St. Louis’ Second Airport; Mid-America
BLV-JAX | Allegiant Air | Economy | June 2016
In the mid-1990s, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport was a bustling hub, thanks to Trans World Airlines. Lambert Airport regularly recorded 20+ million passengers annually up until 2004 when American Airlines cut the majority of its remaining hub operations they inherited from TWA. Now, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport sees a little less than 13 million annual passengers. During Lambert Airport’s days as a major hub, terminal space was scarce and runway congestion was rampant. Local officials looked for a solution to capacity issues and congestion concerns. Projecting Lambert Airport to see nearly 40 million passengers annually by 2015, various state and municipal governments launched projects to relieve Lambert Airport of congestion and capacity restrictions. Missouri officials launched a billion dollar project to construct a fourth runway while Illinois officials broke ground a completely new airport. Unfortunately, neither project would be needed with the airport seeing a massive decrease in passengers over the course of a few years. Though both projects were completed, both projects have been considered a blunder by many taxpayers and government officials.
Illinois airport, Mid-America/St. Louis Airport [BLV], opened in the late 1990s without any commercial flights. The four-gate passenger terminal was expected to be expanded to 85 gates by 2010. Hundreds of flights were expected across the United States, however, those flights would never arrive. It wasn’t until last year that Mid-America Airport finally saw a steady stream of passenger flights, those coming from AllegiantAir who had served the airport in years past. Since I’ve found out about the infamous airport project I’ve always wanted to take a flight out of the now two gate terminal. Flight schedules and routes never worked out. Finally, I had the opportunity to fly out of the airport following AllegiantAir’s new flights from Mid-America Airport to Jacksonville, FL. This is what it’s like to fly out of St. Louis’ second and infamous airport on an ancient AllegiantAir MD-80.
Pre-Flight; Mid-America Airport
I live in a suburb of St. Louis roughly a 20-minute drive from downtown. Lambert-St. Louis International is a 15-minute drive. When booking my flight out of Mid-America Airport it never occurred to me that I would have to complete a 40-minute drive. Throughout the drive, I kept asking myself, “why would anyone want to fly out of this airport”. Mid-America Airport is inconveniently located with regards to the center of the St. Louis’ Metro’s population. Why anyone thought that an airport 40-minutes away from the majority of a region’s population, was a good idea, amazes me.
It had been a few years since I had last passed by Mid-America Airport. Once I reached the airport, I was amazed by how odd the fairly modern terminal looked. The terminal looks to be a mirage in the middle of a soybean field. For miles, there is little civilization and suddenly, you arrive at a modern multi-million dollar terminal with a 10,000-foot long runway. It’s bizarre.
Mid-America Airport has yet to break the 100,000 passenger mark and though, the airport features amenities equal to that of other international airports. For example, passengers passing through the airport have access to MetroLink light-rail service. Other noteworthy amenities include; taxi-stands, rental-car stands, departure boards, TSAPre, quick baggage claim system, customs facilities, and a fairly extensive free parking lot. It should be noted that most of the amenities are either under-utilized or inoperative. The taxi stands are not used. The customs facilities are inoperative. Finally, the rental-car stands are abandoned.
The terminal opened in the late 1990s and was continuously updated up into the late 2010s when Illinois officials began cutting their budget left and right. Still, the terminal is very modern and easily caters to the needs of today’s travelers.
Oddly enough, the inside of the terminal felt how I imagined it would feel to go anywhere in North Korea; it felt quite artificial and in order. I can’t say it enough, the airport hasn’t seen more than a handful of passengers until just last year yet, the airport stayed open day after day. It’s almost like a museum; “the modern airport terminal”.
The terminal was spotless, air conditioned, soft rock played over the intercom, there were airport announcements about TSA restrictions, and there was a fully functioning TSA checkpoint. It wasn’t until I got to the other side of that TSA checkpoint that I started noticing just how little action the airport had seen since it opened its doors in the late 90s.
Only two of the four gates are operational and only one of those two gates consistently sees passenger flights. Boxes and makeshift barricades crudely block off sections of the terminal. Newer flat screen monitors were crudely plastered over the original CRT monitors. Also, to make up for the lack of vendors, Mid-America Airport has contracted a catering group to set-up a concession stand. The concession stand stuck out like a sore thumb and felt like a disgusting dive.
After spending over an hour and a half at the small terminal I was finally ready to head off to Jacksonville. The inbound Allegiant flight was on time and my flight, Allegiant 1231 departed from gate “N1” ten minutes early.
Allegiant 1231; BLV-JAX
Allegiant Air is an ultra low-cost carrier or “ULCC”. ULCCs are known for their bare-bones service, horrendous legroom, huge fees and ultra low fares. I knew that Allegiant was one of these carriers so I wasn’t expecting much in terms of onboard amenities or comfort. The base fare was $59 but, as you will soon discover, Allegiant loves to nickel and dime you to death!
Detailed List of Expenses, Fees:
- $6; Priority Access; [Kinda worth it]
- $23; Legroom+ Seating [Depends on where you sit]
- $13; Carry-on bag
I don’t want to outright recommend Priority Access on Allegiant because it’s really going to depend on the airport, the flight, the time of departure, and personal preferences. I personally love to be the first one on the plane. I also despise waiting in lines. Priority screening wasn’t offered at Mid-America airport, however, priority boarding allowed me to be the first one on the plane. Again, it’s your six bucks–it’s up to you.
There was only one thing that bugged me about my flight on Allegiant and that was being charged $23 for seat 3A. When I chose seat 3A, I was told I would receive priority boarding and up to six inches of additional legroom. It became clear as I took my seat that this was not the case. The legroom for seats 3A and 3C was absolutely pitiful. The legroom was so limited I asked the flight attendant if I could move to seat 3E. I eventually moved over to seat 3F which legitimately did have the extra legroom–lots of it.
Personally, it was worth it. Note that if you’re just traveling with a backpack or purse, you don’t have to pay to bring them onboard as personal items are complimentary. Carry-on bags, an additional personal item, duffle bag, or a roller board, are not included in the price of the ticket and will require you to pay at booking, check-in, or at the airport.
Again, amenities are very limited. Other than a single beverage and buy-on-board service, there weren’t any additional amenities. There is an onboard magazine (which is 90% ads) but other than that, there’s no power outlets, wi-fi, or in-flight entertainment. I made sure to download a movie so I could get through the 95-minute flight to Jacksonville.
I did buy a soda and bag of mixed nuts during the beverage and buy-on-board service. The combo was $6 which was a wee bit high for a can of Coke and a tiny bag of mixed nuts. Allegiant does not accept American Express, something I would find out as I cracked open my can of Coke and opened up my bag of mixed nuts. Luckily, I had my Visa as back-up.
It certainly was an interesting start to my two-day mileage run. Though it was interesting, it wasn’t the most convenient or enjoyable start. I would avoid Allegiant at all costs, not due to service but due to safety. The aircraft that I was on had seen much better days. Panels were missing, wires were exposed, windows were taped into place, and the lavatory was nearly inoperative. Other than safety (which is a big!), I don’t have very many complaints.
More importantly, I was finally able to score a seat on a flight out of St. Louis’ Second Airport. I hope Mid-America can continue to add flights and turn a profit. The location isn’t the most convenient but the customer experience and efficiency is unparalleled.