Friday, January 28, 2011

MDT - Harrisburg International Airport - An Airport with You In Mind

The Sky Bridge Welcomes All Who Travel Here

It's not often I leave an airport and think, So, when do I get to go back?  As I watched MDT disappear out of the window of the United Airlines (Operated by Trans States Airlines) Embraer 145, I was wishing that my time at Harrisburg International would have been longer.  HIA is an airport that was designed with You in mind. 

On January 21st, 2011, I was fortunate enough to travel to MDT and spend the afternoon with the Marketing Manager, Stephanie Gehman, and the Marketing Intern, Nancy.  They took me on a tour of the facility and answered several questions about the airport.


An Airport For First-Time Travelers
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Harrisburg International Airport is actually located in Middletown, PA.  The FAA airport code MDT comes from the city name where the airport is located: MiDdleTown.  So don’t be confused when you see the MDT airport code.

Stephanie also shared with me a handy way to remember MDT.  HIA is located in an area that would have otherwise been served by BWI (Baltimore Washington International) or PHL (Philadelphia).  But for people in Dauphin, Perry, Lebanon, and surrounding counties, those airports are farther away, cost more to drive to and park at, and are more time consuming because of longer lines.  So, by traveling through MDT you save Money, Distance, and Time.

Inside the parking garage
When you arrive at the airport, you will find two parking options (garage parking, and Long-Term).  The long-term parking is located on the east side of the airport, with the other parking options located at the MMTF (Multi-Modal Transportation Facility), which is also known as the parking garage. 

If you park at the garage, you can take the sky bridge from the second level of the garage to the second level of the terminal building. One of the great things about the MMTF is that every spot is a good spot.  Located on the east and west sides of the garage are heated and air conditioned walkways that make your journey to the terminal building more pleasant.

Check-in Desks

Rocking Chairs Make Waiting A Bit Easier
All airline check-in desks are located on the west side of the first floor of the terminal.  One of the extra pleasures of departing from MDT is the many rocking chairs spread out on the public side of the terminal.  Note: the public side is referred to as the pre-security side of the airports.

Once you’ve got your boarding pass in hand, it’s back up stairs to the second floor to pass through Security. But if you’re not quite ready to send little Johnny off to his first semester at college, you can grab a bite to eat at the food court or swing over to Varsity Grill and enjoy a sit-down meal with memorabilia from many local sports teams. 

"Air Force Two"
If you love to watch planes come and go, you can also take the elevator up to the third floor to hang out at the observation deck. On a normal day, you’ll see many airliners coming and go, and you stand a good chance of seeing a C-130 practicing touch and gos, and if you arrive on a lucky day, you might get to see Air Force One or other presidential aircraft practicing landing procedures.

Once you’re ready to pass through Security, it’s important to note that the TSA in Harrisburg is equipped with both standard metal detectors and full-body scanners.

After you’ve made it through Security, the fun of local Harrisburg attractions doesn’t end. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s Hershey. There is a Hershey-themed newsstand with all the chocolates and goodies you may need to take to your friends back home or wherever you are going. You can also visit Perfectly Pennsylvania for all your last-minute Pennsylvania gifts. If you’re hungry MDT offers Subway and Starbucks along with the Capitol Café for all your food and beverage needs.

Often, airports provide soft, luxurious leather vibrating chairs. The idea is you pay a few bucks, and you get a five-minute, soothing massage. As always, MDT goes a step beyond. If you’ve got an extra ten, fifteen, thirty minutes, take a trip to Gate B2 and visit my good friend Joyce. Joyce runs Get Grounded, a therapeutic getaway for your body, mind, and spirit. Joyce has skillful hands and extensive knowledge of great pressure points and how to work out those traveling blues. An added bonus: if you’re active military, Joyce will give you a complimentary massage. Tell her Mike sent you.

The final bonus is that, unlike the many money-hungry airports, HIA offers complimentary wifi to all of its visitors, so you’re never disconnected from the rest of the world.

For the Frequent Visitor to HIA
For those who spend most of life on the road, MDT didn’t forget about you. There are two key advantages to flying out of HIA over any other local airports. The first is the rewards program. How many airports do you go to on a regular basis that have a rewards program? It’s a big, whopping zero for me. There are multiple facets of the rewards program. The first is that membership in the rewards program gives you priority access to Security lines. If you’re running late and the line is long, you can flash your thick, plastic rewards card with your unique rewards member number, and you can use the pilot and airport staff Security entrance. (And, hey, when was the last time Delta or Continental sent you a thick, plastic rewards card?)

The second perk is entrance to the Susquehanna Club. For business travelers our companies often book us on whatever flight is the cheapest; therefore, it becomes difficult to achieve a status high enough for entry into an airline club. The Susquehanna Club doesn’t discriminate. Even if you don’t join the rewards program because you’re just passing through, if you have accrued 25,000 miles on one airline, you have gained entry into the quiet, peaceful, relaxing Susquehanna Club. (Did I mention it comes with free chocolate?)

One final amenity I would like to share about the Susquehanna Club is the conference room. If you’re traveling with a crew and you need to have a meeting before you board the airplane, you can reserve the conference room by calling the airport in advance.

