The Only Person in the Airport Who Hopes Your Flight is Delayed

That’s right. Out of the 100+ people who work in, around, and for the Asheville Regional Airport, there’s only one who secretly hopes your flight is delayed. We sat down with Todd Levick, General Manager of our own Blue Ridge Trading + Tavern, to get answers.

Todd Levick

Asheville Regional Airport (AVL): Let’s start with the big question: Why, oh why, do you hope for delayed flights?

Todd Levick: Well, when I travel, it’s the last thing I want, but here, in an airport restaurant, it’s good news. It’s against my nature to want something negative for someone, so it’s kind of a strange feeling when I find myself happy that a flight has been delayed. Really though, I want people to be slowed down and for the Blue Ridge Tavern to be a place that changes a negative experience (like a delayed flight) into a positive one where someone walks away saying, “Man, I’m so glad I got to experience this – farm-to-table food, a great server, the best burger I’ve ever had.” That’s what I want.

AVL: So you’re not really a bad guy. What about you? When you fly, where do you go?

TL: Honestly, I don’t fly very often, but when I do I go home to Boston. One of my favorite ways to travel is actually on the road in the middle of the night when no one else is driving.

AVL: You’re not supposed to say things like that when you work in an airport! This is supposed to be an airport story, promoting air travel! Anyway, while we’re on the subject, tell us the best thing about working here, managing the Tavern.

TL: Lots of things, really, but probably all the different people converging in this one place for different reasons—almost like a Field of Dreams thing—and being able to experience that.

AVL: Okay, so here’s a big question: why isn’t there a restaurant and bar in the pre-screening lobby area, and when can travelers expect to see something?

TL: I can’t answer the second part yet, but the first part is easy: less than 10% of business is done on the pre-screening side of an airport, so from a business standpoint, it’s a lot of money to invest into something that offers little return. However, we are definitely looking at this. We know people want it.

AVL: Let’s talk business for a second: what’s your top selling item?

TL: Water. Everybody wants water. And then coffee. Gum and magazines are big too.

AVL: What’s your favorite thing on the menu?

TL: Well, my favorite thing is actually something that’s not on the menu yet—shrimp and grits. But the most popular thing is our burger. I’ve had people say, “I don’t want burgers anywhere else now.” It’s the best burger in town: Brioche buns, local produce whenever possible. If you’re going to do a burger, make it the best burger imaginable.

Blue Ridge Tavern Burger
AVL: How do you motivate your staff to provide great customer service?

TL: Example. Hiring the right people and leading the charge every day. It all starts at the top. There’s a lot of passion in our company about designing an intentionally great experience, and there’s a lot of passion about great customer service, which is evidenced by the fact that The Paradies Shops (our parent company) has won the Airport Revenue News award for “Concessionaire with Highest Regard for Customer Service” for 15 years, and “Best Airport Retailer” for 16. It’s about the culture, not just the training.

AVL: Last question: what’s new and exciting for 2012?

TL: Redefining our menu and listening to what our guests want. We try to do a little bit of everything, but our identity is a Southern, fresh, something-for-everyone tavern. When I travel, I look for the Irish bar, so I love the tavern aspect of who we are. We also want to connect more with the community and become even more of a destination restaurant where people have to come to the airport an hour early, not because TSA said so, but because they want to be waited on by their favorite server and enjoy a great experience.

Learn more about Blue Ridge Trading + Tavern or take a look at the menu.

AVL’s Runway 5k

It’s one thing to plan a massive, precedent-demolishing event for eight months and then watch it unfold before your eyes as members of our very own Western North Carolina community descend upon the airport by the hundreds to take part in our very first Runway 5k + Healthy Fun Day. It’s another thing altogether to see it from someone else’s perspective—that of a runner, child, or aerial photographer, for example.

If you were here last Saturday to help us celebrate our 50th year by running on the runway, enjoying food from Tupelo Honey, Frankie Bones, or our own Blue Ridge Tavern, or perhaps by kicking back and enjoying the music played so well by local bluegrass band High Windy—despite the numbing cold—you probably have your own take on what was great, what could have been better (the weather, for example!), and what was just plane unique (pun intended). And if you didn’t brave the cold last weekend, this post will give you a little taste of what went down (which, ironically, is a phrase we tend to avoid in the aviation industry).

