Despite what Cleveland Hopkins International Airport officials say, I’m not convinced the change in policy for shuttle buses wasn't made to jack up the bottom line for the airport's own parking lots.
The complaints continue to pour in — most recently from an Akron couple who returned from a cruise of European ports on Sunday:
“Nothing like finishing off two great weeks in Europe with that s***storm that is CLE. Four big bags, escalator broken, riding back to car soaking wet.”
For at least half a century, passengers on shuttle buses going to and from off-site parking lots were dropped off and picked up in front of the main terminal. Today they are dumped in front of a long, flimsy, unheated, plastic-and-canvas walkway that eventually leads to an actual building.
You have to drag your bags through the enclosure to a real walkway ... drag them onto an escalator or elevator and go down one level ... walk for a while longer ... then take another escalator or elevator back up two levels to get to the check-in desks.
The airport claims the change was made because of a big increase in the percentage of passengers who begin and end their trips here (as opposed to passengers who come from somewhere else and grab a connecting flight). But when the change was made two years ago, overall traffic was massively lower — 37 percent — than it was in 2000, when Hopkins was a Continental Airlines hub.
Since I wrote about that, I have received a slew of additional complaints about the current state of affairs at Hopkins, the nation's 43rd busiest airport.
At least two readers are honked off that, starting in July, limousines were also banned from the main entrance. Mary Anne Anderson of Tallmadge forwarded a letter she received from TL Worldwide Transportation in Akron announcing the change in location — and an additional fee “for all drop-offs to all commercial vehicles as well as the current inbound fee that is already assessed. You will see a $5 drop-off fee to CLE starting July 1.”
The letter provided contact information for airport officials and urged customers to complain.
Says Anderson, "We've used a car from this company many times in the past. We like to support local business. [But] the cost is becoming unmanageable.”
The most vociferous complaints, though, came from international travelers. Among them was Beth Winter-Sharpe, who wrote:
"My husband and I recently returned from our honeymoon in Europe. Before we left, we applied for and received Global Entry passes ($15 extra after the $85 TSA PreCheck). Upon arrival, we had to go through customs. There were two kiosks for Global Entry and about 150 people who had it. There were roughly three people without Global Entry so they (and we) did it the old-fashioned way.
“Once they glance at your passport, you (everyone, Global Entry or not) proceed to a small area to wait for your checked luggage. And wait. And wait. And wait. When you finally get it, you must go through another checkpoint and leave the luggage you just picked up so it can be X-rayed, and then through ANOTHER screening a la your airport entry: shoes off, belts off, jackets off, computers out, cameras out. … Then you had to proceed down to the regular baggage claim to again pick up your checked bag.”
When she grumbled to a TSA agent about seeing no advantage to buying Global Entry, the agent responded: “Global Entry doesn’t work here.”
It likely doesn’t work because the vast majority of international flyers returning to Hopkins stop somewhere else in the U.S. before arriving here and go through customs there. The only nonstop international flights from CLE are Iceland, the Dominican, Jamaica and Cancun, Mexico. If the international return area were fully staffed, most of those workers would be standing around all day.
Reader Marty LaConte didn’t waste her money on Global Entry but went through the same extended hassle when returning after a stop in Iceland.
“Tensions mounted the longer we had to wait, and there was no rationale why one or two bags would arrive, followed by periods of time when nothing came down the conveyor belt. Finally, two hours after our arrival time, we were reunited with our belongings and free to go.”
No baggage help
Another gaping hole in customer service was noted by frequent traveler Jeffrey C. Thomas, who pointed out the absence of porters to assist people on the long trek to and from the shuttle-bus area, euphemistically referred to by the airport as the “Ground Transportation Center.”
An airport official pointed out that free carts are available just inside the shuttle drop-off, but says there are no skycaps because “skycaps are an airline function.”
Responds Thomas: “At $40 per hour for a 40-hour workweek, a skycap would make over $80,000 per year. If they had a fixed charge of $2 per bag, many people would happily pay it due to how far you have to drag your luggage.
“That’s only 20 bags per hour to make $40 (without minimum wage), which is only five round trips per hour at two bags apiece. People would line up for that job!
“These porters wouldn’t actually check bags, only tote them, getting rid of the objection that the airlines don’t want to hire them.”
Clearly, CLE has a lot more work to do before it can shake last year’s J.D. Power ranking of second-to-last in customer satisfaction among U.S. airports its size.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31