During a triumphant ribbon-cutting at the new $1.3 billion terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Aviation Board Chairman Michael Bagneris said that “there’s no such thing as a second chance to make a first impression.”
While the terminal’s airy, open design and vastly upgraded concessions have won glowing reviews, first impressions of operations at the new facility have been decidedly mixed. And with the big Thanksgiving travel rush looming, time is of the essence to get things on track.
Some passengers reported smooth sailing during the terminal’s first week, but others have gotten stuck in huge lines at the new central TSA checkpoint. Sunday, when complaints from frustrated travelers spread through social media and news accounts, the agency said the longest wait was 45 minutes, but some travelers said they were stuck as long as two hours.
Another trouble spot, at least intermittently, is the ride-share pickup area, where long lines have blocked entrances and crosswalks. Then there’s the baggage system, which has seen software and mechanical issues and caused some outgoing travelers to arrive at their destinations without luggage. Representatives of the contractor in charge of the system are on site and working on solutions, airport officials have said.
Unfortunately, they haven’t said much else, which has only added to the anxiety of travelers preparing to embark or arrive at what’s a stressful time of year under the best of circumstances. Airport officials are urging patience but not offering detailed information.
“Like any new structure, particularly one that costs over a billion dollars, you’re going to have some kinks,” Bagneris said. “That’s to be expected. We just constantly tell the public that we’re very much aware of what snafus exist and we’re addressing them.”
That would be easier to swallow if officials were providing regular updates on what’s going wrong, what’s being done to fix the problems and when conditions should improve.
Ahead of the terminal’s opening, the biggest concern was over vehicle access from Interstate 10 via Loyola Drive. With a planned flyover ramp still several years away, the state Department of Transportation and Development has been working to minimize delays along surface roads. To its credit, DOTD has been keeping close tabs on traffic since the airport opened, making quick adjustments where it can and announcing those changes.
The airport’s administration should be more transparent as well. It took a step Thursday afternoon by sending out a status report with some information on changes, but more detailed and more frequent — preferably daily — updates would be helpful.
More than a million passengers pass through MSY in an average month. That includes locals who need help figuring out the best options for getting in and out of the airport. And it includes the visitors who drive New Orleans’ tourist economy, and who deserve the sort of hospitable welcome and hassle-free send-off that’ll encourage them to return. As Bagneris suggested before opening day, a whole lot is riding on their traveling experience.