Long Beach Airport

A JetBlue plane touches down for a landing past the control tower at the Long Beach Airport. Thomas R. Cordova — staff photographer

By Brian Sumers, Daily Breeze
Posted: 10/28/13, 11:31 PM PDT |

A few weeks ago, for the first time, Nina Vir flew from Long Beach Airport. She hadn’t meant to try Long Beach — she only used the airport because she got a good deal — but Vir enjoyed the experience.

“It kind of felt like a boutique airport, similar to a boutique hotel,” said Vir, a college sophomore from Los Angeles. “It looked really cute. I absolutely loved the fireplace. It was a chilly night, and I was just sitting there.”

Vir, who Tweeted out a picture of the fire pit, is just the kind of customer Long Beach Airport wants to turn into repeat business. During the past couple of decades, air travel has morphed into a commodity. Travelers generally chase the cheapest flights — not necessarily the best airline or airport experience. But Long Beach, with its new $45 million concourse, which opened in December, wants to change how passengers interact with an airport.

“Our vision was to provide the highest level of customer service and create a space which is resortlike,” airport director Mario Rodriguez said. “We wanted to create something world class without spending a bunch of money.”

The results have been encouraging. The new concourse was named the 2013 Aviation Project of the Year by the California Transportation Foundation.

But even before the new terminal opened, the airport was doing well. Notably, the number of departures at Long Beach Airport rose 1.3 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to calculations by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It may not seem like a lot, but during that period, as fuels costs rose and the economy faltered, airlines slashed flights at midsize airports nationwide. At L.A./Ontario International Airport, the number of departures dropped by about half, while at Burbank Bob Hope Airport, departures fell by about 25 percent, M.I.T. researchers concluded.

Being customer friendly has helped, but Long Beach airport has countered trends for a couple of other key reasons. First, it has one dominant airline — Jetblue Airways — that considers the West Coast its center of operations and has invested heavily at the airport. And second, Long Beach is located in a demographically strong area filled with a near perfect combination of leisure and business travelers.

“Long Beach is a very convenient airport to a demographically attractive part of the L.A.-area,” said Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Hudson Crossing in San Francisco. “The facility itself is good in terms of runways. And they rebuilt the terminal. They have the new concourse. It’s easy in, easy out from the standpoint of airlines and passengers.”

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