Photos are plastered all over our Facebook page, so you can get a good feel for things there, but here’s a real treat: images from the sky of the hundreds of runners that converged on the airport’s runway for a historic run.

(Click on the photos to see larger versions.)

Aerial photo 1

Aerial photos by

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You can’t beat an aerial view for an event like this.

After the race (which was won by Arden resident Scott Laws with a time of 18:39) parents and children alike filled hangar #7 to take part in the Healthy Fun Day portion of the event. Our event partner, Mission Health, went above and beyond to make health education fun and easy for all who attended, even dispatching MAMA, their emergency services helicopter, to the site so kids of all ages could get up close and personal with one of our region’s most recognizable aircraft.

One of the activities for kids was a scavenger hunt, in which children were tasked with finding objects or activities at the event that started with each of the letters in the words “Healthy Fun.” Take a look at these always adorable, sometimes touching, and often hilarious things kids see at an event like this:

Happy Faces

Happy faces is certainly a good sign, and clearly something that stands out to a child.

UnicornWhile we have received calls about unidentified flying objects at or around the airport, we can’t say that we’ve ever seen a unicorn. We are ready to offer this child a job in our creative department, though—imagination is a beautiful thing!

Ugly Color Pink

This one, for the record, says “ugly color pink.” We admit there was a lot of pink, but for a good cause! The event benefited Ladies Night Out and breast cancer awareness, in honor of Pink October.

U.S. Soldier

This one doesn’t need a caption, but it just makes us want to say thanks to all of our military service members, past and present.

Free ThingsIf you were ever a child, you know the importance of getting something for free. Heck, many of us STILL love getting things for free even though we’ve outgrown the ability to imagine unicorns at a party. We saw kids and adults alike walk out with everything from yo-yos and Frisbees, to a wad of cash (courtesy of Mix 96.5) and work-out towels. Free things are definitely deserving of an exclamation point.

Why waste time

Some children are born to be efficient. Why waste precious time looking around for a plethora of items when you could finish this little project with a few adjectives? “Awesome plane, little plane, truck, huge truck, yellow truck, flying plane, ugly truck, new truck.” DONE. Does this one remind anyone else of the wonderful Dr. Seuss?

Nice people

One polite young ‘un took the time to underline “Nice people” somewhere between four and twenty times. And it’s true—we met an awful lot of nice people on Saturday. We’re glad so many of you were here to have a good time with us, and thanks to ALL of you, we have much to celebrate!

Why yes, we DID exfoliate our runway…

Unless you’re in the aviation industry, “runway rejuvenation” might sound like a term to describe a day at the spa for a high-fashion runway model before the next big show. And actually, that’s not too far off.

For an airport, undergoing a runway rejuvenation is the equivalent of a treatment at the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa – emphasis on spa – complete with cleansing and exfoliation, body masque, and deep tissue massage.

Essentially, it’s a way to treat and preserve the runway.

First is the rubber removal process, meaning that all the rubber left on the runway—when the wheels of your plane touch down—has to come up. Scraping it off is a lengthy process, but like exfoliating your skin, you have to get rid of the gunk before you treat what’s underneath.

Next is “rout and grout,” which involves cleaning out cracks in the asphalt, and then filling and sealing them with a hot tar substance, which could be likened to a body masque.

After that comes the deep tissue massage, in which a sealant is applied that seeps into the depth of the asphalt and replenishes the needed oils and elasticity, protecting the entire runway.

Finally the markings are painted afresh, like having make-up professionally applied.

The process is something akin to Extreme Makeover: Runway Edition. And the best part of a show like that? The reveal, of course! Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly present our newly rejuvenated runway:

Runway Before + After Photos

Vision Departs AVL

You may have heard recently that Vision Airlines has decided to suspend service from AVL as of today. Yes, it’s true, although it’s not unexpected.

