Airport review: Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport

THE FLIGHT

JQ457 to Sydney

THE ARRIVAL

Arriving by car – there's no public transport, only shuttle services such as Byron Easy Bus and GoByron – I drive straight into the airport's short-term car park, where all-day parking costs a very retro $8. The hourly rate is $2 and overnight parking costs $14 a day in the neighbouring long-term car park. The new two-minute set-down area outside the terminal is wide enough to prevent traffic congestion, but no longer has a canopy, which will make departures and arrivals interesting when the Northern Rivers gets rain again.

THE LOOK

The $6.9 million revamp of the terminal building, completed in October and funded by the NSW government and Ballina Shire Council, was sorely needed – Ballina-Byron is the third busiest commercial airport in NSW after Sydney and Newcastle. The single-storey terminal building is sleek and stylish while retaining that low-key, regional-airport look. Inside, and on the airside of security, the departures hall is much more spacious than it used to be. The decor is beachy-chic with plenty of white, timber and gorgeous framed pics of whales, surfers and north-coast beaches by Byron-based photographer Craig Parry. There are plenty of inviting nooks such as a bar with locally made tables and high stools, a cafe with white chairs and tables and rattan light fittings, and islands of indoor plants ringed by smooth timber benches. There's also an airy central area with communal wooden tables and clusters of comfy chairs. It's so comfortable, and quiet between busy flight times, that local businesses now schedule meetings there, an airport security officer tells me.

CHECK-IN

The check-in counters have changed little in the upgrade, but who needs them when online check-in is so easy? On arriving at the airport for my 9.15am flight, I pass through security in a matter of minutes, ready to browse the bookshop and the breakfast options.

SECURITY

The security check is a breeze. There's a single conveyor belt and scanner, an X-ray machine to walk through and an explosives residue swab for those randomly chosen, and there are plenty of friendly staff around to help.

FOOD AND DRINK

The new terminal makes a point of showcasing local talent. The SALTBAR serves local beer from Stone & Wood and Seven Mile the brewery of which is right next to the airport, as well as Brookie's Gin from Cape Byron Distillery. The locally owned and run Beach Grill serves everything from pies and sandwiches to all-day breakfasts, "Ballina" beef burgers and a decent vegan burger called The Byron, fries included. The coffee is organic, from local distributor Coastline Coffee. And there's a water fountain with, joy of joys, a bottle-filling niche (so you don't have to jam your reusable bottle under the bubbler).

RETAIL THERAPY

There's a RELAY bookstore with all the latest titles as well as souvenirs from Ballina and Byron Bay, travel accessories and snacks, including a "local food" stand with muesli bars and treats by Brookfarm, Byron Bay Chocolate Company and The Monday Food Co (some of which make great souvenirs).

PASSING TIME

One of the best things about a small airport is that once you're in the terminal, your gate isn't far away. In this case, the three gates are on the runway side of the departures hall and because you can see your aircraft land and taxi to its spot just outside the doors, you can relax, or order another coffee, until it's time to board. There's free Wi-Fi, plenty of power points and a charging bar with high stools at a bench along one wall of the terminal.

ONE MORE THING

Ballina town centre, river and beaches are a short drive from the airport while Byron Bay is about 35 kilometres north. Four airlines fly in and out of Ballina-Byron: Jetstar and Virgin Australia fly to Sydney and Melbourne (only Jetstar flies direct to Melbourne), Rex has at least four flights a week to Sydney and FlyPelican flies to Newcastle every day except Saturday. See ballinabyronairport.com.au for flight schedules.

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THE VERDICT

The terminal upgrade has created a space so inviting you'll want to arrive early for your flight – to browse the best-sellers, linger over a latte or a glass of wine or catch up on some work in air-conditioned comfort, before walking across the tarmac to your aircraft.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★★★

Louise Southerden travelled at her own expense.

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