3 million annual passengers stayed overnight last year, though its hard to see why more flights would make anyone look with greater favor on the prospect of hanging around Long Beach.

According to the Times' Nancy Wride, foes of a proposed expansion of the "cozy" terminal worry it will lead to pressure to lift the city's limit on flights, currently maxed out at 41 (compared to the OC's 130 and LAX's 900), and lead to violations of legal noise limits. It's not hard to sympathize with people who hope their neighborhood won't turn into Inglewood.

Proponents of the project want to increase the capacity of the Art Deco facility by adding an annex of up to 133,000 square feet. According to Wride, the existing building, which provides about 58,000 square feet of passenger area including 23,750 square feet of temporary wooden space that resembles a ferry terminal, is a historic landmark, which means even its color can't be changed without the approval of several commissions. And architectural review boards and landmark commissions almost never say yes to anything.

Facing a city council that seems disinclined to support the full extent of the Chamber/JetBlue proposal, the developers are threatening a referendum, an end run around representative government that will not only cut elected officials out of the process but also eliminate the unpleasantness of an environmental review to determine how much the project will degrade the quality of life in Long Beach and vicinity by adding to the noise, traffic congestion, and dirty air.

Even though it is off the beaten track for most Los Angeles and Orange Country travelers, the airport has boosted JetBlue by providing cheap and easy parking, short lines, painless baggage handling, and quick boarding and deplaning. Will people from Beverly Hills and Irvine continue to make the trek to Long Beach to get the same endless corridors, parking sharking and other niceties already much closer to hand at LAX and John Wayne? Compare your recent two-a-half hour ordeal in Southwest's LAX abattoir with the comfort of being dropped at the door in Long Beach.

If you ask me, Long Beach would be better off leaving the airport more or less as is. Some revenue could be generated by improving the ground floor amenities -- the gift shop and fast food outlets -- and by inviting a world-class restauranteur to turn the beautifully situated, three-tiered eatery on the second level into a regional dining destination. With its excellent view of one of the busiest fields in the country for private aircraft and its almost unlimited parking, the Long Beach Airport restaurant would be hard to beat for a romantic evening out.

If you like the airport in Long Beach the way it is, you should let city officials and JetBlue know. Not only would keeping the airport intact benefit residents and travelers, but JetBlue may find that unintended consequences -- like increased competition: the city will be hard-pressed to keep other airlines out of an expanded airport -- and the loss of frequent fliers like me, who may not see low fares alone as sufficient to justify the long haul to what in New York would be one of the outer boroughs, for no other reason than to save a couple of bucks on a plane ticket -- aren't worth the trouble. (originally posted to Impractical Proposals, 2005-06-06).

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