When Vision Airlines—new to commercial aviation—began serving AVL in the spring of this year, we were one of 11 cities that acquired service. Summer travel to Florida has kept the flights full, but as the warm-weather season begins to wind down, the airline has decided to make some changes, including pulling service from nine cities across the U.S.

Change like this happens all the time in the aviation industry—it’s just more noticeable at smaller airport. The good news for AVL is that Vision only constituted 1.5% of the total passengers through our airport, so it’s not going to have a major effect on the bottom line, but for our passengers who enjoyed the non-stop service to Florida’s panhandle, it is a disappointing change.

So what’s to come? Our staff is constantly engaging in conversation with various airlines and advocating for new service in our area. We know how important convenient non-stop flights are to you and we take your requests for those top destinations (like Washington, D.C., Ft. Lauderdale, Denver, etc.) to the airlines and ask them to consider bringing new routes (and lower fares!) to our community.

So fear not: Changes are a normal part of the aviation industry and we’re always looking toward the future and the next positive change for our airport and our community. We appreciate all the great support from our travelers through the changes — the positive tweets, comments, wall posts and e-mails. Keep them coming, and keep flying local!

Runway 5k + Healthy Fun Day

A few months ago an airport staff member asked one simple question:

“Hey, why don’t we hold a runway run?”

What started as a spark in the mind of a genius airport staffer has become the event of the year here at AVL and we’re super excited to invite you to the first-ever Runway 5k and Healthy Fun Day. We don’t want to give away all the details yet, but here’s some of what you can expect:

  • A 5k race that takes place on a portion of the airport’s runway and the airport campus. Don’t worry—we’re making sure no planes are coming or going during the race!
  • Games and giveaways—including a scavenger hunt for the kids to help them earn their wings.
  • Live entertainment by some very talented musicians.
  • A drawing for free airfare from AVL.
  • Aircraft on display, including a State Highway Patrol Helicopter, private aircraft, MAMA (Mission Health’s medical transport helicopter), and more!
  • Food from local restaurants, including our very own Blue Ridge Trading + Tavern.
  • Plus lots more from our partners and Mission Health.

And the best part? Admission to the Healthy Fun Day is absolutely free! There is a small fee to participate in the Runway 5k, but you’ll get an awesome t-shirt and a unique experience to tell your friends about.

We’ll keep you posted as details unfold, but for now save the date—October 1st. The Runway 5k starts at 9am and the Healthy Fun Day kicks off at 10am.

You can learn more about the event and register for the race right here.

Tell us what you’re most excited about in the comments section!

Fifty Years and Still in Love

Today is the big day — we are celebrating fifty years!

When we realized 2011 was going to be the airport’s 50th year, a question emerged: Is this a birthday or an anniversary?

Birthdays, we concluded, honor the one who is celebrating. Anniversaries, on the other hand, commemorate a relationship. Go ahead and call us cheesy, but we believe this celebration isn’t just about the airport — it’s about the community’s loyalty to AVL, and vice versa. Relationships, as we all know, take a certain amount of work, dedication and mutual support. Through the years, we’ve done our best to give this community what it needs, and you, Western North Carolina, have supported us in return.

On that note, can we just say that we love how enthusiastic you are about Asheville Airport? If we continue with the analogy of a relationship, we can honestly say that it feels like our first months together, and we’re definitely feeling the love. You compliment us nearly every day on how good we look, how you like us better than other airports, and how you can’t wait to see us again. The feeling is mutual, and we’d just like to say that, without you, we wouldn’t be who we are today. We also hear your constructive feedback on the areas in which we could use improvement, and we appreciate that too.

So Western North Carolina, thanks for the love. Here’s to us, and to the next fifty years!

History Exhibit Sneak Peek

We’re working like mad to pull together the most unique exhibit the airport Art Gallery has ever seen, and you’re about to get a sneak peek.

Opening Tuesday, June 7th, the exhibit features the history of the Asheville Regional Airport and its place in culture through the decades since it first opened in 1961.

Here are some teasers to pique your curiosity. Enjoy, and be sure to stop by to explore the exhibit!

Our New Favorite Channel

Allow us to introduce you to our favorite new TV channel. Actually, it’s not a channel at all, but rather a unique collection of content designed to give you—the airline passenger—information specific to your travel destination (or layover location) while you wait to board your flight.

