Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Concourse: Part 1 - Island in a Stream of Runways



Concourse_001
- A hallway lined with luggage, leading to unused gates that once served Comair flights at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport's Concourse C.

Four runways criss-cross the grounds of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). Among them, in an island by itself, is the former "Concourse C." Once a gateway containing portals to destinations across the United States - it now sits quietly with luggage lining the hallways and benches stacked atop each other in closed shops and eateries. The lonely aerodrome is absent of both people and flights, both of which have relocated to the airport's main facilities.



Concourse_002
- Concourse C's entrance.

This island amongst a sea of asphalt and concrete was once a center of human activity. It was reached via shuttle busses from the main airport. The yellow arrows still guide the few visitors it gets these days to its automatic doors that no longer respond to the approach of a human body.

Concourse_003
- The main lobby.

Our guide lets us inside. The concourse has been abandoned, but the lights are still on. The articulated roof and lines of the ceiling point toward the building's center: a tower displaying three banks of blank television screens that no longer need to update anyone on departures or arrivals.

Concourse_004
- Flight information center.

Most of the former shops have their metal cages rolled down - some of them relocated with the remaining flights to the main airport, while others simply left.

Concourse_005

The narrow hallways give way to wide open spaces that had once been crowded with passengers waiting for their flights.

You're not sure how to talk while you're in there. You want to whisper, to maintain the quiet that surrounds you. You know it's a stark contrast to what once was a building that flurried with human activity and conversation.

Concourse_006
- Boarding area.

The restaurants, they're gone too, leaving traces of their corporate logos and branding.

Concourse_007


Concourse_008
- Former McDonald's dining area.

Information desks, pay phones and restaurant tables gather dust with no one to occupy them anymore.

Concourse_009

Microphones sit idly at their stations, no longer needed to amplify boarding calls.

Concourse_010
- A microphone once used at one of the gates.

Discarded and forgotten luggage lines the halls - now used by airport police to train contraband sniffing canines.

Concourse_011
- One of Concourse C's wings.


Concourse_012
- Boarding area. The random boxes and luggage scattered about are now used to train police dogs.

In the corner lies a small bar themed after a "european pub." Once a place for passengers to grab a drink before their next peregrination or to swap stories with strangers, it's now just storage for discarded equipment.

Concourse_014
- "The Pub, " a regional chain of British-inspired bars once had a location at CVG.

And above it all on the next floor up: offices and lounges yellowed over from years of crew member and pilot cigarette break smoke. Then there's the tower. While not the main center of the airport's activity, this is place where the operations of the concourse's aircraft were supervised.

Concourse_015
- Concourse C's tower.

It's not my first time being in a closed off section of CVG. A few years back, a QC/D source toured myself and some other photographers around some of the airport's other closed areas. In that article, I implied that CVG was "downsizing" and maybe even "dying." It's an implication I'd like to retract - CVG isn't dying, but as I stood there in the quietness of Concourse C I once again realized that things aren't as they once were and the airport isn't like it once was.

Concourse_016
- What's left of the former "Bluegrass Brewing Company."

You can read the previous article for a bit of a history lesson on why Cincinnati, Ohio's airport is in neighboring Northern Kentucky and get a clue was to why so much of it has been abandoned. To make a long story short: flights at CVG have been scaled back dramatically over the past few years. As you walk through the quiet, abandoned corridors of Concourse C, it's hard to imagine that you're at an airport that reportedly once had more daily international flights than New York City's JFK.

Concourse_017
- "Sue Venir's," a former souvenir and travel shop.

CVG is a Delta Airlines hub. At one point, it boasted three terminals and three concourses to handle all of its daily flights and a peak of 22 million annual passengers in 2005. Today, the airport's operations and flights have all been relocated into terminal 3 (now known as: the main terminal) and its two concourses. Concourse B houses all Delta and Delta Connection flights, while Concourse A houses all other carriers including the recently added Allegiant Airlines. To understand the abandonment of Concourse C though, you have to look back to 1977 with the founding of Comair.

