St. Louis Airport Asks Travelers for Likes and Gripes

Jan. 12--Workers with clipboards took to Lambert Field's concourses Wednesday to learn how passengers rate nearly every aspect of the airport, from its road signs to its wait times to its art displays.

Anyone irritated by the lack of available parking in the Main Terminal garage had a chance to say it. So did those eager for the airport to offer free wireless Internet access, restaurants that remain open past 9 p.m., and more metal detectors to speed up security lines.

"My biggest beef with the airport is something they didn't ask me about," said Robert Bowen, a health care consultant from St. Charles, as he finished his survey and hopped down from a shoeshine stand. "It's the luggage carousels. They're so old and broken up. As bags come off, they get caught and get torn apart."

The survey will provide the Airport Experience Committee with an idea of what Lambert needs to do to make its passengers happier. Airport Director Kevin Dolliole formed the committee of airport staff and community volunteers late last summer to develop a plan for an airport overhaul. He has said he expects the group to have presentable ideas by May or June. Those ideas will be bounced off the public.

The survey and the experience committee represent a shift in Lambert management's philosophy. Former Airport Director Col. Leonard Griggs focused primarily on airport operations, such as keeping the airlines satisfied and getting flights out on time, until his Dec. 2004 retirement. Dolliole, who took over in May, says passenger satisfaction is as important as getting airplanes in and out.

"Previously, there was more focus on expansion of the airport," said Deputy Director Gerard Slay, who's worked for both directors. "Since that effort is well under way, it's time to shift our focus to what passengers want to experience."

The two-page survey has 35 categories of questions. It asks passengers to rate more than 60 aspects of the airport, including the comfort of seats at the gate, the courtesy of retail store clerks and the availability of self-check kiosks at ticketing.

By noon, Carrie Weber had gotten responses from dozens of travelers in the baggage claim area of the Main Terminal.

"Everyone's, like: 'Are you revamping this place?'" she said, wearing a blue vest and holding three clipboards. "I've heard a lot. I've heard that at night, everything shuts down. . . . A military guy was upset his family couldn't walk him to the gate."

Weber and the other marketing research workers surveying passengers hope to get opinions from 1,000 to 1,500 people, said Firelli Braunagel, an aviation consultant with Unison Maximus, which does financial work for the airport.

On Wednesday, many travelers were willing to help out.

"Compared to other airports, it's lacking that aspect of wow," said Jessica Campion of Kirkwood, waiting in a Main Terminal bagel shop with her sister to catch a flight to Georgia. She said she was glad the airport is asking passengers their opinions. "There are things they could change."

The last time Lambert commissioned a survey was in 1994, prior to developing its master plan. The survey wasn't nearly as comprehensive, Slay said.

"It's the airport's intent to determine what passengers would like to see and experience when they come through the airport," Slay said.