Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Small Town Airport With A Large Heart

GTR Airport Posted by Picasa
"Go through your phone book, call people and ask them to drive you to the airport. The ones who will drive you are your true friends. The rest aren't bad people; they're just acquaintances." ~ Jay Leno
This is the Golden Triangle Regional Airport. Halfway between Columbus and Starkville, Mississippi, it's not what you would call a major airport, in fact when we moved there the terminal was in the process of being renovated and enlarged.

When Nyssa was seven we were to fly American Airlines Airlink to Nashville and then a connection to Chicago where my brother was performing in "Phantom of the Opera". This was one of the few times we had someone drive us to the airport. Our ride was late. On top of this, I was used to the Delta ASA schedule and our usual flight out was 20 minutes later than the American flight. I was nervous and as we drove up to the front of the terminal, I saw our plane leaving, starting to taxi. We ran in with the luggage and begged them to at least ask the pilot to wait. A few minutes later the ticket agent came back and said, "The pilot is bringing the plane back for you." As we got on the flight (only about ten seats) we profusely thanked the attendant and the pilot. Never in a million years would a plane at a larger airport come back for stupid passengers.

Service in a small airport is remarkable, because it is just that,small. The same ticket agent for Delta ASA worked there the entire fifteen years we lived in Columbus. The agents check the bags in, load the luggage on and off of the planes and act as the gate announcers as well. His name was David. Nyssa was three when we started flying with them. A few years later his little girl took ballet with the same teacher, so we saw each other at recitals. At the start of one trip, after checking in the luggage and as I parked the car in the lot out front, Dave ran out of the terminal to tell me our plane was going to be at least an hour late so if we needed to go back in to town we had time. He also knew this would make us miss our connecting flight. When I got back in to the terminal, he had already booked us on the next available connection to our destination and had the boarding passes printed. We called my folks with the new arrival time and missed all the angst of messed up flights. He took special care of Nyssa on her first flight by herself to Dallas, handing her off to the stewardess himself. My last flight out was in 2003 and Dave couldn't believe Nyssa was seventeen and visiting colleges. He still remembered her long curls, her teddy and her brightly colored carry on bag, just her size.

Of course there have been changes over the years. Only ASA and Northwest Airlink fly in there now. The schedule of flights between Atlanta and Columbus have been cut back and the turboprop planes replaced with small jets holding about 25 people. And 9/11 brought other changes; new search procedures for luggage and passengers. No longer would a plane be brought back to the terminal for a late passenger, in fact check-in is closed thirty minutes before a flight leaves.

Another change was the presence of security. After 9/11 army reservemen were assigned to patrol the airport terminal. Nyssa flew to Dallas that Thanksgiving to see her dad. It was a shock to see the armed military in camouflage uniforms, combat boots and berets, some with machine guns. We were sitting, waiting for her flight to be called when one of the military officers walked up to Nyssa and said, "Nyssa, where are you going young lady? Aren't you supposed to be in school tomorrow?" She snapped to attention, her mouth fell open and she had the most puzzled look on her face. "Uh, I had to leave a day do you know my name?" I didn't say anything but was thinking the same thing. Then I saw his name tag and smiled. He was her friend Brooke's father; she just didn't recognize him in uniform. He had a laugh and she relaxed. I'm not sure how the other passengers felt but I felt better. There was something comforting about knowing the people handling your luggage and patrolling the terminal.

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