Long Beach Airport Goes Modern
From Issue: Volume XX - Number 22
By Steve Propes
Every major and almost major city has at least one, and most smaller population centers also have one close by, but according to Long Beach Airport Director Mario Rodriguez, not all airports come close to being local assets. In the case of the Long Beach Airport, Rodriguez enthusiastically asserts that the nearly completed airport remodel will be appreciated by travelers and the local community.
Referring to the local community, Rodriguez stated, “This airport is strictly a design for us and for the Long Beach Airport.” In describing what makes an airport community-friendly, Rodriguez gave examples of airports that work well and some that don’t – LAX at the top of that list – and the reason JetBlue wasn’t a partner with the airport in the remodel.
“The Pittsburgh Airport was the first airport mall,” designed as a U.S. Air hub. “When U.S. Air de-hubbed, the Pittsburgh Airport almost defaulted. If things are catered to one airline, and if that airline moves out, you’re stuck with things that are unusable.”
That’s a major consideration as the Long Beach Airport Modernization Project costs “$45 million with 85 percent from the FAA Build America Bond, fifteen percent general revenue,” according to an airport spokesperson.
JetBlue spokesman Mateo Lleras claimed the airline was involved, however was less than specific. “As the largest carrier in Long Beach, the airport invited us to participate in the process. We provided significant feedback and suggestions, which we believe contributed greatly to the end product. Our great relationship with both the Long Beach Airport Authorities and all the participants in the process was highly conducive to a collaborative and efficient effort.”
“They hired me not to let this place go sideways,” asserted Rodriguez, whose airport experience includes New Orleans, Palm Beach, Kuwait, Hong Kong and airports in South America and Central America.
However, that does not mean the remodel process performed flawlessly. “We lost the original contractor, he went bankrupt,” said Rodriguez. “Our surety people brought another contractor,” who is keeping to the schedule. In fact, Rodriguez hopes the original May 2013 completion date will be shortened by more than a few months. “The official opening is sometime next year. We’re pushing for a Christmas present for Long Beach. If it opens that soon, that means the remodel would be completed within a year.”
“Our contract team is working to make that happen, but it depends on flawless scheduling. Think of it as an assembly line, instead of moving the building through a remodel, we move the product and workers and our people through the assembly line.”
At the moment, the JetBlue waiting room is crowded and lacking most amenities, including enough seats on occasion. The restrooms are crowded and hardly sufficient. But most problematic are the locations of departing and arriving aircraft, which are a relatively long walk around large slabs of plywood which separate passengers and workers from the ongoing construction.
Rodriguez stated on the other side of the plywood, “you would see most of the glassed-in buildings, completed concessions with feverish work being done on the security checkpoints.”
Despite the physical limitations and moderate lines, the current TSA checkpoints are fairly efficient, with at most a 15-minute window between showing ID to passengers putting their shoes back on.
Shopping and dining at the upcoming airport concessionaires will be a condensed version of shopping and dining in Long Beach with McKenna’s on the Fly, a variation of McKenna’s on the Bay, George’s Greek Cafe, Taco Beach, 4th Street Vine, a wine bar, the Long Beach Clothing Co., which will be called 562 Experience, Sweet Jills, Polly’s Coffee and Joe Josts.
“The CNBC shop will be the only the only non-Long Beach vendor.” said Rodriguez. The master concessionaire, Parity Shops, will be employing about 120 workers. “We made it clear to make the vendors as local as possible.”
Rodriguez was less than effusive about the current second floor tenant and the ground floor bar operated by the British-owned SSP America. “The restaurant lease will be put out in a couple more years. We’re trying to get something local, something that’s not airport, but community related. We’d like to change it so diners can watch the airlines from the second floor balcony.”
As 18,000 direct jobs are part of the impact, Rodriguez outlined the possible non-modernization outcome. “One of the risks Long Beach faced was losing JetBlue. This airport ties us to the rest of the world and it’s an important factor in this community.”
JetBlue customer service includes pilots who will carry passenger luggage down the steps on the outer arrival spaces. That’s the helpful local spirit permeating the offerings at Long Beach Airport. “The average TSA wait is seven minutes,” said Rodriguez. “That takes the stress out of travel.”