When we moved to Montgomery and evinced a desire to fly out of the local airport, people looked at us as if we’d declared that we were planning to build our own airplanes and launch them out of our backyard.
We travel quite a bit, certainly more often than most people we know. And we don’t love the idea of making a trip before taking a trip. We live in a modern major industrialized city. Why would we need to drive to Birmingham or Atlanta, building in higher parking and gasoline costs?
This was actually an issue since in the US we like to fly Southwest if possible and Southwest (along with pretty much every other major airline) doesn’t fly out of Montgomery. The only carriers as of this writing are “Delta Connection,” “U.S. Airways Express,” and “American Eagle.” Not exactly premium airline options.
Still, we were determined to make it work out of Montgomery Regional Airport. Sure, the tickets might cost a bit more than the fares out of nearby bigger cities. But when you’re billing your tickets to an employer, a little extra cost in the name of convenience is possibly OK. (Be sure to watch this hilarious commercial for the airport, touting “little, if any, price difference”). And again, when you factor in the cost of driving somewhere, parking, etc., the cost isn’t all that much more to use the local airport. (And if you’re a single car household like us, the drive to Birmingham or Atlanta is particularly destabilizing).
So if cost is essentially a push, why do many locals treat the airport like a quaint embarrassment instead of a bastion of civic pride? Especially in a city with a fabled connection to the very origins of human flight, you’d think that we’d have a gleaming entry and departure point for the members of the military flying in for time at Maxwell, people coming in to do business with the state government, and plain old regular humans that live anywhere within several surrounding counties that would like to get out there and see some of the wider world.
Part of what people object to is the amateurish nature of the airport. The average outgoing Montgomery traveler is, well, somewhat less than seasoned. This can be a bit frustrating at times, as when you are going through security and the guy in full-on Rodeo King outfit doesn’t seem to grasp that his dinner plate-sized belt buckle is likely to set off the metal detector. His anger at being forced to take it off is less charming than the bewilderment of the woman who is told that she can’t take her packet of pre-mixed gravy onto the flight.
And that sort of thing is pretty much common any time you fly out of MGM. You’ve got a bunch of people who are more likely than at other airports to be on their first ever airplane flight. And of those who have flown before, many of them did it last before 2001 when, as we know, Everything Changed™.
But the non-professional feel isn’t limited to the passengers. On a recent trip, people sitting at our gate were puzzled to have a uniformed police officer telling us that such-and-such flight was actually boarding out of a different gate.
And then there’s the Sean Hannity Giftshop, a.k.a. Montgomery Muggs coffee shop. It’s not only the sole source of coffee, it’s laced with a bunch of Iraq war jet pictures, a creepy little bookshelf containing books by Sarah Palin, and flags touting overseas military successes over countries we have not yet properly pacified. It’s really weird. You feel bad about giving your money to this churchy “country craft” themed excuse for a warmongering coffee shop, but, again, they control the only source of coffee in the airport and you’re on the 6 a.m. flight out of Montgomery.
Mostly our little airport stays out of the news, unless they’re getting some kind of new screening equipment, at which point the paper will go snap a picture of some security guard with a suitcase scanning machine. And the “novice traveler” thing can be charming if you’re not in a rush and can take a step back and appreciate humanity for what it is.
Who runs the airport? Great question! Click here. Phil B. Perry is currently in charge. But Chester Mallory is president of the board. Do they get along? Unclear. The Montgomery Regional Airport Authority holds regular meetings that are supposed to be open to the public, but we’ve never been. We’d like to go. According to Cosby Woodruff, who does go to such meetings for the Montgomery Advertiser:
In the past three years, only one issue has come before the board for a final vote that was not unanimous. Every other issue that is the least bit controversial has been tabled or sent back to committee for more work.
According to Woodruff’s reporting, money is tight at the airport and improvements made by issuing a bond require keeping reserves at a certain level. And employees already took a pay cut last year.
That’s too bad, given our history. Montgomery’s first commercial air services took place at Maxwell Field, a military field founded by the Wright Brothers in west Montgomery in 1910. The original municipal airport was opened in east Montgomery in 1929. Gunter Field, as it came to be known, was served by a predecessor of American Airlines, and later by Eastern Air Lines, before it was chosen in 1940 as the site of a new military pilot training facility.
Congestion at Gunter Field led the city to purchase land on U.S. 80 to serve as a new commercial site. The city entered into an agreement with the USAAF for this same site to serve as an auxiliary field for Gunter. Dannelly Field (named for Montgomery’s first World War II casualty, Navy pilot Clarence Moore Dannelly, Jr.) opened in 1943.
The city of Montgomery took over Dannelly field, now known as Montgomery Regional Airport, in 1946 when air service began. In 1972, The Alabama Legislature passed legislation to create the Montgomery Airport Authority as a new self–sustaining public corporation governed by a nine member board (appointed by each member of the Montgomery City Council). The daily operations and staff of the Montgomery Airport Authority are managed by the Executive Director and Deputy Director.
Montgomery Regional Airport recently completed a multi-year terminal upgrade, expanding the main terminal and adding new gates and facilities. These are good upgrades. There’s a cool exhibit devoted to the awesome Christmas Day college football all-star game that Montgomery somehow stupidly bumbled and lost. There are awesome rocking chairs all over the place that can be dragged over near plugs. Always try to get one of these if you can. There’s now some semi-covered parking.
So yes. We’re talking about the entire airport having one single metal detector. And before you think, “Cool, I’m sure security is a lot more laid back and less obnoxious than the airports where the TSA assholes think they are Batman,” nope, it’s not cool at all because in addition to there only being one single entry point through security for all of the gates, the Montgomery TSA folks are only slightly more experienced with the process than the folks who’ve never been on an airplane before.
And, yes. We’re talking about the entire airport having one single bag carousel. And before you think, “Cool, at least there’ll be no confusion about which carousel to go to,” nope, it’s not cool at all. Because for whatever reason — lack of staffing, confusing machines — it takes 30 minutes from the time your flight lands for the suitcases to make it from the plane to the SINGLE bar carousel, whether or not there are other flights landing simultaneously or not. Seriously, this is one of the most annoying things about the airport.
And there are other advantages to the place being tiny and hyper-local.
Well, like, um, …. At least it hasn’t been named after anyone yet.