John Wayne Airport: Named for the 'Duke' - But Designed for Convenience
It's an airport that reflects its neighborhood. When the Orange Country, CA, Board of Supervisors renamed its airport for film legend John Wayne, it described the "Duke" as "a man of humility, of honesty, and a hero of the American West who was a symbol to the world of traditional American values." A statue of the longtime county resident and American icon graces the lobby of the terminal.
When you discuss the airport and its parking operations with landside manager Scott Hagen, you began to understand what he means when he says the "airport was designed around customer convenience."
The parking structures are either connected to the terminal or directly across the street, connected by a short tunnel. There are free trams in the garages to take parkers to and from their cars, a well-used valet service and the rental cars are located just a few feet from the gates in the parking structure. This airport is built on service.
And, concerning parking, they have no competition. "The land around the airport is so expensive and densely populated that it isn't appropriate for long-term parking use," Hagen says. "Therefore we are the only game in town. If you want to park at John Wayne Airport, you park with us." The airport operates nearly 8,000 spaces, approximately 1,800 of which are located on a surface lot on airport property a few minutes away by shuttle ride.
Hagen says half of his time is spent on security issues. Physical security is supplied by the Orange County Sheriff's department, with the Transportation Security Administration handling luggage and passenger screening. Since 9/11, security costs have tripled. When PT spoke to Hagen, the airport had just come off "Orange" alert.
"We had to close two of four vehicle entrances to the airport and inspect vehicles on entry," Hagen says. It also meant considerable coordination with local law enforcement agencies, as the airport is surrounded by three separate cities (Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Irvine) plus the county. "Going to the higher alert levels greatly increases security costs," says Hagen. "And it can reduce parking revenues."
The airport uses its web site (www.ocair.com) to inform travelers of parking conditions and potential tie-ups prior to their arrival. "Many frequent travelers either check the Web site or call us to be directed quickly to structures that have more available parking."
The valet parking operation is a source of pride for the airport. There is space for 350 valet cars and often fill the facility. "We had a spike in valet use during a seismic retrofit of the garages when we had as many as 1,400 spaces down due to construction. However, when we opened the garages back up, the valet numbers stayed up," says Hagen. This high continuing usage factor is related to the fact that many parkers had "gotten used" to using the convenient valet operation, and to the demographic of the airport users themselves.
More than 50 percent of the airport's users are business travelers on short trips, many for just a day. These travelers are white males, ages 35-44, with a household income in excess of $100,000. "Our goal with valet parking is to ensure convenience and quality of service to our customers".
The users of the valet service can drop off their vehicles at curbside a few feet from the ticket counters. Upon return they can call on a terminal courtesy phone. If they call on their cell phones when their plane lands, their car is returned to the terminal by the time they reach the curb. Convenience, that's the key at John Wayne Airport.
The parking operator (Parking Concepts) also runs a tram service in the garage. These roving trams pick up parkers in the long narrow facility and take them to the terminal. They also provide lot and floor "full" information. "Our revenue control system doesn't have the facility to track floor counts," Hagen said. "When we replace the system that is one feature we will be looking closely at."
Speaking of revenue control, John Wayne has an Amano "hole punch" system. According to Hagen, it's nearing the end of its useful life. "I know all the revenue control companies will be contacting me after reading this," he said. "But to be honest, they have been tracking us for a number of years. When we are ready, they will be the first to know."
When asked about shrinkage in his parking revenue, Hagen said it was minimal. "You rely on your equipment for complete revenue control at your peril." In addition to reports, John Wayne relies on operator and internal audits. There is a license plate inventory system in operation and strong management oversight.
Hagen also notes that 68 percent of the revenue collected comes in through credit cards. "This number jumped substantially when we agreed to accept American Express. With 50 percent of business travelers, AMEX is their corporate card of choice. That made a big difference." The higher fees charged by American Express had made the airport reluctant to take the card; however, by combining their credit card revenues with those generated by the rest of the Orange County Government system, they were able to negotiate a more favorable rate with the credit card company. "High credit card use is a benefit to our customers, and a great help in managing our revenue control."
The airport charges $1 per hour to a daily maximum of $17 on airport, and a daily maximum of $12 at the Main Street remote parking lot. The valet operation charges $20 for the first day, and $4 for each additional hour over 24 to a maximum of $20 for subsequent days.
Is parking revenue important? The parking and rental car revenues generate 44 percent of the total revenues of the airport, equaling revenues received from air carriers. "It affects us in many ways when security goes up and parking goes down. Those revenues are important. When we have to institute vehicle searches that cause delays of several minutes to get into the parking structure, travelers may find alternate means of getting to the airport." As with all airports, business fell off immediately after 9/11. However unlike many, John Wayne rebounded quickly. Although total passengers were down in 2001, they were back up in 2002, to a level higher than 2000. The airport serves nearly 8 million passengers a year.
John Wayne Airport is the 25th largest in the U.S. for aircraft operations and 50th in passengers handled. The majority of its aircraft operations is private, general aviation traffic.
John Van Horn is editor of Parking Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org