But the rewards don’t stop there. Every time you check in a the Susquehanna Club, you are asked to fill out a trip data sheet. By providing this information, you earn points. At the end of each points accrual period, awards are given out for the amount of points you earned. Maybe you’ll get a travel voucher or a free cup of coffee. Either way, earning points is awesome, and this airport is letting you do it.  To learn more, visit: http://www.flyhia.com/flyerrewards  It is important to note that the rewards accrual periods are occasional and not all year long.

MDT Is More than Just and Airport
Local artists' work is on display throughout the airport
For me to just look at the public face of an airport would be worse than Boeing going out of business. One of the extras I want to look at is how Stephanie and her team are building a brand out of an FAA airport code. From time to time, I search Twitter. One of my more recent searches was for “MDT.” One of the first results I found was from @HHRVB (The Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau), which stated that you should fly out of Harrisburg to save money, distance, and time! In my mind airports most often simply exist; they see their primary customer as the airlines. Harrisburg realizes that without the airlines there would be no customers and without the customers there would be no airlines.

Stephanie also commented that people treasure airports in their towns and that airports exemplify the ability to escape. With all that in mind, HIA has put a lot of emphasis into reaching the consumer. To do so they have worked tirelessly to create a solid brand.

So Much More than a Brand
While Stephanie and I were talking, she paused and then made an astounding remark: “This is a culture.” The people of MDT don’t just have a job at an airport; they live for flight, and, to that end, they will stop at nothing.

While we were talking about branding, I asked Stephanie why they use Social Media. “How many travelers do you see that don’t have a smart phone?” she asked. She continued on to say that Social Media is a vehicle to answer questions.

When the first HIA Facebook group was created in 2007, it only took two weeks to grow to 200 members. Facebook opened the door to communicate with travelers. Stephanie pointed out that you don’t always know what to expect when traveling. She said, “I wanted to take the what-if out the experience.” Social Media has led to a rough average of twenty in-person interactions per week with people whom @HIAairport visit with online.

The airport has gone out of its way to engage people online on Facebook, Twitter, their blog, and even foursquare. On your third check in to the airport, you will have earned yourself an HIA luggage tag. Pretty cool, I think.

But wait, Mike, weren’t you talking about branding? Of course I was. “Social Media has removed some of the mystery of what MDT is,” quoth Stephanie. As any #avgeek or #prophead would know, airport codes often don’t made sense to the not-so-frequent traveler. Take Orlando’s MCO, for example. People around the airport refer as OIA (Orlando International Airport), but the airlines refer to it as MCO.

MDT faces the same problem. Stephanie described this issue as a branding nightmare, but she has found Social Media also to be a vehicle of influence. When AirTran started service from Harrisburg to Fort Lauderdale, Stephanie found that Social Media allowed her to explain what MDT and FLL stand for.

People would read tweets posted by @HIAairport about FLL.  They knew FLL was somewhere in Florida and would ask Stephanie where it was.  These questions opened the door for explanation and conversation.  Stephanie finished off by saying Social Media allowed HIA to shape the message they wanted to send.

For the #avgeek in Us All
F-16 - Photo by Stephanie Gehman
MDT also provides some fantastic planespotting. During my six-hour visit, I got to see 90003 or “Air Force 2” practicing touch and gos. The airport is also host to an Air National Guard base. I was able to watch two C-130s come and go. At the end of my visit, I did get to hear a loud roar, and I rushed to the window only to see a glimpse of what I believe to be an F-16.  Stephanie was kind enough to confirm that and even provided a photo of the F-16.

If you’re taking a quick trip to MDT for a little planespotting, I might suggest the cell phone parking lot, the fourth floor of the parking garage, and, of course, the observation deck (which, it outside of Security) as great planespotting locations.

For those of you looking to take interesting pictures, it is important to note that MDT is the closest airport in the world to a nuclear power plant. If you’re on the fourth floor of the garage, aircraft taking off or departing from runway 31 will have a fantastic background—two smoke stacks risking up beyond the distant hills.

General Aviation Information
For those of you who own your own aircraft, MDT has one FBO. AVFlight is located northwest of the terminal building and provides standard amenities for pilots and owners alike. Information about the FBO can be found at their website (Unicom: 122.95).  

There are also three other local GA airports available: Capital City Airport, Franklin County Regional Airport, and Gettysburg Regional Airport.

Looking Back
United Express And US Airways
Harrisburg International Airport truly was built with the traveler in mind. Its state-of-the-art baggage system was the first of its kind to be installed, and the concept has now made its way to many large international airports. From rocking chairs to a one-of-a-kind rewards program, MDT is also always looking for ways to make the travel experience better. If you’re flying to southeastern Pennsylvania, I strongly recommend that you find your way to Harrisburg; it’s the airport that sets the bar for all other airports.

If you are interested in me visiting a certain airport, please leave me a message.  If you work at an airport and would like to show off your place, send me an e-mail and I would be more than glad to work with you!  My goal is to visit one airport a month.  I would like to thank Stephanie, Nancy, and the entire staff at MDT for their time and willingness to work with me!

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

8 comments:

Nancy said...

What, no Dr. Pepper at MDT??

Mike_J_Morgan said...

There is Dr. Pepper located at the McDonald's in the public area of the airport. Other wise you have to wait until you're at your next destination.

Harrisburg International Airport said...

Thanks for the review Mike, we appreciated hosting you for this endeavor and we're glad you were able to locate Dr. Pepper!

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