New TVs at AVL

Now featured in the gate areas of our terminal are three Prodigiq Airport TV Network televisions that feature programming directly related to the destination in which you’re about to land. For example, if you’re waiting for a flight to Orlando on AirTran, you might see information about dining or attractions, or the current weather conditions, in Orlando. You’ll also get real-time flight information, breaking news, business and sports news—even cooking demonstrations.

The three flat-screen monitors cover all seven gates—two near gates 1–3, and one near gates 4–7.

One of our favorite features is the ability to choose where you sit and how much audio you hear as a result. Pick a front-row, center spot and you’ll be treated to audio from multiple speakers. Select a seat a few rows away and you’ll have enough quiet to read a book and still glance up to catch headlines.

The audio has also been carefully set at a level that allows passengers to hear the all-important airline announcements.

It’s not just the programming we’re excited about, but also the power-saving schedule that turns the screens on for the first passengers arriving at the airport in the morning, and shuts them down between flights and for the night, after the last flight arrives.

As we develop more tech-centric services for passengers, this system can easily be integrated with airport messaging, ADA-compliant messaging and airline announcements, all in the name of helping you take the easy way out.

Passenger Rights

Last week’s announcement by the Department of Transportation regarding airline passenger rights was chock full of good news for travelers.

The new regulations—which take effect in August—not only make air travel easier, but also provide solutions for a few common-sense issues we’ve been hearing about here in “airport world” for a while.

Here’s a breakdown of the rules:

1)      Airlines will be required to disclose, in plain view on their websites, any possible additional fees. This means when you book your ticket online, there won’t be any surprises. Everything from bag fees and cancellation or change fees, to meals, upgrades—even government taxes and fees—must be presented clearly.

2)      If your bag is lost, the airline must refund your baggage fee. We can probably all agree this just makes sense.

3)      If you’ve ever been bumped from a flight involuntarily because of an overbooked plane, you’ll appreciate this one: Increased compensation for involuntary bumping. The new rule increases the payment passengers may receive for both short and long delays.

4)      International flights by U.S. airlines—as well as by foreign airlines at U.S. airports—are now required to limit tarmac delays to four hours (with a few sensible exceptions for security and air traffic reasons). Passengers must also be provided food and water after the two-hour mark, plus the obvious necessities of working restrooms and medical care, if and when it’s needed.

It’s great to glimpse some positive changes for airline passengers. From the customer service perspective, these regulations are a much needed (and, frankly, much overdue) improvement to the air travel industry, and we’ll be happy to see them take effect later this summer.

Spring defines spring like this: “the season between winter and summer.”

Really? That’s it? Because it sure seems like it deserves a little more credit than simply an “in-between season.”

Spring, from what we understand, is the season 96% of the population just can’t wait for (based on absolutely no empirical data but on the comments routinely heard around the airport, i.e. “Ugh, is it SPRING yet?!”).

Spring carries with it not only warmer weather and the emergence of hibernating creatures and plant life, but also an energy all its own that motivates us humans to emerge from hibernation as well—to pry ourselves from our HDTVs and couch clothes and propel us into gardening gear, jogging suits and—we have to say it—airplanes!

Spring fever, defined by the same source as a “…restless feeling commonly associated with the beginning of spring,” is in full-swing. And much like the groundhogs and black bears we’ve begun to see here in Western North Carolina (a few groundhogs have already been spotted at the airport exit off I-26), new airlines and flights are springing to life as well.

Just yesterday we welcomed a new airline—Vision—with a ceremonial water arch (because watering things in the spring helps them grow?) which can fly you from Asheville to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, in just over an hour and just under $90 each way.

Bursting on the scene this spring is also the return of AirTran’s popular (and low cost!) non-stop flight to Tampa, Florida, PLUS new service to Philadelphia on US Airways. And in late spring, American Airlines is returning with service to Dallas/Ft. Worth.

So get outside, get your lawn chores done, and then book yourself a little vacation. Let’s give spring the credit it deserves and make the most of this beautiful season!