The Trains at our Airports


So, yesterday’s episode of the Doctor Who revival was Gridlock. Comments are still open on my review post and one person has already come in to offer his thoughts. Did you like it or hate it? Come join the discussion.

I’m writing this in Concourse C of Minneapolis’ airport, on the way back home to Toronto. And I’m sorry if I’m stating the patently obvious, but airline passengers are a captive audience, and boy do the airports know it. What other explanation is there for why a bottle of Coca Cola which sells for $1.25 normally gets sold in an airport concession stand for $2.50. Even that doesn’t take the cake. What does is a visit to Milwaukee’s airport, where a pair of diaper wipes (as in, two individual diaper wipes) were sold for $1.25. If I recall, a package of sixty was on sale at an Omaha Walgreens recently for $3.99.

Now I don’t object too strenuously to the $2.50 bottle of pop. Maybe I’m just used to the exorbitant price of food in airports, but $0.625 for a single diaper wipe is officially highway robbery. Because, imagine the situations where you might need a diaper wipe. Now imagine yourself a new parent and imagine again the situations where you might need a diaper wipe. $0.625 for a diaper wipe is pure extortion.

One thing we have noticed in the airports we’ve visited, recently, is the addition of a number of airport trams. Where moving sidewalks aren’t enough to cut down the long walks within the various concourses, airports like Detroit and Minneapolis have installed these automatic trains. It used to be that only the larger airports like Chicago’s O’Hare used these to ferry passengers between terminals and reduced rate parking, but some American airports seem to believe that Americans’ tolerance for walking has diminished over the past few years. Perhaps it has. But as a diehard railfan, it’s still fun to see these little trams zipping about, and Vivian and I have just ridden these recreationally.

Toronto opened one to considerable fanfare, touting their AirRail link or whatever it’s called between Terminal 1, Terminal 3 and their reduced rate parking lot as “state of the art”. It’s essentially a cable car. Exactly the same technology as seen in San Francisco for the past century or more. And it looks almost impossible to expand, since each train has to run on its own dedicated track (Minneapolis at least managed to get two trains to pass each other on a single track).

Over and above all this, it’s not particularly smooth (I’ve heard other railfans liken its ride to that of a roller coaster), but I admit that I make use of it regularly, because of the connection it offers between the terminals and the reduced rate parking lot. It saves me having to cross several busy streets and access roads, which is genuinely useful. I’m not sure how I feel about the trams in Detroit and Minneapolis taking passengers from one part of Concourse C to… another part of Concourse C. Either passengers are no longer able to walk far enough, thus exacerbating this continent’s obesity epidemic, or these airport buildings are just getting too large.

It’s 7:46 local time, now; about an hour after we were supposed to depart from the gate. We’re grounded due to mechanical problems and are back at the gate waiting for an announcement of successful repairs, or an alternate airplane. It’s going to be a long night.

(Update: 2:03 a.m. the next morning): They called us back into the plane soon after I wrote that. Then taxied out onto the runway, and then taxied back to the gate to pick up some paperwork somebody in the flight crew had missed. We were wheels up at around 8:15. Didn’t get home until 1:30, and Vivian has only now just conked out for the night. It’s good to be home, and Gus is glad to see us.

The delay did allow us to fly over a squall line of thunderstorms in the late twilight, which was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen. How many of you have looked down on lightning crackling over the tops of clouds?

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