Huntsville Int'l Upgrades & Expands Baggage Claim

Kathy Scott
Published in: 

It's hard to overestimate the importance of a good baggage claim system. According to Jim Gaz, senior director of travel and entertainment at J.D. Power and Associates, "Baggage claim has the greatest impact on overall satisfaction, along with airport accessibility." The 2010 J.D. Power airport satisfaction survey found that passengers will tolerate 17 minutes of wait time at Baggage Claim and Security before satisfaction drops to low levels; and every additional five minutes of waiting decreases satisfaction as much as 12 index points.


Project: Baggage Claim Renovation & Expansion

Location: Huntsville (AL) Int'l Airport

Owner: Port of Huntsville

Cost: $25.9 million

Timeline: Aug. 2010 - Nov. 2012

Objectives: Improve wayfinding; accommodate traffic growth

Key Challenge: Renovations eliminated two reclaim carousels for 16 months

Baggage Reclaim Carousel Mfr.: Vanderlande

Escalators & Glass Elevator: Otis

Jumbotrons: Planar

General Construction: WG Yates Construction

Architectural & Engineering Consultant: Chapman Sisson

At Huntsville International (HSV) in Alabama, business travelers account for fully 71% of the airport's overall passenger volume, and they're a notoriously hurried group. But customer feedback indicates that HSV's recent $25.9 million baggage claim renovation is helping keep them on time and satisfied. In November, officials unveiled the final phase of a two-part project that nearly quadrupled the size of the area and transformed its appearance.

Huntsville is a city dominated by defense, military and government jobs - sectors that have experienced recent cuts. It's also home to some of the nation's most technologically advanced agencies and corporations. Redstone Arsenal, the U.S. Army's garrison in Madison County, contains the U.S. Army Materiel Command, the Army's Aviation and Missile Command, the Missile Defense Agency of the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics Space Administration's Marshall Space Flight Center.

With sequestration looming large, it's more important than ever for Huntsville to entice new businesses to the area. Over the past five years, HSV has invested $92 million in upgrades and additions to its facilities. The baggage claim renovation is the most recent of those projects. In addition to expanding the area from 10,620 to 40,738 square feet, designers transformed its appearance with large windowed walls and open architectural lines.

The need for baggage claim improvements was identified more than a decade ago in August 2001, when the Port of Huntsville drew up a master plan to upgrade and expand the airport, recalls HSV Director of Capital Improvements Stan Hogan. But the plan was sidelined less than a month later on Sept. 11th, when TSA security directives overshadowed practically everything else. Although the baggage claim area was originally a top priority, security mandates required other projects to take precedence. In 2010, Executive Director Rick Tucker committed to the renovation, and the project moved forward.

Social media traffic in December indicates that travelers noticed and appreciated the improvements. Several customers posted comments on the national review website Yelp and gave the airport four- and five-star ratings:

"This airport just keeps getting nicer. Since last time I was at HSV, the baggage claim area has been upgraded and is much, much nicer with plenty of natural light. The check-in area is the same - small, but efficiently done with such a small crowd."

"It's a lovely airport. Airy, easily managed with high ceilings so no claustrophobic feeling. You check in on the lower level where baggage claim is - then go up the escalator to the restaurants, shops and gates."

Growing Pains

The last time HSV had updated its baggage claim area was nearly 25 years ago, in 1988. At that time, its annual passenger traffic had just broken the 441,000 mark. By 2010, the burgeoning airport was serving more than 1.2 million passengers per year. The need to accommodate the enormous growth became an important priority, recalls Hogan.

He cites improved wayfinding as a key to the airport's new baggage claim area. Eliminating obstructions was important, so passengers "knew where they were going," Hogan explains.

Architects at Chapman Sisson designed HSV's new baggage claim area, opening low ceilings with vaulted spaces and creating a glassed entrance to increase natural lighting. Designers also covered 40,000+ square feet of space with terrazzo flooring that incorporates the airport's overall color scheme and features an embedded version of the Port of Huntsville's logo at key high-traffic points.

"It's a high-tech city," explains Chris Waters, the company's senior architect. "We wanted to create a front- door image for the City of Huntsville."

Chapman Sisson led HSV's overall design as architects of its $92 million, five-year capital expansion.

The first phase of the $25.9 million baggage claim project began in August of 2010, when crews relocated carousels and rental car counters so demolition could begin. Passengers were routed to the east side of the airport and used a single baggage claim carousel rather than the usual three. Within 16 months, the area tripled in size and gained two jumbotrons that are visible from all three new carousels. One screen provides community information, while the other delivers advertising messages through HSV's partnership with Clear Channel Airport.

Gone are the flat conveyor belt baggage claim carousels. They've been replaced by stainless-steel slope-plate devices: Vanderlande's tilted Triplanar carousels. Feed conveyors and belts were also included in the turnkey system, notes Curtis Jefferson, Vanderlande's business development manager.

Renovations also added "creature comforts" including improved curbside loading and unloading areas, a new public waiting area, free WiFi service, five escalators, a glass elevator and an expanded ground transportation area. Hogan expects the recent baggage claim improvements to accommodate local growth through 2022.


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