Empty check-in at IND.

I was torn between posting my latest here or on my personal site, American Dirt.  While most Indy-themed articles end up finding their way here, this one scrutinized airports in a way that I usually only apply to my personal site.  So I’ll paraphrase it here, but the full post is there on Dirt.

It’s not necessarily fair to judge Indianapolis International Airport’s Colonel H. Weir Cook Terminal on its level of activity at 9pm on a Friday.  But at a time in the evening when larger airports are still humming, about 80% of the retail options are closed at IND.  Perhaps more important than the fact that the airport is nearly free of occupants at the time is this indicator below: some spaces that exist to accommodate departing passengers sit completely unused.  There never are ANY customers to justify these sections of the airport remaining in operation.


All we get is an ugly, impersonal sign for “Charter Services” and some promotional filler from Visit Indy.  But the absence of self-check-in computer portals indicates that this entire station is rarely used.  As recently as a year ago, Delta claimed this space at check-in station 1, the first one a visitor reaches when arriving by car.  Now it is essentially empty.  Delta has relocated, but no doubt it took space that another airport had previously vacated.  And, with the merger of US Airways and American pending, what is the likelihood that both airlines will continue to claim both the same number check-in kiosks or gates that they currently use?

IND is hardly alone in this consideration.  In fact, it may be better off than many.  As I noted a few months ago on American Dirt, the much larger Cleveland-Hopkins International (CLE) has practically vacated 75% of an entire concourse.  Other frequent travelers have reported to me the emptiness at airports in Milwaukee, St. Louis and (perhaps the most empty of all) Cincinnati.  I won’t begrudge the top-tier airports such as LAX, ATL, or JFK their significant capital improvements–after all, airport finance does not depend on taxpayer dollars for the most part–but, given the trends in airline mergers and sub-par passenger traffic, what justification would any metro’s airport authority have in even considering expansion at this point?

My article on American Dirt features both more photos manifesting IND’s unused expanses, along with some supporting numbers.  Comments are always welcome.

Comments 9

  • I wonder if the individual airlines are also cutting staff and shrinking their used space due to the growing prevalence of online check-ins. I’ve walked right past these counters without even stopping in the past, which is a nice time saver.

    • I agree with Kevin. I used to fly weekly for business and I would never use a check in counter. Most airports I found started even accepting mobile boarding passes from your phone or ipad. The era of needing ticket counters for all airports has really passed, especially at airports with very few layovers (non-hub airports).

      I was surprised at the number of airports I flew out of where nearly every concourse restaurant or vendor was closed up by 8pm. Even at some of the larger airports like O’Hare it seems to have become more difficult to find many options open after 8 or 9.

      I do worry about the sustainability of smaller airports and their tenants due to airline mergers.

  • The real problem I have with the airport is that it literally turned its back on Indy and now any related development will come within industrial parks on the RRP in Hendricks County.

  • Thanks for your comments everyone. I agree that your observations about check-in are probably accurate, though it isn’t always the case for those of us who often require larger luggage for longer trips. But a huge number of passengers don’t need to check luggage for smaller trips, obviating the need for all the computers and baggage handlers and the check-in.

    Eric, you raised a good point as well. The only way to “reacquaint” IND with the city of Indianapolis would be through a more direct link of mass transit (rail or a busway). But I’m not holding my breath.

  • I guess I’m missing what your major point is here. At some time during operations almost EVERY business is going to be empty: hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. You design them for the potential peak hours (now and in the long-term future).

    • As I mention in the article, 9pm isn’t the right time to draw conclusions about the vitality of the airport in terms of patrons/passengers. The issue here is more that some of the basic stations designed to receive passengers are not in use, including some that were in use a year ago. Passenger traffic has in general declined over the past few years, and this is a common occurrence in many airports. Most are far larger than they need to be even at maximum capacity. With more mergers on the horizon, it seems like most second and third-tier airports will suffer from a glut of space for the foreseeable future.

  • I’m a weekly traveler and can tell you that at 7:30pm the majority of the airport is vacant even if the shops are open. There are very few flights that leave after 7pm. Do a search on evening flights? It’s discouraging. However even at peek times like 6-9 flights to east the planes are not usually full and airfare is relatively cheap from Indy.
    I think that the airport isn’t being maintained well – it’s only a handful of years old and yet I have seen the parking garage escalators seem to be broken more than they work, the elevators which are glass are nasty in dirt and ick. The facilities inside the airport are not much better things I have observed the restrooms for instance have broken door locks, the gate checked baggage elevators broken, some of the power outlets are not working, and even some of the PA systems at gates aren’t always working properly.
    Without high demand what do I expect though?

  • Why aren’t there any budget airlines in the US like something similar to Jetstar or Air Asia? I know this has nothing to do with IND but air travel is seeing less numbers for a reason: more people with less money and higher flying costs with traditional airlines.

  • While prices were much higher in the era of regulation, service was almost ubiquitous throughout the country.

    In our current era of deregulation prices have dropped precipitously and so airlines have continually cut unprofitable routes. The cuts are rising to even second tier cities like Indy.


    Also, since Indy is on the end of a spoke, you probably can’t find evening flights because you would get into the hub late at night and would have to hang around overnight for a flight the next morning.

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