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Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette
The business center at Fort Wayne International Airport was recently remodeled. An airport official says more passengers are using it.

Airport caters to business fliers; not all happy

Steve Staley travels a lot for a living, flying all over the country auditing building inspectors for HUD, whatever that involves.

On days when he flies, he normally shows up at the Fort Wayne airport a couple of hours early, goes through security and then retreats to what is known as the business center where he can open his laptop and get a start on the day.

Staley liked the business center. It was quiet and had little cubicles where he could spread out papers. He called it a controlled space where no one would encroach on anyone else’s work area.

In the last few weeks, though, the Airport Authority has undertaken some renovations, and one of the changes involved the business center. Gone were the cubicles. In their place was a counter, high enough that you can stand at it and work on a computer. If you wanted to sit, there were stools, sort of like bar stools with backs.

Staley doesn’t like it. Kids come by and play on the computers. He doesn’t blame them. If he were a kid he’d be playing games on the computers, too.

His paperwork might be spread out over a 4-foot-wide area with nothing to separate his materials from someone else who might be working. The stools feel unstable, he says.

Other business travelers just shake their heads when he wonders out loud why they changed it, he says.

He’s not irate, but he wonders, what were they thinking?

I spoke to Craig Williams, the director of operations and facilities for Fort Wayne International Airport, and passed on Staley’s remarks.

He was surprised. The business center has been getting more use than ever, he said.

Before the remodeling, the business center, a cubby hole sort of place next to the escalators that people take after going through security, was hidden. Large potted plants obscured it, and many people didn’t know it was there.

Now it’s open and airy. “Usage is already much higher,” Williams said. “Now people can see it,” and they’re taking advantage of electrical outlets to charge their phones and laptops and do work.

During the remodeling workers had to remove a long sofa that no one ever used and put it in the regular terminal area. The plan was to throw it out, but people, who apparently had never noticed it before, started using it. Now the airport is considering getting another sofa for the terminal area.

Meanwhile, all the comments he has gotten have been positive, Williams said. He’s surprised that Staley is unhappy and wishes he had heard from him.

The changes were made with the business traveler in mind, Williams said. A lot of airports offer nothing for business travelers, which account for about 70 percent of the traffic in Fort Wayne, he said, and few offer computers for people to use.

Running an airport, Williams said, doesn’t always involve asking people what they want. It involves a lot of just watching what people use and what they don’t use.

For example, areas that used to contain nothing but rows of chairs bolted to the floor now have tables interspersed. People use them. They like the sofa that they never used before. Tables, though small, and chairs have been placed next to wall plugs so people can plug in computers and work there.

I don’t fly a lot, but I know what it’s like to have to sit on the floor of a terminal next to a wall plug to write a story on deadline.

All in all, the airport offers a lot of conveniences you won’t find in other places.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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