This is the second installment in a three-part series on Memphis International Airport. Part I focused on Memphis Airport’s history, and Part III focuses on Memphis’ expansion plans in 2020 and beyond.
There are now seven scheduled airlines which fly into Memphis: American, Delta, United, Southwest, Air Canada, Frontier, and Allegiant. Of these carriers, Air Canada is the sole regularly-scheduled international airline serving Memphis, with 2 daily roundtrips to Toronto on a Bombardier CRJ-200. Air Canada resumed service to Toronto from Memphis in December 2016, following a five-year absence, and added the second daily flight in May 2018.
Delta service from Memphis has been reduced to Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York LaGuardia and Orlando (seasonal). Interestingly, the American Airlines-US Airways merger helped propel American ahead of Delta as the largest airline at Memphis, serving Dallas/Ft. Worth, New York LaGuardia, Miami, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington National.
The exterior views of MEM are very unremarkable. The one exception is the rental car facilities, but the terminal buildings and jetways themselves are in need of a face-lift.
Check-In and Post-Security
There are essentially two main departure halls at MEM, and at any given time, it is unlikely for them to have long lines. The security section features TSA PreCheck and post-security, passengers will split to the left if they are flying American, United, Air Canada, Allegiant, or Frontier, and right if they are flying Delta or Southwest.
Once you exit security (there is only one major point) you’ll encounter the now-shuttered entrance to Concourse B. The concourse was shut down on April 4, 2018, as it is now being modernized as part of a multi-year plan. The project is expected to be complete by 2021 and will house all airlines in an upgraded facility.
The center section that connects terminals A and C now host the Delta SkyClub and moving walkways.
One of my favorite things about this section is the “Arts in the Airport” feature that is so prominent throughout the terminal space. This is an initiative that MEM airport launched over a decade ago to feature local artists. Each year, Memphis airport has a context that selects the top 45 works of art, from over 300 entries on average, that capture what the artists love about the City of Memphis. The pieces are stunning and vibrant. The top six are awarded cash prizes ranging from $50 to $300. Students are provided the art supplies by the airport’s community foundation for the contest, and the finalist’s pieces are displayed for one year. Some are even available for purchase by the public.
The foot traffic in MEM airport is not large enough to justify a food court. As such, the airport has a total of ten food and beverage locations spread between the two functional concourses, and an additional two on the non-sterile side.
In the A concourse, one can find a Sam Adam’s Brew House, Torn Basil (Italian), a Starbucks, Urban Market, and Lenny’s Sub Shop. In C, there’s a Cinnabon-to-Go, another Starbucks, Home Team Sports Bar & Grill, Blue Moon Tap Room, and Jim Neely’s Interstate BBQ. The latter is the only joint that offers local Memphis BBQ, which is famous for jumbo pork sandwiches (with coleslaw), and ribs (dry rub), so if you are flying out of MEM and are craving BBQ, this will be the only place where one can get it. In the non-sterile area, there is a Maggie O’Shea’s pub and a Starbucks.
The artwork continues to adorn the terminal walls, but usually featuring photography of Memphis and the surrounding areas in Tennessee, Northern Mississippi and Eastern Arkansas.
Comparing old terminals of MEM with the Memphis of today, it appears that Northwest Airlines (eventually Delta) occupied all of Concourse B and Northwest Airlink occupied most of Concourse A. Today, as all of B is shut down, Delta has moved back into A, and occupies six gates: A17, A19, A21, A23, A25 and A27. The former international arrival gates at B41, B42, and B43 remain in terminal B, but as MEM does not have any scheduled services that require FIS facility processing, any charter or unscheduled international arriving passengers will be bussed to the baggage area after going through customs.
The “airlink” gates pictured above were removed from the concourse in 2015, and the facility ends at A17/A19. Once the construction of the B concourse is completed, then the south end of the C concourse will also be removed so that aircraft can move more easily into the B concourse.
There is a Blue Suede Service volunteer group, made up of retirees local knowledge and aviation expertise. You’ll notice them wearing navy blue vests, white shirts, khaki pants or shorts and clip boards with the Blue Suede Service logo.
On a traffic basis, Memphis airport has seen passenger numbers rise by 6.8% between 2016 and 2017. The airport also released Q3 data from 2017 that saw the average airfares decline about $16.68 dollars year-over-year. Compared to 2012, when Delta last operated a hub at MEM, airfares had dropped $181.29 (inflation-adjusted).
That being said, it is not surprising why: the airport is a complete ghost town.
So, while there isn’t a whole lot to see in Memphis airport from a traffic diversity and passenger volume perspective, there is, nevertheless, a lot to appreciate about it.