Connecting Point A to Point B

True, Washington Reagan, Chicago O'Hare, Atlanta Jackson-Hartsfield and San Francisco International have already extended local light rail service to or adjacent to their terminals and others are working on similar connections. Newark International, for one, can carry you on its terminal-hopping monorail to a real, live Amtrak station a mile away.

But the average design of the American airport pays homage only to the idea that an airport is a stand-alone facility, devoid of rail and bus terminals, and dedicated to the proposition that all journeys begin and end here. And, quite simply, we've got to change that thinking -- if not for ourselves, then for the survival of our airline system.

With the airline industry in a massive catharsis of redefinition, the basic American concept of an airport should be replaced by the multi-modal concept of creating transportation centers designed to facilitate, not originate our essentially multi-modal journeys. That means an institutional recognition that an airport is merely a structure through which we pass on our trip to our ultimate destination, and as such it should be built to serve that purpose!

In other words, we need convenient driveways through the terminal, not a light year from it. We need train stations in the basement and bus stations in the same location. We need rental car pickups in the terminals, not a half-state away (or at least rental car facilities that are connected by smooth and fast rail). We need van services that don't require a 50-mile hike to reach, and we need an ethos among airport managers and boards of convenience for the traveler, not convenience of the airlines, as the primary credo.

Second, we need to treat the van or car and even cab services that pick us up or deliver us to our doorsteps as full partners with even the largest airline, instead of regarding them as barely tolerated parasites -- which is too often the treatment they receive today nationwide. Bags, for instance, should eventually be checked at your doorstep and retrieved at your hotel.

It's our system, but as of now it's fragmented and chaotic as a result of disjointed and uncoordinated thinking during a half century of aviation development. Now, however -- as we redefine what an airline is -- it's time to focus on what our airport facilities are really there to do: serve us.

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