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Airport: Ballina airport makeover

Airport: Ballina airport makeover

I’ve just spent a week up in Byron Bay. My husband and I (love that I can say that!) usually go up for a week around Christmas or New Year. This year, due to other commitments, we delayed our trip until the end of February.

Introduction

The quickest way to get to Byron from Sydney is to fly to Ballina Airport (1 hour), and then take one of the many shuttle services to Byron – about a 30 to 45-minute trip, depending on the number and location of dropoffs on the way. Ballina Airport is serviced by Jetstar, Virgin Australia, Rex, Pelican Airlines and Qantas (QantasLink from 29 March 2020)

Alternately you can fly into Coolangatta (Gold Coast), but the flight (1 h 20 m) and the road trip back down the coast (55 m) makes the overall trip longer. The two advantages of Coollnagatta are the frequency of flights and the number of carriers that service the route (Qantas, Tiger, Virgin, Jetstar).

Yes, those plastic chairs in the pigpen, sorry, Departure Lounge were ever so comfortable.

The old Airport

Ballina Airport was last refreshed in the ’80s, I think. It was a slightly more contemporary version of a small regional airport. It had one luggage carrousel, no sky bridge, a tacked-on security screening area, and a not that great café.

Although portrayed as 2 gates, there was essentially one, with a pig-pen waiting area, that got very full prior to a 737-800 departing. This wasn’t helped often by airline schedules, where both Qantas and Virgin Australia scheduled flights relatively close together.

The café was outside the secure area, so passengers would linger there prior to boarding, necessitating a huge last-minute queue at the security screening area to get into the Departure Lounge. No one wanted to spend too much time in that overcrowded pig-pen of a boarding area.

The new departure area, which is more like a food court

The new Airport

About a year ago a new plaza area was constructed to provide an improved set down – pick up area for passengers. The arrivals area was also undergoing change, with the shuttle company booths moved, and I think a re-orientated exit area. The arrangement seemed a bit weird and inefficient, but new facilities often do when they are incomplete. They often don’t make sense until the full improvements are visible.

The new Airport is now complete. The missing section was a large, comfortable departures hall (well large for a regional airport), with bar, café, shops and waiting area.

And all this after security – meaning no last-minute mass exodus to the security screening bottleneck. It’s a major improvement. It makes both the arrival and departure experience much more enjoyable.

A major improvement is that the airport now has airconditioning, not to mention and an acceptable number and variety of food and beverage outlets.

Hamburger and Chips. Yum.

One more improvement is on the tarmac. Instead of unfriendly perilous stairs, you board or disembark using a disability-friendly covered ramp system. You still have to walk across the tarmac but in this part of Australia, unless it’s raining that’s quite a nice way to go.

But I do miss the giant sea creature sculptures that used to hang from the roof in the arrivals area.

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I used to dread the departure from Ballina. Hot, sticky, bad food, nowhere to sit if the café was full. I certainly don’t miss that scrabble for the security screening, or being penned up in the overfull departure lounge.

Now the airport has better access and parking, airconditioning, food and beverage outlets, and a fresh new look, and a bit of retail. Usually, I decry airports for being turned to shopping malls with flying bus terminus attached. But in this case, a food court with air transport is more than acceptable.

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