For a city to attract and retain corporations with national and global ties — as well as talented people to work for them — efficient, functional airports that are easily reached will be increasingly important. MSNBC recently listed the 10 easiest airports to reach in the United States (according to airfarewatchdog.com) and they include JFK, Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco International and Boston Logan. The ranking is based on how easy it is to reach the airport via mass public transit — and not other factors like on-time departures, lost luggage incidents, or the time it takes to clear security.
Other types of rankings are important. JD Power has a set, which ranks DFW best for overall satisfaction (and having lived in Fort Worth, I’d agree that DFW is a great airport for getting in and getting out, as well as for changing planes). But don’t try to take transit to or from the place, and cabs have very high fixed rates. Skytrax offers ratings and reviews.
An airport is a gateway to a city. If the airport works, it becomes easy and pleasurable to visit the metropolis for business or pleasure. And when it doesn’t….some may not come back.
My family recently had the experience of arriving at the Denver airport 2.5 hours before our flight — and missing it. Check in lines were an hour long. Security was then another hour. And then we had to navigate the trains and walks from security to the terminal with a toddler and stroller in tow, which meant waiting for elevators. We loved our vacation in Colorado and were otherwise impressed with Denver as a city with a great, downtown and central core area, good restaurants and lots to do. But based on that airport experience, we won’t be returning anytime soon. Locals suggested to me that this experience was “business as usual” at Denver International. Unless my experience was an anomaly and the locals were wrong, Denver’s political and business community is going to have to address the deficiencies of this relatively-new airport to continue to grow as a new economy business centre.
The importance of airports as global business hubs is now being recognized globally. In some parts of the world, entire cities or at least fully-functioning suburbs (with office space, industrial buildings, and residential and retail districts) are being built around airports in a phenomenon known as the aerotropolis.
But even without being an aerotropolis, a city’s airport is a first impression — and a last impression. It facilitates face-to-face communication, strikingly important to generating innovation. And airports allow global companies to establish operations in multiple cities and have certain managers and executives move seamlessly between locations.
City halls and business leaders rarely have much control over airport operations — which are typically controlled by independent commissions that report to regional or federal bodies. This may have to change.