Concourse_018
- Empty newspaper stands in one of the concourse's boarding a

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio - Comair was a regional airline formed by the father/son team of Raymond and David Mueller. By the early 80's, Comair formed a partnership with Delta Airlines and had gone public as a company. In September of 1994, Comair opened its second hub: Concourse C at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Initially built with 53 gates, the concourse served as the central location for all of the airline's flights in and out of CVG. In 2000, Comair was completely purchased by Delta airlines and it became a subsidiary and compliment to Delta's regional "Delta Connection" service.

For 14 years, Comair operated its CVG flights solely out of Concourse C while the company's headquarters could be seen in the distance across the neighboring runway. Unlike CVG's other concourses which are connected via an underground train, Concourse C could only be accessed via a shuttle bus service. Upon arrival to the concourse though, travelers had a wide selection of retail and dining establishments as well as smoking areas. Despite how packed the corridors of the concourse would often get though, things were not boding well for Delta who declared bankruptcy in 2005, bringing Comair with it.

Concourse_019
- "Moe's," which was one of the concourse's many restaurants.

In 2008, citing increasingly rising fuel costs, Delta announced that it was cutting flights and pulling Comair out of Concourse C despite emerging from bankruptcy protection the year prior. Comair's flights were relocated to the main Terminal 3, emptying Concourse C by January of 2009. By 2012, after years of steady layoffs and flight reduction, Delta completely shutdown and folded its Comair brand.

Concourse_020
- Several of the concourse's waiting benches stacked out of sight.

These days, you can still catch a glimpse of Concourse C out the window of your flight - it's the island in the stream of runways, a time capsule of different times. Gone are the people who used to pass through its corridors, smoking rooms and bars on their way to parts unknown. The aircraft - they're parked over at the recently renovated main terminal, where the airport is launching a new future and a new direction. Meanwhile, Concourse C sits quietly amongst the tarmac and it's not going anywhere anytime soon - Delta has a lease on the building until 2025.

Concourse_021
- Looking out from Concourse C towards the rest of the airport.
Part 2: Unaccompanied Minor
Part 3: The Film

40 comments:

  1. WoW. Great pictures, looking forward to the rest of the story and pictures.

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  2. This is a great post, but makes me sad and nostalgic!!

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  3. Wow great pictures! Cannot wait to see what else you have in store on this project!

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    1. More photos were posted today and a film will be out on Wednesday!

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  4. Great pictures, But so sad. Many Great memories

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    1. Would love to hear any memories you have of the place if you don't mind sharing.

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  5. so sad to see what has happened to our once bustling airport

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  6. I was a pilot for Comair for 16 years, 12 as a captain. I spent a lot of time in that building--it was a home-away-from-home. When I interviewed with the company in 1996, it was a big selling point for me. This, I thought, was a company on a mission, that knew what it was doing, where it was going. And they did. The Delta purchase, in retrospect, was a mistake for both companies. Comair was cutting edge, and that was lost with the absorption into Delta. When I got hired, the building was already too small. It was expanded twice before it closed. It was always packed, and you could tell what part of it you were in by either the aroma of the restaurants nearby, or the announcments: for years, Montreal and Toronto departed from gate 40, and Orlando from the 20-gates. It was busy, chaotic, crazy...and fun. Many mornings, I worked the first flight out (it was the 7:05 to Dulles for several years), the last flight out (we had a late night push that rivaled the busiest day-time pushes for other major airports and carriers), and the last flight in, which often was after midnight. We were all proud to work there, and we worked hard, every one of us. The photos discuss the ramp tower (we called it Exceptions), but unless you heard the radio, you can't imagine how busy it was. At one time, Comair had the money to buy a major carrier, and I can't help but wonder what would have happen if we had....

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    1. Thank you Chip Wright, Comair was the best company I worked for . . . everyone was like family! I loved to just "people watch" while I was waiting to work my next flight. Really miss it :(

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    2. Thanks for the recollections, Chip. I always looked forward to your aviation magazine columns! I used to love stopping in at the observation area with my backup handheld radio and listen in on the tower, Approach, the ramp, and all the others while I watched all the Delta and Comair flights come and go - there was always a certain electricity in the air and I could easily sit there for an hour or two on a spring day or a summer evening. I had a lot of friends who flew and worked for Comair, as did my son. I once thought highly of Delta...until they bought out Comair and the current Northwest management began its takeover and Delta became Delta in name only. After the stories I heard, and what Delta ultimately did to Comair and how Delta management treated Comair employees, I think of Comair with sad nostalgia and of Delta with nothing but contempt and disgust. I can only wonder at what might have been, had Comair resisted the buyout...

