A double-wide mobile-home trailer that used to serve as an elementary-school classroom is now the airport terminal. A conference room is the Hertz rental counter. And there is no baggage carousel, just a small counter where baggage workers pile luggage.
Sloulin Field International Airport here wasn't built to be one of the fastest-growing airports in the world, but it is now. Traffic last year was 254% higher than just two years earlier. Airlines fly in with jets weighing twice as much as what the runway was built for. And when the parking lot is full, cars are left in ditches and on the sides of roads.
"It's hard to even call it an airport," said Kenneth Dransfield of White Springs, Fla. "And it's super expensive." He bought a ticket home to Florida seven months in advance and paid $1,200.
The Bakken oil bonanza has brought jobs and wealth to western North Dakota. With that have come workers and airlines to transport them. Small cities that used to have just a handful of turboprop commercial flights now have regional jets in and out all day long, and some have larger Boeing and Airbus planes popping in, too. Planes are packed, fares are high and airports are scrambling to find ways to grow more.
Most U.S. small cities and towns bemoan sharp reductions in airline flights, making it harder for their communities to attract new factories and businesses without jet service. But if there is oil, airlines will find all kinds of ways to get in and out of tiny airports.The best thing about the Williston International Airport: one can walk to it from the back porch of the house where I grew up. If it still has a back porch.
It would be nice to see Jane "Yes, There's Some Oil There" Nielson fly out to Williston.