Four airlines serving Clinton National Airport have begun canceling flights for this evening and tomorrow morning in preparation of the expected winter storm. There have been six cancellations for tonight and seven for early tomorrow morning. At this time, cancellations primarily affect American, Delta, Southwest and United customers. Please check with your air carrier on the status of a flight before arriving to the airport.
The Commercial Appeal in Memphis is reporting that Delta Air Lines will cut daily flights from Memphis International Airport from 94 to 64 starting in September and will no longer use the airport as a hub.
Delta departures numbered 115 in early 2012.
The Democrat-Gazette on Sunday ran a story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the troubles at the Memphis airport and the upcoming cuts in departures.
UPDATE: Delta will no longer be making its one flight to Memphis from Little Rock every day starting Sept. 3, Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport spokesperson Shane Carter said. That means there will be no flights to Memphis from Little Rock, Carter said.
The muddle in accounting at the Bill and Hillary National Airport that meant no checks could be cut for “quite a length of time,” L. Cotton Thomas & Co. partner Chad Miller said, were outlined to the full commission this morning by the auditing firm.
The audit says the accounting in airport’s general ledger, which was changed when new software was installed in 2011 and made more problematic with a software upgrade in 2012, “lacks sufficient clarity and detail to readily and clearly identify the transactions of the Airport.” The new software changed accounting codes and an upgrade that was supposed to integrate with the software in a way that would keep classifications separate did not. That meant that coding for transactions were changed twice over the course of a year. Auditors described their work as “cumbersome” because of the problems and said it is difficult to compare the latest numbers with those in 2011. They recommended that the airport examine its books carefully on a month-to-month basis to make sure that changes implemented to fix the problems are working.
The commission approved the report, but not until after Miller fielded questions from commissioners. Bob East noted that there were 40 pages of “account reversals” because items weren’t coded correctly, and both he and Tom Schueck asked whether the software, which the Thomas auditors said was geared toward manufacturing, was right for airport use. Executive Director Ron Mathieu said the software was chosen after presentations by “four or five” companies and that it was in use at other airports. Mathieu said that company that integrated the upgrade into the new software in 2012, causing more problems, has been at the airport “for weeks at a time” fixing problems and training airport staff to use the program. He said the vast majority of problems have been worked out.
Commissioner Wes Clark asked if the new software would allow the airport to reduce the number of employees in the finance department. Mathieu responded that the goal was not to reduce staff but to allow staff to better manage its procurement and find efficiencies that way. Commissioner Jesse Mason sought to cut off discussion, saying the audit already had been discussed in the finance committee of the board, that “there are no missing funds, no wrongdoing” and the board should not make a big deal out of it.
L. Cotton Thomas, the airport’s auditor for three decades, will not seek to win the airport’s business when it contract expires this summer, Mike Schaufele told the finance committee last week.
The board also voted to extend its contract with legal counsel Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon and Galchus for three years with one three-year extension available “at the discretion of the Executive Director,” but not after some debate on the process. Commissioner East questioned whether the board should give Mathieu the power to renew contracts on his own without board approval, and Schueck said he was “not comfortable” with forgoing a bidding process for the business. Mason said he didn't understand the concern over the process, to which Chairman Kay Arnold said the commission is to abide by its rules. She asked Commissioner Virgil Miller to put together a committee to “get clarity” on the process. Schueck’s was the only no vote on the extension.
The firm also got a 2.6 percent raise, retained for $11,000 a month with an hourly rate of $195.
People began assembling as early as 8 a.m. and dignitaries began taking the stage at 12:05 p.m. No telling what the elaborate event cost, but whatever expenses were required, the airport's lofty parking charges should recoup some of them.
The construction project — a new ticket lobby and baggage handling system — cost $67 million.
Political names were plentiful, including Rodney Slater, Vic Snyder, Jim Guy Tucker, James Lee Witt, Mark Pryor, John Boozman, Tim "Pipeline" Griffin, Jim Dailey, and Dale Bumpers. Airport Commission Chair Kay Kelley Arnold was emcee(she worked many years ago on Bill Clinton's staff). In opening remarks, she said the airport was "truly blessed" by the leadership of airport director Ron Mathieu.
Sen. Pryor gave a shoutout to the $20 million in stimulus money former U.S. Rep. Snyder helped land for the airport. That kind of spending is out of fashion with the current Republican delegation, though they did attend and praise flowed in all directions from those on the program.
Hillary Clinton, warmly introduced by Gov. Beebe, recounted her arrival at the airport as a young woman coming to Arkansas to meet her boyfriend and the journey that followed. It led to her time at the Rose Law Firm, where her work included representing the Little Rock Airport Commission.
