Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Review of the New Indianapolis International Airport: A Barely Passing Grade

Over the holidays, I have had to experience the new Indianapolis International Airport. Here are my observations.

My first observation is that it takes a lot longer to get to the Airport. The Airport used to be within minutes of I-465. Now you have to take I-70 west well past I-465 before you exit to the airport. But unlike before the airport is not right at the exit. You have to take a winding road through open fields for what seems like a couple miles before you can get to parking. I can only assume the wide open spaces are for some sort of expansion.

I pulled into the economy lot to park and then walked to a bus shelter to await the shuttle. The shelters are much more enclosed than before and you can turn on a heater at the top of the structure during a cold weather. A nice touch. Unfortunately, there is about a foot gap from the bottom of the shelter and the ground, allowing the cold outside air to flow into shelter thus offsetting the efforts of the heater to warm the structure.

I probably waited 15 minutes for a shuttle to arrive, longer than I ever waited at the old airport. After picking me up, the shuttle made several more stops until the bus was packed with so many passengers that people could not sit down. Our driver even had to leave passengers behind because there was no more room.

While before the shuttle driver asked which airline you were flying with and he or she dropped you off near that airline's ticket counter, now the shuttles just make one stop in the middle and drops off everyone. Fortunately, my walk was not far.

Check in went fairly smoothly (I flew Southwest), though, unlike at the old airport I had to wait several minutes before I could even get to a self-service, e-ticket computer terminal to get my boarding pass. Because I did not have checked luggage, I did got away quicker from the counter than a lot of other people.

I turned from the ticketing counter to look for Concourse B. I looked everywhere. Not a sign in sight. Finally, I had to walk over to an information counter to ask for directions to Concourse B. She pointed to the food court area. I looked in the direction she was pointing and still saw no signs for Concourse B. Finally the crowd of people walking through the food court parted enough for me to see this monument-type structure which had a sign at eye-level that Concourse B was through the food court and off to the left. There was no overhead sign for Concourse B.

I still had trouble finding the screening area for passengers. Finally a helpful TSA agent pointed me to an area where there was a line of passengers who were making their way through a maze to the machine screening luggage. Again, the wait for screening was longer than I have ever experienced at the Airport, probably 15 minutes, not a horrible wait, but disconcerting if you are pressed for time as I had now become.

Of course, my carry-on luggage was selected out for a special search as usually happens at the airport. Finally, I made my way out of the screening area and began looking for Gate B-4. Again, the signage was extremely poor. The few overhead signs were difficult to read and confusing. I took a right to join several people heading toward the Southwest Airline gates. Or so I thought. I walked right out of a "secure" area to an "unsecure" area. There was not a sign in sight to warn that I was leaving a secure area. I realized my mistake as soon as I approached a TSA agent directing people. He rudely told me that I could not turn around (even though he had seen where I had come from) and that I would have to go through screening again. Oh, well.

This time I got in a shorter screening line. As I was two deep in line, I heard the last call for my flight. The passenger ahead of me allowed me to go in front of him. But again my luggage was selected out for special screening. Also, they decided to do a special test on my shoes as well. I pointed out that I had already gone through this once (in fact my boarding pass had been previously marked when I went through screening.) I did not protest too much though. You can't protest too much at airports lest they lock you up. The agents were polite and seemed to really speed up what they were doing to get my through security, which I greatly appreciated. Pretty soon I was on my way to the gate and was the second to last passenger to board the flight. Being Southwest Airlines, and not having assigned seats, I ended up next to a large man whose size spilled over into my narrow seat. At least it was an aisle seat though.

During the last trip through security, I talked to a TSA agent about the airport. He said the No. #1 complaint about at the new airport is the poor signage at the facility. He said that the designers of the airport placed a premium on aesthetics, and did not want to hurt the "look" of the facility with the signage you see in other airports. Indeed, I have been to numerous airports in the country and the new Indianapolis Airport far and away has the worst signage of any airport I have ever been to. While it is a beautiful facility, shouldn't the No. 1 priority been making an airport that is easy for passengers to use? For passengers who use that facility on a regular basis, a lack of signage will not be a problem. But for passengers new to the airport, the lack of signage creates a big problem.

In short, budget for substantially more time when going to the new airport. If you haven't been there before, expect to ask for directions, maybe more than once. If you can, arrive an hour or so earlier than normal just to walk around and look at the facility. While the facility ranks very low as far as being user-friendly (unlike Indy's previous airport), it is beautiful. There are also a number of interesting retail establishments at the facility which I would have liked to have the time to visit. Hopefully, the operators of the airport though will make changes to make it easier for people to use. A good place would be to install better signage.


The Urbanophile said...

One of the challenges in finding the security line is that the airport has effectively violated what interaction designers would term an "affordance" of airports. Typically, once you pass the checking counters, the only way to proceed further into the terminal is via the security checkpoint. Thus we are trained to expect that, just as we are trained (in the US at least) that the light switch is up to get turned on and down to get turned off.

However, at IND, first the checkin bays are aligned vertically instead of horizontally, more in line with European, not US airports. What's more, once you pass through checkin, you arrive at the Civic Plaza, a feature basically not found in any other airport. Someone expecting to immediately find a funnel into a security line might be taken aback.

Whether this is worth it or not depends on future trends in airport design and security requirements. I consider it an innovative approach, but it remains to be seen if it will be adopted elsewhere.

By the way, I'm told there were supposed to be gigantic "A" and "B" letters over the concourse entry ways, but these were eliminated for some reason. Perhaps they should be added back in?

Paul K. Ogden said...

There were definitely not gigantic "A" and "B" signs over the concourse entry way, unless they were located right at the entrence way and I simply missed them. Even then the problem would be that there needs to be signs BEFORE you get to the entry way to tell you which way to go. I am positive those do not exist. I looked everywhere for them.

Anonymous said...

Just think, if you get yourself a habit for massage parlors and ladies who rent themselves, you, too, can head an airport and draw a couple hundred grand of taxpayer dollars.

Patriot Paul said...

The bizarre thing for me was upon returning, I had to walk through the entire center food court and found an escalater with a sign nearby for baggage pickup downstairs. Odd.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Patriot Paul,

I noticed on my return they had put up some additional signs in the food court pointing people to the baggage area. I think the complaints about the lack of signage are getting through.

Even the permanent overhead signs are confusing. The airplane taking off on the signs looks sort of looks like an arrow pointing you to the right...until you look closely.

The blue signs are hard to read. Also, there is often a blue sign with an arrow on it and underneath it a yellow sign without an arrow. It is not at all clear that if you're going in the direction of what is on theyellow sign that you're supposed to follow the directional arrow on the blue sign above it. They look like separate signs.

The biggest problem is a lack of signage, period. And steering people through the food court to get to their flights, that's weird.

On the good side, I found it much easier to get ouf of the airport than before. You had a major traffic congestion problem with the winding roads at the old airport.

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