'The End of an Error'

'The End of an Error'

Ronald Reagan Airport's infamous Gate 35X is about to get an upgrade

It’s been referred to online as “literally the Gates of Hell.” In the same vein, others have warned, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Another critic said, “This isn’t an airline departure gate, it’s a bus depot.”

I’m talking about the most infamous airport departure area in America, the infamous Gate 35X complex at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, where national politicians fanning out across the country mingle with the hoi polloi to await the squawking cattle calls summoning them to grab their stuff and head for various doors to board buses in all kinds of weather. Those overcrowded buses – which sometimes idle for long periods during (frequent) flight delays — then trundle across the tarmac and passengers debark to trudge up stairs to board 50-seat regional jets parked sometimes hundreds of yards away.

  The good news is that this charmless, noisy subterranean warren will disappear as part of Reagan National’s amusingly named “Project Journey,” an in-progress $1 billion renovation. When completed, the renovation will include 14 modern new gates that won’t require passengers to begin their journey to, say, Raleigh-Durham by squeezing themselves and bags onto a fume-spewing bus.

The bad news, of course, is that the renovation isn’t scheduled for completion till 2021 – and airport infrastructure projects usually take longer than the advertised.

Till then, about 6,000 passengers a day are subjected to Gate 35X. The CNN political reporter MJ Lee explains more fully why the gate is universally loathed:  “To board your plane, you must first descend a set of escalators that lead you to a crowded room where seating can be hard to come by. Here, you wait for the airline to announce over the PA system which of several doors you should head to. There is, of course, a subsequent mad dash to said door. But that door doesn't lead you to the aircraft — it leads you to a bus. When the bus is filled to capacity, it makes a slow, winding journey across the airport to your plane.”

Robert Isom, the President of American Airlines, put a somewhat glossier spin on things in comments last September at an airline investment conference: “Today we have 14 gates that are restricted to 50-seat regional jets,” he said. The renovations “will allow those 14 gates to actually be able to handle up to 76-seaters, and that's good news for American Airlines.”

Of course, what’s good news for an airline isn’t always necessarily good news for passengers. Consider checked bag fees and those extra charges to select a coach seat that isn’t in the middle of a row back by the lavs, for example.

Meanwhile, nobody’s ever going to wax nostalgic about dreaded 35X. When it’s finally replaced, the AP national political reporter Meg Kinnard tweeted, it will mark “the end of an error.”


MEMO PAD – The new 512-room TWA Hotel now occupying the iconic former TWA Flight Center at Kennedy airport in New York has jumped on the “short stay” bandwagon, offering  rooms in four, six, eight and 12-hour increments at rates from $149 to $209. For a standard overnight stay in late May, room rates ranged from $288 to $415, including taxes and fees.

… Pot luck? Retail marijuana stores and dispensaries in Las Vegas will be allowed to open lounges for partaking in the weed later this year. Against protests from the casino industry, which doesn’t much like having people diverted elsewhere, the city council in May passed an ordinance allowing marijuana shops to apply for permits to open the lounges, which will be required to install air-filtering systems to keep the smoke confined. Recreational pot sales became legal in Nevada in 2017.

…  Tourism pumped an all-time-high $23.9 billion directly into the economy of Los Angeles last year, says the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.                                                                                                                                                                         … And speaking of L.A.: Munchies on the 405? Burger King says it is trying out a new service called “Hungry People in Traffic” that delivers the “Traffic Jam Whopper” to drivers stuck in Los Angeles traffic jams. It’s based on a successful Burger King initiative in heavily congested Mexico City. In the L.A. version, utilizing real-time traffic monitoring and Google Maps, drivers a voice-command Burger King app can make an order, which will be delivered by motorcycle on gridlocked sections of highway within two miles of any Burger King, says the company, which is also looking at Sao Paulo and Shanghai to launch trial runs.

…Short-haul aviation is under fire in some parts of western and northern Europe, where the concept of “flying shame” (“flugsham’ in Germany) is being flogged on some social media outlets urging the European Union to support a reduction of short-haul flights to address the role of carbon dioxide emissions in climate change. The activists note that Europe generally has high-quality, high-speed regional rail service as an option for shorter trips. Unlike the U.S.

…About eight in 10 Airbnb guests say they trust their hosts, but 58 percent of them also say that they worry about hidden cameras in rental accommodations. That’s from a survey of more than 2,000 American travelers conducted in April for IPX1031, a real estate investment services firm.

… How many rental cars are there in the U.S.? About 2.2 million total, according to statistics from Auto Rental News. The three leading car-rental companies are Enterprise, with about 1.2 million vehicles; Hertz, with 506,000; and Avis Budget, with 365,000.

…   Orlando had 68.55 million visitors, its most ever, in 2018, says the tourism agency Visit Orlando. That includes 6.48 million foreign visitors, also a record.

… Gas prices for regular ranged in late May from an average of $4.044 in California to $2.462 in Alabama, says AAA.

About the Author: Joe Sharkey
Joe Sharkey’s work appears in major national and international publications. For 19 years, until 2015, he was a columnist for the New York Times — for 16 years doing the weekly “On the Road” column on business travel, and before that the weekly “Jersey” column for three years. He is currently a columnist with Business Jet Traveler magazine, and an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Arizona. A Vietnam veteran, he has written five books, four non-fiction and a novel. One of his nonfiction books, “Above Suspicion,” has been adapted as a major motion picture starring Emilia Clarke, Jack Huston, Thora Birch and Johnny Knoxville (and directed by Phillip Noyce), to be released soon. In January 2017, a new, revised edition of his book “Above Suspicion” was published in print and as an e-book by Open Road Media. Penguin Random House also released an audio book version in January. Open Road also published revised editions in e-book format of his true-crime books “Death Sentence” and “Deadly Greed.” In January 2018, the revised edition of “Death Sentence” was published in print by Open Road Media. In his newspaper career before the New York Times, he was an assistant national editor at the Wall Street Journal; the executive city editor of the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union; and a reporter and columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer. On Sept. 29, 2006, while on assignment, he was one of seven people on a business jet who survived a mid-air collision with a 737 at 37,000 feet over the Amazon in Brazil. All 154 on the commercial airliner died. His reports on the crash appeared on the front page of the New York Times and later in the Sunday Times of London Magazine. He and his wife Nancy (who is a professor of journalism at the University of Arizona) live in Tucson — where he is also working on a new novel about the exploits of an international travel writer who hates to travel. .