Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport – America’s northern gateway

Posted: 4 February 2008 | Jeff Hamiel, Executive Director, Metropolitan Airports Commission | No comments yet

To some, Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” birthplace of the Mississippi River and a woodland paradise for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. To others, Minnesota is the cultural and financial king of the Upper Midwest, a mecca for music and the performing arts, and headquarters of 20 Fortune 500 corporations.

To some, Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” birthplace of the Mississippi River and a woodland paradise for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. To others, Minnesota is the cultural and financial king of the Upper Midwest, a mecca for music and the performing arts, and headquarters of 20 Fortune 500 corporations.

Regardless of your reason for traveling to Minnesota, if you are arriving by air, chances are you will fly into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. More than 35 million people travel through MSP every year, ranking the airport among the top 15 busiest in North America. Nearly every major U.S. airline operates at MSP, along with four headquartered in Minnesota: Northwest Airlines, which maintains a major hub at MSP; regional carrier Mesaba Airlines, which was recently acquired by Northwest; Sun Country Airlines and Champion Airlines.

Those airlines provide nonstop service to 122 domestic and 20 international markets. Direct flights between MSP and Amsterdam, London, Reykjavik and Tokyo provide a convenient link between America’s heartland and cities in Europe, Iceland and Asia. In April, Northwest Airlines will begin direct service to Paris from MSP as well.

Location, location, location

MSP is nestled at the junction of five cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul. The airport is less than a 30-minute drive from either downtown and only about 10 minutes from the Mall of America, the nation’s largest enclosed shopping center. A variety of ground transportation choices provide easy access between the airport and the metropolitan community, including bus, light rail, limousine, private taxi and shared-ride shuttles.

Six area general aviation “reliever” airports minimise air traffic congestion at MSP. They also provide convenient access for corporate and recreational flyers to all parts of the metropolitan area. Like MSP, the reliever airports are owned and operated by the Metropolitan Airports Commission, a public corporation of the state of Minnesota. Together, MAC airports accommodate a million aircraft operations annually.

Promoting air service competition

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s status as a hub for Northwest Airlines is a key reason area residents have access to more direct air service per capita than do residents of nearly any other U.S. city. MSP is also served by other legacy carriers American, Continental, Delta, United, U.S. Airways and their regional affiliates. In addition, low-cost carriers Air Tran, Frontier and Sun Country, international carrier Icelandair, and area airlines Midwest and Champion provide service at MSP.

Despite the recent completion of a $3 billion airport expansion program, airlines’ cost per enplanement at MSP is consistently in the lower half of large U.S. airports. In 2007, a new airline lease agreement was approved, providing $279 million in projected savings to airlines. The largest portion, $181 million, will come from concession revenue rebates to signatory scheduled air carriers. The rebate program is structured to reward airlines for promoting airport restaurant and retail sales as well as auto rentals. Airlines receive rebates on a sliding scale ranging from 0 to 25 percent, plus 50 percent of revenues beyond projected forecasts. The size of the rebate rises as gross concession revenues increase, providing an incentive for airlines to direct more traffic through MSP as opposed to other airports they serve.

The new lease agreement also consolidated six gates leased on a short-term basis that had been scattered throughout the Lindbergh Terminal. Gates with short-term leases are designed to ensure airlines wanting to enter the market have ready access to facilities. By shifting all short-term leases to contiguous gates, MSP now offers a convenient, operationally attractive, central location from which carriers can launch new service.

MSP’s new Humphrey Terminal offers common-use airline facilities, providing maximum flexibility in terminal usage. The airport provides key infrastructure, such as gates and jet ways, ticketing counters, information technology, and baggage carousels. Airlines pay per-use charges for gates rather than lease them exclusively. Consequently, practically all an airline needs to begin service at the Humphrey Terminal are aircraft and personnel.

Award-winning concessions

Whether travelers are looking for familiar national restaurants and brands or Minnesota favourites, they can find what they are after at MSP. The airport has continually been recognised for outstanding food and retail concessions from surveys conducted by Zagat, Airport Revenue News, and Airports Council International-North America.

