As Albany International Airport expands with new flights, a new garage and even a new exit off the Northway, business travelers offer ideas for the growing airport’s future.
Albany International Airport is investing more than $92 million in improvements to keep up with its rise as upstate’s fastest-growing airport.
The 20% increase in passengers over the past five years is not just a boon for airlines — it’s also a powerful predictor of economic growth here.
More passengers traveling in and out of a city almost always correlates with higher wages, more jobs and a larger share of college graduates in the region, research shows.
“As much as we rely on the internet now to get work done, at the end of the day you need to have face-to-face meetings, and places with lots of flights are in a much better position to take advantage of that,” said Richard Green, a professor at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy and the Marshall School of Business.
Green’s research points to increased air traffic as a force for “knowledge spillover,” which is crucial for growing and attracting businesses.
Many of Albany’s executives are taking off from ALB multiple times per month, and they see its relative ease and convenience as a big perk, even if it lacks some direct flights.
The airport’s investments will make travel even easier: building a new direct ramp connection from the Northway and a 1,000-space parking garage, among many other improvements to the terminal.
What else does the airport need to keep the momentum going? We talked to some of Albany’s most frequent flyers to find out.
Title: Partner, Fingerpaint Marketing
Travels from ALB: A few times per month
Top destinations: San Francisco, Phoenix
Bill McEllen used to fly out of the worst airport in the country all the time
And that’s not just his opinion of Newark Liberty International Airport, the airport closest to his previous home. EWR consistently ranks at the bottom of national (and global) lists based on on-time performance and service quality.
So now that McEllen lives upstate as the head of Fingerpaint’s New York and New Jersey offices, he sees flying out of Albany International Airport to be a pleasure, rather than a headache.
McEllen travels most often to Phoenix, where Fingerpaint has an office, and San Francisco. With no direct flights to either destination, he rotates between different airlines based on whichever connection is most convenient.
Those stopovers mean he sometimes ends up in his old stomping grounds of EWR, and too often with a missed or canceled connection.
“I’ve got plenty of late nights that I’ve rolled into Saratoga because I’ve rented a car and driven in from Newark. That’s not that infrequent of a story,” McEllen said.
Title: Managing partner, Deloitte’s Albany office
Top destinations: Dallas, Los Angeles
After 24 years working in the consulting business, Erin Reuss-Hannafin has earned the privilege of not traveling every week.
Reuss-Hannafin now serves as managing partner of Deloitte’s Albany office, where her colleagues are the “weekly road warriors” who take flights on Mondays and Thursdays.
She remembers being able to roll up to ALB 20 minutes before her flight with the assurance there would be no line at security. Now, she gives herself at least 90 minutes.
“It’s night and day,” Reuss-Hannafin said.
She added: “I can’t remember a flight out of Albany that hasn’t been full in the past couple of years.”
Reuss-Hannafin embraces the growth at ALB, and said many of her consulting colleagues still view traveling through Albany as less stressful when compared to Atlanta or Chicago O’Hare.
But the growing pains at ALB are evident to Reuss-Hannafin: Long lines at peak travel times, overwhelmed customer service staff, and sometimes chaos at check-in.
She also sees the new 1,000-space parking garage being built as a necessity to alleviate parking lots that fill up frequently.
“It is amazing to me, frankly, how full it is at times. Even days when I wouldn’t expect it,” Reuss-Hannafin said.
Title: Director of corporate responsibility and community engagement, KeyBank
Travels from ALB: About three times per month