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SLC airport looking at changes in light of traveler navigation issues, wheelchair waits

Posted at 10:33 PM, Jan 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-07 00:33:55-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Since the new Salt Lake City International Airport opened in September, some have found out the hard way that it's not as zippy to navigate as the old building.

Derek Seal described the experience his older relatives had upon trying to walk to their gate to board a flight to St. George.

"They missed their flight because they didn't realize how long of a walk it was," he said.

Upon hearing that story, Seal decided to secure a wheelchair for his wife when they took a flight in December, to make things easier with her leg injury.

But he soon found that was a process all its own.

"They said it can take up to 20 to 30 minutes to get a wheelchair," Seal said, of what the airline told him.

On top of that, he talked about how three other people had already been waiting for wheelchairs ahead of him, for what looked like quite a while.

"I had to ask two or three times just to remind the people to come," he said.

The wheelchair finally arrived, but with the security checkpoint still to navigate and with the gate a literal mile away, he indicated that his wife was wheeled to their plane barely in time.

"[The employees are] all nice, it's just I think that the demand is more than what they expected," he said.

Nancy Volmer, spokesperson for the Salt Lake City International Airport, expressed that they've been taking in similar complaints.

"We have been getting some feedback that people have not been able to get a wheelchair as quickly as they would like," she said.

While she indicated that it's possible more people might be requesting wheelchairs in the new, larger airport, it's hard to say because the airlines contract with a third-party company to handle all of the wheelchair requests.

Volmer said they pass the feedback along to the company.

However, the airport is also brainstorming how to make things easier and Volmer described how they might be making some changes to help those who can't get around as well.

"We are trying to look at what solutions that we can provide," she said.

For example, she said, they are looking at the situation with shuttles from off-site parking. Right now, they drop customers off and pick them up at the parking garage. Volmer said they're looking at bringing those shuttles closer.

When it comes to moving about in the concourses, motorized carts aren't a possibility, she explained, because of safety issues. She said the airport stopped use of the carts in 2010 and switched to wheelchairs because people were getting injured.

"With the new airport, we really don't have the space in the concourses to have those carts move safely about," she said. "So that's why we put in so many moving walkways, to make sure that people could use the moving walkways, or the elevators, or the escalators as well."

But, she did say motorized carts might be a possibility in the tunnel that links Concourses A and B.

"We may be able to add some sort of motorized vehicle to let people get through there, so we are looking at that. But we are working with the airlines to determine what the best solution is for that right now," she said.

A future tunnel will make the walk between the security checkpoint and Concourse B much shorter than it is right now, and according to Volmer, the tunnel can be retrofitted with a train.

But that would be years out.

"Until they get that fixed and the other stuff built, you just have to almost double your time," Seal said.

He has another flight coming up in a couple weeks with three children under the age of four.

Seal is already planning his trip through the airport with them.

"We'll have to have strollers, and wagons, and stuff like that," he said.

Volmer suggested travelers contact the airline ahead of time to reserve a wheelchair, and said people can also contact the airport in advance to make accommodations.

She said they will work with someone who has concerns over mobility.

The airport will take extra time to navigate, she said, so the biggest suggestion is to simply arrive early and allow for more time to get to your gate.