One of the first U.S. airports to develop an airport mall in the 1990s, MSP’s concessions program was recently updated. The new program features retail shops by names such as Hugo Boss, Tumi, Brookstone and Field and Stream as well as full-service fare by local restaurants Ike’s, French Meadow Bakery, D’Amicos and O’Gara’s. Menu items range from sushi, to steak, to organic wraps to native wild rice dishes. Shops such as the Mall of America Store, Minnesota!, Spirit of the Red Horse and Sports Minnesota reflect the airport’s location and local culture. Lease agreements require competitive mall pricing, ensuring people who shop and eat at MSP receive value for their money.

MSP currently offers hair styling, manicures and massages. This fall, the airport also plans to expand such personal services with a new Wellness Center, which will include a day spa as well as a medical clinic and pharmacy. The airport also will launch a next-generation concessions Web site, complete with interactive maps to help travelers find what they are looking for quickly and easily.

The airport also plans to offer premium pet kenneling services for people who want a convenient, quality facility at the airport to board and groom their pets when they travel. Travelers will be able to park where they drop off their pets and take a shuttle to the terminal for their flight. When they return from their trip, they can pick up their vehicle and their pets at one location. The facility will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so regardless of travelers’ flight schedule, the kennel will be open and ready to serve their needs.

First class business services

The full-service Airport Conference Center at MSP offers private work rooms as well as meeting space for up to 100 individuals. Catering is available, as are support services such as audio-visual equipment rentals, copying, faxing, phone conferencing and Internet access. The facility is particularly suited for meetings with people flying into the Twin Cities. Businesses conducting conferences at other sites in the area sometimes hold their last day of meetings at the Airport Conference Center. As a result, participants can check in for their flights, complete the security screening process, and use the remaining time before their flight in productive meetings, just one floor above the Lindbergh Terminal’s seven concourses.

Travelers also have access to free business service centers on the concourses themselves. Business centers offer work stations with telephones, data ports, FedEx and postal services. Some also provide cell-phone chargers. Wireless Internet access is available at both MSP terminals. Stationary kiosks ensure that those traveling without their laptops can access the Internet for business or personal use. This year, power poles will be installed on MSP’s concourses so travelers can connect their laptops or charge their cell phones near their gate.

Facilities for families

Travel can be especially challenging for nursing mothers and parents with children in tow. MSP’s Family Room provides a comfortable environment for nursing, nappy changing and play. Nursing mothers seeking a private space can use the new Nursing Mother’s Room on the Mezzanine Level above Concourse C. Both the Lindbergh and Humphrey terminals offer children’s play areas with mock airplanes, air traffic control towers and luggage-style seating. Die-hard gamers can find video arcades in both terminals. The airport also offers companion care restrooms on all concourses, with changing stations and wheelchair access.

Harnessing technology

Travelers benefit from a variety of technology uses at the airport. MSP’s SurePark program enables people to obtain up-to-the-minute information on parking availability via the Internet (, phone (877-FLY-PARK) and text messaging (text 444555 and enter the number of minutes in which you’d like to receive a parking update).

People parking at the airport can save $2 per day by using the automated parking payment system, ePark. You simply insert your credit or debit card rather than take a paper ticket at the parking ramp entrance kiosk. The kiosk automatically records the time you entered the parking facility. Then use the same credit or debit card at an exit kiosk to pay for parking when leaving the airport. A receipt is available at the push of a button. In addition to reducing need for cashiers and providing a money-saving alternative for airport parkers, the system has virtually eliminated lines in the parking exit plaza. Electronic airline check-in kiosks are located at various places: on the Lindbergh Terminal Tram Level, which connects the terminal to on-airport parking ramps, near mezzanine-level skyway connections to parking, along the east upper-level roadway adjacent to the Gold Parking ramp, and in the Ticketing Lobby. The variety of check-in options helps minimise lines and reduce processing time for travelers. The airport also offers multiple security checkpoints, resulting in shorter waits at MSP’s security checkpoints than at most other major airports.

Airport food courts are being renovated to provide more comfortable seating with convenient access to electrical outlets. Travelers can plug in their laptops or charge their cell phones while they eat. Newer full-service restaurants also are designed with electronically outfitted travelers in mind, offering electrical outlets at booths and tables.

Under a new contract with in-terminal advertising sales firm J.C. DeCaux, the airport is in the process of adding new touch-screen reservation centers in Baggage Claim, providing travelers with direct links to hotels, auto rental facilities, and local sites. Travelers will be able to print the information, complete with directions. J.C. DeCaux also is installing digital plasma screens in the Lindbergh Terminal for cutting-edge advertising and information delivery.