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    3. Chip,

      Thanks for taking the time share some of your experiences!

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    4. Chip, I was one of those voices on Exceptions. I surely miss my Comair family, and the excitement of the Tower. I currently work for American Eagle in GSO, and it's a job I'm thankful for......but it ain't Comair!

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    5. Chip, I completely agree. Many of my experiences as a flight attendant came from the basement hallways, past where all of the restaurants held their food storage. The flight attendants and pilots once had their break room down there. When sitting airport ready I had many conversation there and got to know so many friends. When we outgrew that space they gave us sectionals across the terminal, but the basement is where I had my most fond memories. I loved the chaos of the entire concourse, main floor and down below where I spent hours waiting to be called out onto a flight. Thank you for posting these pictures. It brings back many memories. I don't want to bash Delta. Since we worked for Comair, everyone knows how we really feel about the changes and why they occurred. -Kathy Driscoll, (hire date 5/26/00)

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    6. Wow so many memories. I was an FA hired in 98. Loved loved loved it the excitement of Concourse C at the holidays. Wow. Felt so proud to be taking so many people to so many destinations. And the last push at night 11 so many departures amazing. Remember once when weather shut us down for hours of delay so many got extended to be able to get pax on their way at 1 am if not later. Just knowing we were able to finally get them to where they wanted to be was exciting. Remember watching one of our amazing pilots sit down his 2 sons (who were all spiffed up for their trip) to behave and remember what I told you-as they nodded their little heads. Fun times. Thank you so much for your coverage you did it justice.

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  7. Agreed Chip. it was easy to be proud to work there, great facilities, great people, great success. Who knew that making a career out of a regional airline was so wrong. I remember even before McDonalds was remodeled, they had a common area for seating for all the restaurants in the center, with Pizza Hut and next to it the famous Darcies, everyone loved their soups and sandwiches !

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  8. Talk about a walk down memory lane... Great place, great friends, and wonderful memories!! :(

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  9. Julie Watkins 13822 employee #March 25, 2014 at 11:29 PM

    Wow.....12 years of memories....After reading half way down I had a smile on my face and after half way I started tearing up. So sad it had to happen. It's ashame. Best job I ever had and will ever have. We all were like family and still are. I miss so many of you I don't know how to get a hold of.

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    1. Amen Julie

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    2. here also Julie, I was strolling down memory lane, than I got a huge lump in my throat.

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    3. Julie, there is a Comair Alumni Page on Facebook. You can try that, or try searching for people you know on Linked In. Many of us are keeping in touch.

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    4. https://www.facebook.com/groups/ComairAlumni/

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  10. Wow, very bittersweet. The best job ever. The best people ever.period.--FA Nikki Fyke #15194

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  11. 10 years of one of the best airlines I have ever worked at! Chip it was always a pleasure to fly with you. The memories still are strong. Now as I now commute to my 6th airline I still see some of the comair folks now working for delta or some work in some of the shops in the concourse. It was a pleasure to be a part of comair. Randy. #18354

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  12. The delta buyout was the beginning of the end. I remember that morning in the break room when they announced the news. People were clapping and excited and all I could think was that "we're f#cked". I saw how delta was ran, and I knew we would always be at the bottom of the totem pole. We should have bought TWO and turned it around.

    The Mueller boy's greed, deltas mismanagement, the stupidity of the pilot strike, and a long line of shitty company presidents destroyed a once great company.

