Mark Washburn

Escaping our airport, a costly shortcut

A United jet on approach to Charlotte.
A United jet on approach to Charlotte. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

I completely understand.

When I’m in a hurry to get to scenic Aiken, S.C., oxen and wain-ropes can’t keep me away.

David Samson had a second house in Aiken and he liked to go there on weekends. Samson was the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which keeps things running smoothly on bridges, tunnels and airports serving the great metro.

Regrettably, Samson got snared in a scandal up there that involved blocking lanes to the George Washington Bridge, an apparent effort to create traffic jams.

When you hear about something like this, you realize how different Northerners are, bless their hearts.

This wouldn’t raise an eyebrow here. In fact, we’re spending millions on a scheme to deliberately clog I-77 for the next 50 years.

One day Sampson innocently mentioned to executives of United Airlines – which was in line for improvements at the Newark airport worth gazillions of dollars from the Port Authority – that it was a tad irritating to have to connect in Charlotte on his flights to Columbia (city motto: “Gateway to Aiken”).

Pure of heart, United executives looked into this and found, to their astonishment, there were no direct flights from Newark to Columbia. They addressed this ghastly oversight at once, connecting the two cities with jetliner service on Thursdays and Mondays, coincidentally the very days Sampson liked to transit.

If you call the United Nations High Commission on Humanitarian Gestures and ask “what’s up,” they’ll probably mention this accommodation to Samson. Everyone knows an hour layover in Charlotte is like spending 60 minutes in a village enchanted by an evil sorcerer.

Our concourses, built in the classic architecture style of Soviet Warehouse Cubism, are crammed with business travelers staggering into you, their noses welded to their phones.

A kindly, disembodied voice chants unceasingly about the menace of accepting packages from strangers and the certainty of unattended vehicles getting towed.

Rocking chairs creak contentedly in the main terminal, occupied by retirees who apparently live in secret airport chambers. Some covert signal summons them to dodder in front of you as you dash for a flight.

It’s a place where timing is everything, yet there hang no clocks. Like supplicants entering a holy temple, travelers may be admitted only in stocking feet. They are under constant suspicion.

This story ends badly. Sampson was sacked after irregularities, including the mercy flight, were uncovered.

Days later, United canceled the route after discovering it attracted few passengers. Samson’s path to paradise once again leads through Charlotte.

We feel your pain, Mr. Samson, and even more.

You merely found your popularity with United was only an illusion. We live with the empty-space mirages of Long Term Lot 1.

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