DL4097 to Salt Lake City, economy class
OFFICIAL IATA CODE
Like most American cities, and particularly those in Texas, Austin is built with cars in mind, so the only convenient way to reach Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is on four wheels. Thankfully the ride is painless. Even though my Lyft driver balks at the traffic queue leading up to the terminal, I'm walking through the sliding doors less than 25 minutes after leaving downtown Austin, a ride that costs about US$25 ($36).
As Austin grows at an exponential rate, so the airport grows to meet demand. Built in 1999, it has undergone expansions in both 2015 and earlier this year. This means nothing has had time to get old: it is bright and spacious and meticulously clean. Most important of all, it is comfortable.
There is no queue at Delta, though two of the five self-check-in terminals are down. The customer service representative is friendly and full of jokes, which is quite a miracle at 6:10am. My bag is checked and I'm off to security in less than five minutes.
Here is the line. An advisory screen advises a 17 to 21-minute processing time, and that's about spot-on. I shuffle through the seemingly endless queue, and then the security scanners, but the TSA staff members are uncharacteristically pleasant, which goes a long way to mitigating the delay.
FOOD AND DRINK
The first thing you notice is a lack: not a single one of the usual suspects like Starbucks or McDonald's. Instead, Austin goes local in a big way. The Peached Tortilla, Medici, Amy's Ice Cream, Jo's Coffee – all of these outlets have their originals back in town, and all of them maintain the same high standards that made Austinites fall in love with them in the first place. The beer comes from kegs here, the croissants are fresh and flaky, and for vegetarians, there is even Beyond Burgers. It is difficult to overstate how remarkable this all is until you spend a lot of time in American airports. Here is airport dining done right. Because it's early in the morning, I pick up some breakfast tacos at, yes, the indoor taco truck.
Again, no international chains. What you do have is things like ToyJoy, a candy shop that is far too bright for so early in the morning, and a terrifically curated version of Book People (another Austin favourite). Tyler's Austin Warehouse sells the branded T-shirts you actually want to take home as souvenirs: "Keep Austin Weird" and "Austin City Limits".
Art pieces are scattered throughout the terminal, including some strange small sculptures by Sharon Engelstein, who provided the public art outside Austin Public Library. But the star attraction is a central corral with fairy lights and bleachers, and a small "Asleep at the Wheel" stage holding a piano painted psychedelic colours. Austin airport features a "Live Music in the Air" series, with performances every afternoon throughout the work week. In fact, there is live music everywhere – at Haymaker, Hut's Hamburgers, and TacoDeli. KUTX, the local radio station, has a dedicated airport channel to keep you entertained.
ONE MORE THING
Since 2012, the airport has used 100 per cent renewable energy. It offers electrical outlets for cars, and it recycles a huge amount of water – all of which feels like a subversive finger given to the rest of Texas, which is famous for its gas-guzzling ways.
Austin features one of the very best airports in America. Perhaps the best, if your category of judgment is how well an airport reflects its city's character and offerings. More like a quirky mall than a waiting area, being here is fun. When was the last time you heard that said about an airport?