Environmental stewardship

MSP is a world leader in airport noise mitigation. Over the past 15 years, the Metropolitan Airports Commission has spent more than $360 million insulating thousands of homes, multi-family dwellings and schools and acquiring some residences in the 65 DNL (day-night level, the federal metric used for measuring airport noise) and greater. Although homes beyond the 65 DNL noise contour do not meet the federal standard for noise mitigation, the MAC plans to develop a new program that will provide a measure of relief all the way to the 60 DNL noise contour.

Mitigation activities in the new program will vary depending on the noise contour in which a facility is sited. Single-family homes in the 64 and 63 DNL noise contours will receive a full, five-decibel reduction package, on average. Those further out, in the 60 to 62 DNL noise contours, will be eligible to receive central air conditioning plus up to $4,000 in other noise mitigation products or, if they already have central air, up to $14,000 in alternative noise mitigation products and services. Multi-family homes will receive through-the-wall air conditioning units and acoustical covers. The program could cost as much as $130 million to complete.

In recent years, the MAC has made other environmental advances at MSP as well, including development of more than 14 acres of storm-water retention ponds, construction of three new aircraft deicing pads, installation of glycol recovery and recycling facilities, introduction of a new flexible-fuel filling station for airport vehicles, use of energy-saving climate control and lighting improvements, and plumbing fixtures aimed at reducing water usage.

Expanding for the future

The MAC recently completed a $3 billion expansion program at MSP. In all, 46 new gates were added to the Lindbergh Terminal, and the old four-gate Humphrey Terminal was replaced with a modern, 10-gate facility. A new, fourth runway, 17/35, was constructed, along with adjacent taxiway systems. More than 11,000 new vehicle parking spaces were developed in new ramps attached to MSP’s terminals. Elevated and underground automated trams together with a new skyway connector at the Lindbergh Terminal make getting around the expanded terminal quick and easy. Two parallel 1.8 mile tunnels were constructed, as well as a station at each terminal, for the area’s new light rail transit system, connecting MSP to downtown Minneapolis, the Mall of America and more than a dozen other stations along the 11-mile rail line. New auto rental facilities were developed at both terminals, as were expansive new air cargo complexes. In addition, new roadways and vehicular tunnels provide easy access to points all around the airport facility.

Plans call for continued expansion of MSP. Designed to be implemented in stages as demand warrants, MSP’s 2020 expansion program could involve addition of up to 19 gates at the Humphrey Terminal, expansion of the Lindbergh Terminal’s Concourse G and development of a new Concourse H, upgraded ticketing, baggage claim and security checkpoint facilities, installation of a third automated tram at the Lindbergh Terminal, creation of a new Northwest Airlines World Club, and construction of an on-airport hotel.

In my three decades at the Metropolitan Airports Commission, I have enjoyed watching MSP expand from a second-tier northern outpost to one of America’s busiest, most vibrant airports. Flying continues to be the safest, fastest means of travel, and in today’s global economy, demand will continue to increase. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is well positioned for 21st Century growth, with ample airfield capacity, new and expanded terminals, inter-modal ground transportation options, and a competitive lease structure for airlines.

From shopping, to the arts, to outdoor recreation, to a thriving business community, there are many reasons to travel to Minnesota. With the many recent improvements to MSP, I am happy to report the trip has never been easier or more enjoyable.

About the author

Jeff Hamiel is Executive Director of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which owns and operates Minneapolis-St. Paul International and six general aviation airports. Hamiel began working at the MAC in 1977 as its first Noise Abatement and Environmental Affairs Manager. He served in several operations management roles before becoming executive director in 1985.

Hamiel was a U.S. Air Force pilot for seven years, going on to become chief pilot and commander of the 96th Airlift Squadron until he retired in 1998.

In 2001, Hamiel served as chair of Airports Council International – North America in Washington, D.C. He has served as chair of that organisation’s International Affairs Committee and as a member of its Governmental Affairs and Environmental committees. Hamiel also served for several years as a member of the board and special advisor to Airports Council International – Geneva, Switzerland. In addition, he is a member and former competition committee co-chair of the American Association of Airport Executives.

Hamiel was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame in 2003.

Send this to a friend