Not-so-hasty exits for Super Bowl fans flying back home

The expected rush of departures after Sunday’s Super Bowl brought throngs of visitors to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and the New Orleans Lakefront Airport on Monday, but despite Monday’s long lines and Sunday’s unexpected power outage, many of them were singing New Orleans’ praises.

Officials at Armstrong airport projected that roughly 42,000 passengers would come through the airport on Sunday and Monday.

Michelle Wilcut, the airport’s deputy director of customer service, said some employees began showing up at the airport at halftime of the Super Bowl, and the bulk of employees arrived at 2 a.m. Monday to start preparing for the crush.

Airport officials were urging travelers to leave their hotels at least five hours before their scheduled flights because of the lines, she said.

Due to the large crowds, the Transportation Security Administration doubled the number of security checkpoint lanes available and brought in additional baggage screening equipment, Wilcut said. Checkpoints and airport concessions opened at their normal times Sunday but remained open around the clock at certain locations until Monday night, she said.

One concession owner already had Super Bowl Champion T-shirts for the Baltimore Ravens on sale, and greeters were passing out thank-you notes to those entering the facility.

Despite the extra measures, lines were long Monday morning at certain checkpoints and ticket counters. However, airport officials had a live band belting out golden oldies for travelers.

Shawn Hartman and three friends who came from Baltimore for the game were proudly sporting their Ravens gear Monday.

Hartman said the group stayed on the Queen of Mississippi ferry in the city and truly enjoyed their time in the city. There were a “mob” of people in the French Quarter and around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but Hartman said that only added to the fun.

“We had a blast,” Hartman said. “Folks were really great.”

Hartman already is planning a return visit to the city the next time the Ravens match up with the New Orleans Saints.

“We’re coming back,” Hartman said.

In fact, many of the city’s first-time visitors left with a great impression of New Orleans, and they cited the friendly residents, great food and outstanding weather as some of the high points of their visit.

Maurice Jackson came to New Orleans from Chicago, where Monday’s projected high temperature was 28 degrees. Jackson quickly mentioned how much he loved New Orleans’ balmy temperatures, and said he also plans to come back one day.

“New Orleans (is) all good with me,” Jackson said.

Across town at Lakefront Airport, the crowds weren’t as dense as those at Armstrong, but they were much larger than usual.

Addie Fanguy, the general manager of the airport, said the facility likely will have handled about 600 chartered and private flights during Super Bowl weekend. Landmark Aviation, which runs the airport, brought in roughly 70 additional staff members from facilities across the country to help with the increased usage, and they were augmented by Super Bowl volunteers.

“We probably did six weeks’ work of flights in three days,” Fanguy noted.

He said the Super Bowl definitely raised the profile of the airport among those individuals who use private flights. Although charters were also a huge part of the traffic at Armstrong, getting people to start considering Lakefront for future business was a plus.

“It’s huge,” Fanguy said. “We get a lot of media attention.”

Landmark had set up complimentary breakfast in its small terminal that was fairly bustling with foot traffic as people waited for their flights.

Brenda Thurman was one of those travelers, and she raved about how wonderful her first trip to New Orleans had been. Thurman, who is from Buffalo, said that not only was the party in the French Quarter great, but the attitude of the city’s residents was great as well.

“We felt so welcomed. The energy level was phenomenal,” Thurman said. “I think I have a new favorite city.”

Although traffic at both airports will slow after the Super Bowl, officials said business still will be brisk as Carnival season switches into high gear. Officials project that more than 1 million travelers will come to the city for Mardi Gras.