Roy Exum: Gate D-2 In Minneapolis

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I’ve been on a lot of airplanes in my life, as the million-miler badge from Delta on my battered satchel will attest, and that means I have been in a lot of airports. But when I had a lay-over in Minneapolis several weeks ago, I got to see the future and, I am here to tell you, there is the most eye-opening experience a frequent flier will ever witness at Gate D-2 in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.

I was reminded of my adventure of finding an oasis in the teeming desert of endless corridors and worn-out waiting rooms when it was announced this week that the Chattanooga Airport Authority is saying a bitter goodbye to the company that has operated the restaurant and concessions business at Lovell Field. Air Host, a Memphis based company that has become a huge disappointment, will be gone by the end of September and will be replaced by Tailwind Concessions.

To buy out the Air Host contract will cost the Airport Authority almost a half-million dollars but the Tailwind group, based in Wilmington, N.C., promises to pay back the buyout with increased sales. We hope this will mean (much) better food, beverages, newspapers and magazines, along with other services that airports in all but Third World countries routinely deliver.

True, the Chattanooga airport lost its sparkle several years ago and parking is a huge mess. Most of the time it resembles a ghost town but not long ago I found it was cheaper to fly from Chattanooga to Minnesota than from Atlanta or Nashville. It was a wonderful experience with far less hassle and the airplane was packed, lending credence that other travelers are also discovering the better pricing from Lovell Field.

On the way back home, the Delta flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta originated from the most unbelievable waiting area I have ever seen. You enter the main gate area through what appears to be a beautiful bazaar of food, beverages and anything a traveler could possibly want. There are huge, well-kept hot and cold food tables where you serve yourself in containers in a way similar to Whole Foods. You dish up whatever you want – the big Styrofoam container is weighed at $9.99 a pound if memory serves me right – and the selections are astounding.

There is regular yogurt, Greek yogurt, and mounds of fresh fruit. Along one wall are all kinds of gourmet coffees, a cooler with every bottle of preppy iced-tea and fruit drinks that are hard to pronounce, and 18 or so varieties of water. That’s right, just water. The whole concept is so upscale, fresh, and high tech it is invigorating There are made-to-order gourmet sandwiches, creative salads and packages of hard-boiled eggs, fresh grapes, and things you have never seen outside a grocery store.

Forget TSA inspectors making you pour out any liquids. This is at the gate, far from where you take off your shoes, and with airlines now charging for food and drink, you can load your satchel with everything from peanut M&Ms to two cold bottles of Gatorade. I’m telling you, it is fantastic, but the real kicker is when you arrive at the ticket counter itself.

They had very few of the old side-by-side row seats. Instead there was this huge restaurant-type seating area and at each seat was a fixed iPad. There was room for food or a newspaper but the iPad offered free personal Internet to each person in the waiting area. It flashed a menu from the restaurant next door with the promise whatever you ordered would be delivered within 15 minutes or be absolutely free. You could check your email or watch the news or play a game.

I would estimate 70 percent of the passengers were savvy enough to be enthralled rather than sit terribly bored waiting for the flight to be called but, for the record, the flight attendant still gave the laborious speech of how to put on a seat belt. In a car they’ll give you a citation but they still give lessons on our modern jets – go figure.

Yes, it was a little pricey – have you noticed that everything good and fresh and jazzy is today? But it was no more than you would pay at any airport where modern-day highjacking has moved from the cockpit to airport lounges and cafes in recent years. Moreover, it was great fun to be in a throng of waiting-room strangers who all seemed happy and content.

I am the first to recognize that Chattanooga can’t play in the same league as Minneapolis, where over 33 million passengers were seen last year, but as we strive to make the Chattanooga airport sustainable, the waiting area should certainly be more than rows of benches with a counter holding three very-tired muffins and vending machines that offer Diet Coke for $2.50 per pop.

Tailwind Concessions will take over in a temporary way Oct. 1 and a modern, updated build-out will be ready by February of 2014. If they need any ideas, go to Gate D-2 in Minneapolis. It is the future of air travel and evermore a sight to see.

royexum@aol.com


Technology In Education: The Future Is Now

Professional Educators of Tennessee are uncompromising advocates for more effective schools.  Because we now live in a technology-based world, we believe in the smart use of technology in the classroom to facilitate student engagement is no longer optional.   The use of online education and technology can also effectively address the age-old problem of having students ... (click for more)

Randy Fairbanks Will Make Rails To Trails A Priority

If you think the Rails to Trails is important to our community then please, join me in voting for Randy Fairbanks for the County Commission seat in District 1.   Randy is committed to revitalizing this important project and plans to make it a priority if elected.   Jamie LeMay Soddy Daisy (click for more)

Berke Names Fred Fletcher, Of Austin, Tex., New Chattanooga Police Chief

Mayor Andy Berke announced Thursday that Fred Fletcher of Austin, Tex., is his pick for Chattanooga Chief of Police. With 20 years of experience in law enforcement, Mr. Fletcher has served in an executive, command, or supervisory role for 12 years.  As commander in Region III of the Austin Police Department, Mr. Fletcher spearheaded community initiatives including a drug market ... (click for more)

Child, 23 Months, Found Dead In Crib With Fentanyl Patch On Back; Death Ruled Homicide

A 23-month-old Chattanooga boy has been found dead in his crib with a Fentanyl patch on his back. The death of Demarcus Bryant at 7655 Borris Dr. last month was ruled a homicide. An autopsy report says he died from "Fentanyl patch placed by someone else." Chattanooga Police are investigating. No one has yet been charged. The child was found face down in his crib. ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Soccer Remains Undefeated, Clinches 7-A/AA Regular-Season Title

The Signal Mountain boys’ soccer team did more than just spoil Notre Dame’s senior night on Thursday. After Robert Schorr scored off Graham Eschmann’s throw-in in the opening minute, the Eagles went on to preserve their unbeaten record and secure their first-ever District 7-A/AA regular-season title with a 2-0 victory over the Irish. But even the very early lead wasn’t ... (click for more)

Ninth Inning Rally Gives Lookouts 5-4 Win Over Barons

The Lookouts trailed by a run entering the bottom of the ninth  -- headed for their third consecutive loss. Chattanooga rallied for two runs to pull the game out, 5-4.  Details to follow. (click for more)