Big Plans at the Airport

By on 13 August, 2019 in City Living, Kate and Stephen with 4 Comments

Over the time we’ve lived in Montgomery, we’ve traveled all over the country — and all over the world. Most often, these trips are for work, but sometimes (gratefully) they are not. Almost every single time, we’ve flown into and out of the Montgomery airport. And we’ve regularly said that one perk of living here is the ability to roll out of bed and get to the airport within 20 minutes – a far cry from the experience we’d have in a bigger city, and way better than the hassle of driving to Atlanta (for example).

We know that opinions differ on this matter. Some folks feel like our local airport doesn’t offer enough options, or might be a sketchy linchpin in travel plans, or is too expensive. And there’s a case to be made for all three (and combinations thereof). When we got here, options were basically US Airways or Delta. US Airways lost our bags, so we went with Delta. We still feel like we made the right choice. But it’s true that this is a choice made from a much smaller menu of options than we’d get at a hub-type airport.

Then there’s reliability. There’s no question that it sucks when a delay makes you miss a connection. Worse, it might stop you from coming home if they cancel that last flight into Montgomery from Atlanta (the last flight in is 11:30-ish). But, honestly, although the anecdotal evidence is frustrating, we feel that this concern is oversold. Collectively, we’ve flown in and out of MGM many hundreds of times, and we can count serious delays on two hands. And most of these don’t have anything to do with operations in Montgomery. And it at least feels like the flights into MGM from Atlanta are scratched much less frequently than they once were.

Finally, let’s talk about cost. The airport used to have a poorly conceived ad campaign about how they weren’t that much more expensive. When your ads suggest that there is “little, if any, price difference,” you’re pretty much just admitting that your product is more expensive. We don’t have raw numbers, but we’ve generally felt that MGM is not that much more expensive, and any premium that you pay is worth it. A few things go into this calculus, but mainly you have to think about the idea of valuing your own time. Driving to ATL means a minimum of 7 additional hours (drive time, parking, security fiasco, etc.), plus parking fees. That’s very close to a whole additional workday, and we’re pretty protective (as are our employers) of our time. Montgomery wins this contest, hands down.

Our airport isn’t perfect. It has not always been the most professional operation, though bag retrieval time has greatly improved. And it’s easy to speed through security when there’s nobody there at 5 in the morning, but sometimes the clog of first-time flyers interacts with the smattering of employees in ways ranging from the inconvenient to the downright infuriating. Also, it didn’t affect our travels at all, but we once saw TSA catch someone trying to bring a gallon-size bag of gravy in their carry on.

The fact is that Montgomery is going to need a good (and functional) airport to grow. At the very least, the airport is going to have to keep up with our city’s tourism boom if that flow of visitors is going to last. Our airport can stretch its aspirations a bit as it begins to look more like other comparable airports (Pensacola, for example).

All of which is a long preface to say that we were interested when the Advertiser reported a few months ago that management had changed at our little airport. We were intrigued, and asked to chat with the new airport executive director – Marshall J. Taggart, Jr.

We found him and his staff to be very receptive and open. Taggart’s brimming with ideas. We only talked for 45 minutes or so, but in that time he probably suggested twenty specific airport improvements, and we didn’t hear one that sounded bad. These included:

  • An airport loyalty program, where flyers could earn points based on their usage of various airport services (parking, flights, coffee, etc.). Obviously, we’d use this since we fly a lot.
  • Covered parking with solar panels providing the shade and a reduction in the airport’s utility bills, part of a shift to clean energy site-wide;
  • Adding a major cargo operation, shifting Hyundai cargo that now goes into ATL and put onto trucks;
  • Working with ALDOT to improve signage into & around the airport;
  • An airport chapel for those who want a quiet space for reflection;
  • Revamping the rental car infrastructure, including a stacked rental car deck and a “quick turn around” facility;
  • A spectator area/park for watching planes take off and land, maybe with sponsored bricks and connecting to an on-site hotel;
  • Bigger aircraft coming into and out of the airport;
  • A “runway to 5K” race on the airfield;
  • Working with local churches, universities and small/medium sized businesses to make sure they feel good about the airport as a viable option. Those large groups that travel represent a very important consumer base.
  • A same-day round-trip DCA flight. This would be capital to capital, says Taggart, so people can “spend the day, save the night.” This would have special appeal to the lobbyist and corporate executive class that frequently needs to go to D.C. Other possible direct flights could service Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, or perhaps Miami.

All of these ideas may not come into being. But even a handful of them would be awesome. We are likely to see a series of positive headlines coming out of the airports ongoing upgrades and infrastructure improvements.

Some of the growth for our airport depends on how much people value their time at home. Instead of spending an additional night in a hotel in some other city, you can fly back into MGM and be at home on the couch watching television with a cold drink. That has immense value to us, and hopefully to other similarly situated travelers. Overall, we were impressed with Taggart’s vision and energy, and our expectations were exceeded. We’re really hopeful that his vision of a growing and green community airport will materialize here.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, fifteen fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Joan Brinsfield says:

    Sandra that was Excellent!!!!!

  2. CD in DC says:

    think maybe you’re overthinking this? At least you can fly out of Montgomery to various places, used to be just ATL.

    • admin says:

      This is a great comment. It’s really helpful to know that “it used to just be ATL.” In fact, before that, there wasn’t such a thing as airports. Very good reminder that by talking about the airport, we are probably “overthinking” things.

  3. John Pollock says:

    As a frequent flyer out of MGM, I echo the hope that some of these changes occur (esp. the loyalty program and covered parking). While it used to be true that the differential in cost between MGM and ATL (or BHM) didn’t justify the drive, that’s starting to not become true, as some of my flights are now twice as expensive out of MGM. For reasons I’ve never figured out, flying up to the East Coast (which I often have to do) is often as expensive, or more expensive, than flying across the country. The added DC flight by AA was nice, but not those of us who have stuck with Delta (for the reason that our experiences with AA have been pretty dreadful).

    I do really like the MGM airport, though. The staff are friendly, the kid’s playground can’t be beat (amazingly, ATL has *no* playground or kid options of any kind), and you can get there 45 min before your flight and be totally fine.

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