Flying back in on the Nashville to RDU late-night flight on Sunday, I walked the corridors of a more deserted-than-usual Terminal 1, where nary a soul scurried beyond the bustling gates of Southwest, the largest carrier by passengers at the airport.
Of course, Saturday evening had marked the big to-do, as US Airways and Continental shimmied over to the all-new Terminal 2, the second half of which opened to the traveling public this weekend.
It cost about a half-million dollars to accelerate the opening date for the new terminal to this weekend from its original February debut, something intended to give better first impressions, we hear, to those fans and officials flying in for this weekend's NHL All-Star Game at the RBC Center.
Assuming, of course, you're not a fan of the Predators, Lightning, Thrashers, Flyers or another team for which you're taking a non-stop on Southwest or AirTran, in which case, it's T1 for you.
Or a Devils or Caps fan, for that matter; RDU T2 may look brand new, but when USAir or Continental fly you in in equipment with manufacturer names like "Embraer" or "Bombadier" -- especially when you're in one of the latter's old DeHavilland Dash turboprops -- you know you're kicking it small-city.
All of which got me thinking: was accelerating RDU-Two really the best way to show off our region? Or is it, as I'm kinda inclined to think, the kind of men-of-commerce boosterism you'd associate with a small city?
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First, make no mistake: T2 is nice.
I moving-sidewalked my way over there last night through the parking deck breezeway to take a look. For a couple of years the first two concourses have been open, giving a glimpse of the grandeur of the terminal from its ticketing lobby, but the addition of the remaining part of the lobby really is impressive.
I ambled up to a Starbucks in the lobby at well past 10pm, only to have a chipper voice tell me, oh yes, we're open 24 hours a day.
A 24 hour Starbucks in an airport that goes to sleep after 10 most weeknights? Now that's a new thing.
RDU played the airport-hub game back in the 80s and 90s, losing out big time in building the Reagan-era Terminal C for American Airlines. Dozens of gates for making connections... and a security/screening area sized assuming that only a tiny fraction of pax would be locally originating.
Raleigh-Durham lost out to rival sister Charlotte, whose USAir hub has sprawled out to become, after Atlanta, perhaps the busiest connecting hub in the southeast -- and something that gave Charlotte a powerful inducement to companies looking for a place to put their operations.
One would be unwise to assume too much in the way of regional envy in the design of T2, but the rolling wood, steel, and glass look is a far more modern visage than Charlotte's dated-feeling megahub.
Of course, one also can't help but chuckle at some of the provincialism.
Take the electronic arrivals display board in T2. It's international heaven, scrawling by names of carriers like Qantas that couldn't find RDU on a map, but which technically "serve" RDU through their domestic partners code-share arrangements.
And, of course, decorations abound for this weekend's All-Star Game -- the perfect time, it seems, to showcase our region, or at least the Wake County side.
(Speaking of appearances, local blogger Ginny Skalski has a hilarious post questioning the VERSUS cable channel's marketing for the All-Star shindig, which seems to show sides of Raleigh that, er, don't exactly exist-- image courtesy ginnyskal.com:
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So, back to that little "image" thing.
As a year-long POW in Terminal 1 captivity, I can certainly appreciate that the early-80s dreary fashion of that space isn't what the Chambers of Commerce would want to show off to visitors.
But on the other hand, rushing the completion of Terminal 2 just seems... I don't know... like a small-town move?
If you've ever lived in a small city, or if you've seen pictures from their newspapers from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, you're familiar doubtlessly with the images I think of as "men of commerce" -- the suit-clad, clean cut members of civic organizations, turning out for a groundbreaking or to welcome a delegation from Detroit looking to open a manufacturing plant or to hear a talk from their state representative.
Grocers, local utility managers, homebuilders, the car dealer -- all showed up to play their part on the civic stage, and a certain community boosterism went along with it. Put your city's best foot forward, and let it shine!
Somehow, though, I don't think that a Tom Menino or Ed Koch would really worry about what their airport looked like for a big hockey all-star game. Come to think of it, I'm not sure a big hockey all-star game would really dent their awareness-meter more than a quiver.
Heck, if you've flown through Boston or New York in the past, oh, twenty years, you'd know that their airports are under a near-perpetual state of reinvention and reconstruction. Last time I flew through Logan in 2010, my biggest shock came from not seeing construction there, a perennial presence since the reconstruction work started in the early 1990s.
Yes, RDU-Two is a much nicer visage for the airport than its predecessor or its T1 partner.
But if we're trying to prove we're a major metro with big-city dreams, there comes a time you act like one.
And taking a page out of a playbook written for towns like Dunn or Kinston doesn't seem like the way to do it.
Want to impress the people flying in to RDU?
Get your airlines to stop flying in turboprops from places like Newark and get some gosh-darned Boeing and Airbus equipment for 'em instead.