Hillary Clinton introduced the man from Hope, Hot Springs, Fayetteville and Little Rock, a young man who, she has often recounted, caught her attention at the Yale Law School talking about the size of watermelons in Arkansas. He paid tribute to members of Congress and the Airport Commission, lavishing attention on those on the opposite side of the political fence. He recalled flying from the airport to college and the idea he could go somewhere else, learn something else "and not lose my attachment to home." The connectedness was ever present. Clinton remembered legislation Arnold had helped pass in 1979 and he undoubtedly could have told a similar personal story for every person in the hangar. "Everyone is inherently interesting," Clinton said. And if there's any better explanation for his political skill and enduring popularity it's the nearly palpable evidence that he's utterly sincere in this belief.
Clinton said he'd love to see Little Rock become an international airport. It's a symbol of the ability to embrace the diverse, but shrinking world, at the same time thinking, "We can always come home." He said he was "profoundly grateful" that the airport was named for him, particularly since they had included "the airport's lawyer." The program ended shortly after 1 p.m.
Fox 16 carried it live. Thanks to them.
Full range of Brian Chilson's photos today here on Facebook.
Officials of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (below are airport director Ron Mathieu and Airport Commission members Kay Arnold, Jim Dailey and Virgil Miller) celebrated the nearing completion of the first phase of an airport improvement project, the $67 million expansion of the ticket lobby and a baggage handling system. The image at top is the future of a plan that currently calls for an expansion by 2020. The Clintons will be on hand May 3 for a dedication ceremony.
The Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport is going to increase parking fees by 8.5 percent, thus adding the state and local sales tax to parking fees rather than absorbing the taxes in the rate.
April 1, the peanuts lot will go from $8 to $8.68, for example. The most expensive parking, in the valet lot, will rise from $16 to $17.35 a day. The increases will reap the airport $770,000 annually based on recent experience, more than enough to pay airport director Ron Mathieu's 4 percent pay raise and $30,000 bonus. The airport may not yet be back to passenger load of a decade ago, but the money keeps rolling in.
However: The sometimes problematic checkout at the airport seems destined to get even more problematic with more involved change-making for those who pay with cash, not credit cards.
So my question: Can a "round off" of these new odd rates be far behind? Make that peanut lot $9 and the valet lot $18, for example. (They'd kindly absorb the additional sales tax on the rate increase, of course.)
Remember when Cokes went from a nickel to six cents, briefly, back in the pleistocene age? Wasn't long before the vending machines did away with the penny add-on slot and went to a solid dime.
UPDATE: The airport says it is "not planning" a parking rate increase.
Why quibble. Your pay went up 8.5 percent last year, didn't it?
A reader sends a photo of the security checkpoint this morning at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. He reports, as my daughter did yesterday, a single screening lane open at the TSA station at the airport, with a long delay to pass.
Note: The airport doesn't operate the security checkpoint. Also, could be TSA employees have had difficulty with roadways, too.
Just consider this a warning if you're planning arrival time for departing flights.
Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport has good news for travelers heading to Disney World and other nearby attractions.
Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport today announced that Southwest Airlines will begin offering non-stop, daily service to Orlando. The seasonal, direct route, which is scheduled from February 15th to April 13th, will give passengers additional choices for Spring Break Travel.
A 60-day test of a program called iQueue, which will monitor the time it takes to go through the screening process. An airport release said:
It detects the Bluetooth function on a passenger’s mobile phone to document both when a person enters and exits the checkpoint line. Passengers must have the Bluetooth function on their phones “enabled,” in order to be detected by the system. Clinton National will share findings with TSA, which has oversight of the checkpoint, to determine any additional resources needed to better serve passengers.
“Improving our passengers’ travel experience is always a top priority, so we are hopeful this system will give both the airport and TSA a clearer picture of additional steps that may be taken to ensure the screening process is as efficient as possible,” said Jim Dailey, chairman of the Little Rock Airport Commission. “We encourage passengers to participate by activating their Bluetooth devices when they go through the line. The more data we receive, the more accurate the system’s reporting will be, which may help provide additional screening resources,” said Chairman Dailey.
Clinton National is one of the first airports in the country to proactively use this technology specifically to improve the security checkpoint process. Passenger privacy will remain protected. All collected data is encrypted, so the program does not know whose phones are transmitting signals.
If the pilot program proves successful, the Airport Commission will consider purchasing the iQueue system in November. This would allow passengers to access real-time updates on passenger wait times through the airport’s website and mobile platforms.
Without much participation, it's not very useful.
Hit the site currently, for example, and you'll see it says there's no waiting for security clearance at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. But you'll also notice that is based on an update at 8:26 p.m. two days ago.
The weekly memo from Ron Mathieu, director of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, mentions an ongoing subject of interest — wait times at the security screening at the airport. One point I've mentioned previously. A pilot project is new.
* Checkpoint Modeling: As we have discussed, staff and I will be working over the next 60 days with LeighFisher and TSA to create passenger-modeling information for the security checkpoint. Once completed, this data will help determine the optimum staff and equipment mix for the checkpoint. This effort is important, as this data is needed to support any configuration, equipment and or staffing changes requested from the TSA in the future.
