By Charleston Mercury Staff
Many remember the excitement in 1985 when the “new airport” opened. And although it was finally a somewhat modern facility, some also felt that it undershot the mark. It was much like most of the “one-horse” airports seen around the country: small, drab and barely well-enough equipped to serve the community’s needs at that time. So as the years went by and the Charleston region began to smolder, smoke and eventually catch fire, our airport became perhaps the last symbol of a Charleston reluctant to change to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
After all, we had built a spanking new Convention Center and Coliseum, the envy of any city our size and many larger. Our new highway, I-526, had revolutionized travel around the region just as the Ravenel Bridge later symbolized the dawning of a new day at the threshold of our burgeoning port. And our high tech sector took off, carrying the reputation of Charleston’s “Digital Harbor” around the world, epitomized by the arrival of Boeing, BMW, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and others.
So the will was finally summoned to upgrade what is perhaps the region’s most public building, Charleston International Airport. Besides being an outmoded, somewhat shabby facility, Charleston, as a destination — although attracting more business travelers and visitors than ever before — had become one of the most expensive, difficult-to-access destinations in our country. A four-year, $200 million renovation finally got underway.
Virtually during the entire project, the airport was a shambles; a difficult place in which to work and an unpleasant place of access and egress. Airport personnel, airline employees, rental car staffs — not to mention travelers — everyone was inconvenienced. Even then, however, the airport’s traffic grew until so-called “discount airlines,” Southwest and JetBlue, began service in Charleston, exercising a welcome downward pressure on the price of flights.
With the recent rededication of our virtually brand-new airport, it is clear that Charleston has modernized the facility, yes, but more, has found a way to do so while charmingly capturing the spirit of historic Charleston at the same time. And it goes way beyond the continuous surface flooring, a subtle feature that is actually an important improvement. At last CHS is an airport of a quality high enough to match or exceed our other modern assets. And please note: It’s not just great for visitors; it’s great for “we people” — those who live here, too.
Have you discovered the new Charleston international Airport yet? If you haven’t, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s logical to start with air service. Flights and destinations are far more plentiful than even a few years ago. Air travel is inestimably more convenient and therefore more affordable. There are now direct flights to 21 of the most important destinations around the country — a great boon for business and leisure travelers alike — with more flights undoubtedly on the way. It is now demonstrably and affordably true that business done in person is business done better.
Furthermore, since the push to reorganize the space, streamline passenger entry and add a third baggage carousel, we now have seven airlines servicing Charleston instead of basically three. Since more than one of these is designated “discount airlines,” all of our flights are more price-competitive. Charleston has gone from one of the most expensive destinations to one of the least expensive in the country. And that, of course, benefits Charlestonians and visitors.
One can’t forget how well appointed the new facility is either, particularly with respect to new food and shopping options. Yes there’s Burger King and Dunkin Donuts for those on the go, but restaurants like Caviar and Bananas, Charleston Beer Works, DeSano’s Pizza Bakery and Bar, King Bean Coffee Roasters and Jack Nicklaus’ Golden Bear Grill have now transformed the airport into a palate-pleasing destination itself, giving departing travelers a reason other than TSA to arrive early for flights. And Harley Davidson, Hudson and Eddie Bauer are among the new retail installations.
If you have not yet decided on your next trip outside of Charleston, do yourself a favor and plan to fly somewhere soon. You’ll likely enjoy your trip and your stay. But the bet here is that your time in the new Charleston airport will be a truly enjoyable revelation.