I flew in and out of Knoxville this past weekend and the contrast between McGhee Tyson and Dulles International was startling. To paint a picture for those who have never had the pleasure of traveling in the monument to 60s architectural majesty that is Dulles, it has 2 daily garages that require an underground moving walkway to transport you all the way back to where they are located (approx. a mile away). And if you forget if you are in Garage 1 or Garage 2 and go to the wrong one, you have to go all the way back to the terminal to get on a different walkway to get to the right one. Trust me on that one. This isn't even touching the fact that it cost $17/day to park in these inconveniently located behemoths.
To exit this airport takes hyper vigilence and an innate sense of direction, because if you make a wrong turn down a signless corridor, you may have walked a half mile before you realize you're on the wrong side of the building. The wise will risk looking like a stalker and follow someone who seems to they know where they're going. And once you have managed to exit the terminal and make your way all the way back to your car and find a parking pay machine that accepts credit cards and navigated your way out of the complex, you are faced with the ugly truth that you are still about an hour away from the city on a good day.
All of this is to contrast the simple beauty of the Knoxville airport. McGhee Tyson, I never truly appreciated you until now, and for that I apologize. Here are the top 10 reasons it's the best place to fly in and out of:
10. You can walk around the entire building in less than 10 minutes- it has only 2 floors and is approximately the length of small strip center. There are only 2 baggage carousels. They live right next to the exit doors and car rental counter. For all their snootiness about Southerners being ignorant, a shockingly high percentage of Yankee airports have not managed to master this small act of logical arrangement.
9. They finished work on the airport several years ago, but it still looks brand new: clean and unworn. I have never feared catching hepatitis or finding an abandoned child in the bathroom.
8. The daily parking garage is located 20 feet in front of the front doors. It costs under $20 to park for the weekend. To park next to my office downtown, it costs $25/day.
7. The "food court" consisted of a single Ruby Tuesday for a long time. But I am happy to announce that as of this year, there have been 3 additions: a Cinnabon, a Starbucks, and some frozen yogurt place.There is also an array of jerky to be had in the gift shop.
6. On a heavy traffic day, you can be in either downtown Knoxville or Farragut in 30 minutes. On a heavy traffic day in DC from my house, I can be sitting on the interstate entry ramp 3 miles away.
5. There is one concourse with one terminal that is divided into 2 areas: to the left, you have gates 1-6 and to the right, you have gates 7-12. It is literally impossible to get lost once you are past security, barring blindness or dementia. (though it is a virtual hedge maze compared to Chattanooga and it's 5 gates)
4. The longest I have ever waited in the security line was 10 minutes. And that was because an old lady fell down in front of the metal detector. If you set-off the metal detector, the woman who pats you down will call you "honey."
3. The terminal has a gigantic wall of windows that are lined with rocking chairs of all sizes and little old people with their grandkids sit and watch the planes fly in and out.
2. There is a 50-50 chance that the entire plane will sing "Rocky Top" when you land in Knoxville; there is an even higher chance that someone will throw their trucker or cowboy hat in the air when they get off the plane.
1. The city of Knoxville spared no expense in installing a beautiful river rapids feature that runs the length of the concourse. And they capped it off with a piddly statue that is shorter than me at the end of it: a smiling, standing mama bear holding her anemic cub. When you see that statue, you know your home. (if you've been to Townsend, you have a pretty good idea where they commissioned those bears to be carved)