    Randy K 13359

    PS. Kiss my balls rod remley

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  13. I started working from Comair when I was 19. I had just moved to Cincinnati from NC and up till that point I had never had a job that I really enjoyed and during my 5 years there I learned a lot about work ethic and responsibility besides making a lot of friends. I'll never forget my first winter working the ramp on Orange Team (gates 63-74), most of our ramp crew was taken to De-Ice and we had 2 people working the ramp for every 4 gates. I'll also never forget the last week of Concourse C, Orange Team was the last group of gates to transistion to Concourse B and we got our butts kicked. My last day workin there I was so busy trying to get all the flights out on time I drove off with an air bottle while it was still plugged in and got suspended for a week. Chip is right, the radios were insane especially during the last push of the evening around 8 or 9. It always felt like every flight was a quick turn, as your 7-8 o clock planes were leaving your 9 o clock planes were already waiting to pull in the gate and I used to run from gate to gate. You used to have to wait your turn to jump in on the radio to get your passenger final so you could get the cargo slip turned in. Also pushing back the planes from the inside gates (by the front entrance) were difficult because buses full of passengers would be driving by the tail end of the plane and you felt like you were in a fish bowl as you tried to turn the plane 90 degrees and navigate it safely all the way out to the taxi way. As you can tell I'm still very proud of the work I did at Comair, I firmly believe we had one of the best ramp crews in the nation and I was told by many pilots that they enjoyed flying into Cincinnati because of the great job we did.

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  14. It's unbelievable how a story about an empty airline terminal can stir so many emotions. I was employee 9753, and spent 3 of my favorite and best years at concourse c. We were cutting edge and had the profit sharing to show for it. What a shame that was once a state of the art facility with it's underground fueling system, it a dust collecting relic in the middle of the airport tarmac. SO MANY memories and amazing people were made in this building.

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  15. I worked in this concourse from 1998 - 2000 and then worked in the general office fromm 2000 - 2003. Comair was once a great company to work for, and seeing these pictures makes me sad and a bit nostalgic. Thank you for going in there and taking these photos and sharing your observations. I can't wait to see the rest of the story!

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  16. While living in Savannah, GA in 2003 and 2004 and Hartford, CT in 2005 and 2006 I had plenty of chances to connect through CVG. I think late 2006 was the last time I was in there. It was still bustling, but the drawdown had begun.

    Never minded Concourse C - it was fascinating how many flights they could run through that place and how efficient it truly was. Besides that there weren't any jetways, it was really the perfect design for a terminal. Shame it just goes to waste now.

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  17. Great article. I felt like I was looking at pictures of an old home I once lived in. Ha, eight years as a reserve flight attendant I just about did live there at times.I have had many jobs in my lifetime, but none have compared to working for Comair. What a unique and special experience. I feel so blessed to have been a part of that era...hard to put into words what made it so special...the people of course, ohh the many exceptional, unique and DEDICATED people, but many other things as well. How every department worked hard, and together,to make the whole such a superior product. The passengers, the airport itself...I still can't leave the airport Lol It is such a shame what happened to Comair FA Anderson 23967

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  18. Just an FYI, CVG hasn't been a Delta hub since they bought Northwest Airlines.

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    1. It technically still is a hub with 100+ daily departures but it's been scaled down so much that it doesn't even seem like it's still one. Supposedly the current hub is profitable, which is good news.

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  19. This is so neat, been wanting to see the inside of this place for a long time now. I was traveling quite a bit out of CVG in the late 90s through the 2000s and saw this concourse go from brand new, to expanded multiple times, busting at its gills.... then poof.... gone. That was a bizarre time for air travel. Thanks so much for this.

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  20. Jacob Smith, a former Comair "rampie," commented on how proud he is to have worked at Comair. Jacob, I was a Comair pilot from 1985-2012 (#1515) and I can tell you you have every right to be proud! You guys and gals were indeed the best. There were tons of places we enjoyed flying to, but CVG Concourse C was home, thanks to you all. I liked your description of the pushback from the inner gates -- I hadn't thought about that in a while. It did look scary from our perspective, but somehow you all always made it work out!

    And I also remember many times taxiing onto the Concourse C ramp and being told that we'd have to wait for a gate. It was frustrating, but it sure beat being laid off.

    Hats off and thanks to everyone who worked there! It was a fantastic experience -- I can't believe how lucky I was to have been a part of it.

    Keep smiling!

    Tony Rein

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