Long-time airport employees ready for a new terminal


Long-time airport employees remember the ‘old terminal.’ Not the one that houses CHS now, though, admittedly it is showing its age. But they remember the original airport across the airfield. They also remember the excitement of moving into the existing building in 1985.

Considered modern and fresh at the time, Charleston International’s terminal was built before luggage was on wheels and before we had to be concerned about security in airports. As part of the Terminal Redevelopment and Improvement Program (TRIP), CHS is getting a dramatic makeover. When complete in late 2015, the airport will have a modern, sophisticated feel and will mirror the charm and grace of the South Carolina Lowcountry. It will look very different than the terminal long-time employees have called home for 29 years.

“I think the airport has aged very well considering the increased traffic, but now it’s outdated and too small,” said Robert Spann, a maintenance supervisor with the Charleston County Aviation Authority. The CCAA owns and operates the airport along with two others in the region. Spann has been with the CCAA since 1985. He arrived eight months after the current terminal opened.

“I will miss the simplicity of the old equipment but I’m looking forward to the new technology that comes with new equipment, oh, and the new curb appeal,” he said.

The $189 million TRIP project will have lots of curb appeal- both airside and landside.

Over the next two years, the airport will build five new gates; modernize its baggage handling systems and install new passenger boarding bridges. Already in place is new ramp space equal to 10 football fields and enough room for overnight parking space of aircraft.

Landside CHS will open a single, multi-lane security screening checkpoint near the airline ticket counters, making it easy for passengers to check in quickly and make their way to their gate.

There also will be a variety of retail stores, newsstands, pubs and restaurants for passengers to enjoy. Like many airports these days most of the concessions will be post-security. And new to CHS – once passengers clear the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, they can eat and shop on either of CHS’s two concourses without having to go through security again.

“I won’t miss having two security screening checkpoints,” said John Frye, who came to Charleston International in 1981 with Piedmont Airlines and now is a gate agent with U.S. Airways. “It will be nice to go through security and then have the option to go to either concourse to shop and eat.”

The brown tile floors (and the clackity clack sound they make when suitcases are rolled over them) will be replaced with terrazzo in cool white and gray tones. The brick walls on the terminal’s fa├žade will be replaced with 16-foot-high glass walls, creating a brighter interior and making it easier for passengers to find their way when they drive up in front of the terminal.

Inside a two-story glass wall will create an expansive view of the airfield for plane spotting that does not currently exist.

“I think the airport will be more inviting, more exciting, more welcoming and more pleasant,” Spann said. “The impression that travelers get when they arrive in Charleston and when leave is important. Their experience with us determines whether they will come back to the Charleston.”

Frye worked at the original airport across from where the current terminal now sits. It too was dark, gloomy and small.

“Back then we had eight flights per day. We were in an old brick building then too,” he said. “I could see the rental car companies from the ticket counter. The gate was 10 steps from the ticket counter. There was no bag carousel. You opened the sliding door and loaded bags into the building directly from the ramp.”

In 1981 Piedmont had eight flights a day. Today, U.S. Airways has 34 flights a day in and out of CHS’ Concourse B, where you can find Frye.

“The new terminal is going to be nice,” he said. “I’m looking forward to updated information systems, better Wi-Fi and a bigger space overall.”

Maxine Hamilton’s first and only job has been with the Charleston County Aviation Authority. Marking 30 years in 2013, Hamilton started as a parking attendant in Ground Transportation when there were just eight employees, one parking lot, a single checkout booth and people were allowed to park in front of the terminal. Today, Ground Transportation has 28 employees, six checkout booths and multiple parking lots - from a cell phone waiting area to a three-story parking deck. And no one can park in front of the airport terminal anymore.

“A lot has changed. A lot is about to change too. I’m looking forward to it,” said Hamilton who is now assistant manager of Ground Transportation.

Born and raised in the Lowcountry, Hamilton has raised her family of six children in the shadow of the airport. Two of her sons work here too. She has seen the airport grow to nearly 3 million passengers a year.

Hamilton, like most people who work at the airport, says there is one thing she will not miss about the airport.

“I cannot wait for the brown floors and walls to go away,” she said. “It feels so dark and gloomy now. We need life in the new building, and the new building will have lots of life because it is going to be brighter with more natural light. It will feel like a whole new, happy place.”

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