* iQueue Pilot Program: Starting in early July, the airport will serve as a pilot program for an automated passenger wait time tracking system that will enable tracking of the passenger screening processing times using Bluetooth technology. The pilot program will run for 60 days, after which staff will make a decision regarding the acquisition of the system. If we do not choose to purchase the system, the system will be removed and there will be no cost to the airport. If, however, the system is purchased at the conclusion of the pilot program the acquisition cost will be approximately $90,000. I will keep you updated as the pilot program progresses.
They'd been up early this morning monitoring the airport security checkpoint, where extended screening delays at peak hours have been an ongoing concern and a source of rising passenger ire.
PLEASE NOTE: Screening delays, as I've long understood it, are the primary responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA staffs the checkpoint. It runs the machines. It decides who must go through the new body image scanners (known as AITs, for Advanced Imaging Technology) and who does not. Airport officials are largely powerless.
NEWS: Mathieu says he'll ask for permission from the Airport Commission this week to spend about $72,000 to hire an outside consultant to provide specific sampling data on wait times at various times and levels of TSA staffing. It's the only way, Mathieu says, to persuade TSA that it needs to provide more staff and, perhaps, more scanners, which would also require more federal construction dollars for additional space.
Mathieu and Carter readily concede there's a problem. A new wrinkle, added at the insistence of airlines, has helped some travelers but irked others. Little Rock has added a priority line for frequent fliers or others with top access tickets. Airlines pressed for this addition. Airport employees guide these high-status travelers to the head of the queue for ID checks, but after that they are on their own in waiting for screening. Mathieu said the airport employees will also direct travelers with short time before flights into this line, as well as service people and other special cases. But the special access, though a product of airline requests, has left a perception of special treatment for some. Mathieu said the airport views all passengers equally.
Mathieu said the airport has pushed TSA as hard as possible for solutions. But, he said, "it's hard to work with the government." He believes the new scanners are the core issue, though the switch from regional jets to bigger planes adds to passenger crunch at certain times.
"It takes two seconds to walk through a magnetometer. It takes 15 to 20 to go through the AIT," he said. "If you are waiting five deep to go through the scanner, that adds a couple of minutes. It stacks everything up."
Some airports — I've seen this at O'Hare in Chicago — suspend scanner use when big crushes develop. But Mathieu said this is an option more readily available to major airports with huge traffic volume. They can suspend scanning for a time, but still meet federally mandated percentages on full body screening by making it up with 100 percent screening at less busy times.
If the airport still used only the old four magnetometers for metal detection, "We wouldn't be talking about this," Mathieu said. But, he said, "They're putting nearly 100 percent of the people through two AITs. That's the bottom line."
His staff is up early every day monitoring the flow and doing what it can to help, Mathieu said, but the airport's powers are limited.
Carter noted that a cell phone app is available — mytsa — on which travelers can report screening delays. Something to do if you get caught in one of the morning crushes.
A frequent flier reports on travel experiences this week:
Monday the line at LIT at 10 am ... it took 34 minutes to get through (+ repack time).
Today @ 9:15am at BDL (Hartford, CT) There were 6 bag x-ray machines and 4 your body metal detectors running (our concourse only). I walked up and was second in line to show ID and then I was immediately second in line at my bag scanner / body metal detector ... less than 5 minutes total (I spent more time unpacking and repacking than I did waiting in line !!!!!!!)
LIT sucks! :-)
Two readers report this morning from the security checkpoint at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT):
First came this:
At 5 am, the TSA employees outnumbered the passengers. More at 5:15, but not more than a 5-8 minute wait.
Of course, today is Wednesday, one of slowest travel days (as is Saturday and Tuesday).
Then came this:
You should keep riding the airports ass about their security line. At 5:30 this morn it took me 35 minutes to get up to security. They used to have two lines and things went pretty fast. Now they have a priority boarding line that never had more than ten or fifteen people in it. These people had their own TSA checker. People in this line had either paid the airline for priority boarding or were flying business class. I do not understand why our airport should slow the process to accommodate the airlines. By eliminating the second line to help the airlines sell higher price tickets they are delaying the vast majority of airport customers. This morning there were hundreds of people in looping cattle lines while a handful breezed through. You should stay on the airport until the management remembers who they are supposed to be serving. It really pisses me off.
A third anecdote: I took my daughter to the airport way early yesterday on account of well-publicized delays. She was at her departure gate in less than 13 or 14 minutes after I dropped her at the curb. But her regional jet flight seemed to be the only thing happening at that particular time.
PS — A reader notes a Facebook page that might explain some of the recent increase in air travel in Little Rock. It reports people driving from Memphis to Little Rock to catch flights because of high Delta costs in Memphis.
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