By Mary Thurwachter
Later this year, patrons of the Palm Beach International Airport will be able to zip in and out of airport parking lots settling with SunPass, the prepaid system used on Florida’s Turnpike and other toll roads.
“We don’t have it yet, “ said Casandra R. Davis, community affairs spokeswoman for the airport. “We don’t have a firm date; late 2009 is projected.”
But there’s always something new at the airport, which had humble beginnings as a field with a windsock in 1929, became Morrison Field in 1936 (through the Depression) and served as a military base during World War II and the Korean War. In 1966, a five-building terminal was built. Twenty-one years ago, the current terminal made its debut, tripling the size of the previous building and doubling the gates.
So what’s new today?
A spiffy $64 million long-term parking garage, for one thing. The seven-story garage opened last year and added 3,400 spaces.
Parking rates have gone up, too. As of May 19, daily fees went up a dollar: $7 in park-and-ride, $13 in long-term parking and $17 in short-term parking.
You can buy gum!
After a 20-year ban, PBIA sells chewing gum. Paradies Shops, which run the airport’s retail shops, estimates that lifting the no-gum ban will bring in an extra $225,000 a year. Money wasn’t the only motivator. Passengers ask for gum all the time. Davis insists the change hasn’t been the nightmare officials once feared. It’s not ruining furniture and carpet. At least not yet …
You can get pesos for your dollars.
A currency exchange, shoe shine and business center have found a home in the terminal.
Stuffed lions and tigers and toys, oh boy!
A Kid Zone store and playground have been added. It’s all within skipping distance of the putting green, pool tables and foosball game outside Sam Snead’s Tavern. So there’s a playground for big kids, too!
For those who like to watch the planes take off, there’s a new observation area.
It’s got TVs, desks chairs and free Wi-Fi to occupy your time when there’s not much activity on the tarmac.
JetBlue moved from Concourse B to Concourse C.
The switch came after the recent completion of three new gates on the east section of Concourse C.
Chili's Too and CNBC News concessions have opened in Concourse C.
Chili’s has a separate line for to-go orders, so travelers can fly the friendly skies while munching on baby back ribs.
Extra ATM machines have been installed.
Get cash courtesy Fifth Third Bank.
There’s a cell phone charging station at CNBC News.
Good good good good vibrations (oom bop bop).
Feeling tense? Stress relief is available via massage chairs. You get three minutes of chair massage for a buck.
Surf the net.
Leave your laptop at home? No worries. Internet access is available at 35 cents a minute!
Bathroom break for companions.
Folks traveling with a health aid or helpful spouse can make use of the Companion Care restrooms.
Fight germs. Bathrooms are stocked with antibacterial soap.
Still under construction:
An $18.1 million control tower is being built near the airport’s northern border near the Palm Beach Kennel Club. Air traffic controllers are planning to move into the 231-foot-tall tower in 2011.
Mary Thurwachter is a West Palm Beach freelance writer and founder/producer of INNsideFlorida.com (www.innsideflorida.com)