I took my first flight in over a year in June. My jaw dropped at Salt Lake City’s shiny new airport — all the natural light pouring through the windows, bouncing off the porcelain benches and through the elaborate art installations on the walls. I pulled my carry-on past the new restaurants and newsstands. I rounded the corner to my gate, A22, where I sat comfortably and waited for my flight to board.

It was as easy a travel experience as one could possibly hope. So easy, in fact, I booked a vacation for the whole family. We flew to Long Beach out of Concourse A once again. Easy sailing. But then we flew back and landed at Concourse B.

It was then we came face to face with the dark underbelly of the new airport.

After we deboarded we followed the baggage claim signs down the escalator to the entrance of a long, windowless tunnel.

I had heard tales about “the tunnel,” but none of them prepared me mentally or emotionally or physically to make the trek through the corridor with children.

As we approached it, I had but two choices:

  1. Force our children to walk the entire quarter mile — the same children who cannot walk to the end of the driveway without claiming their foot or knee or nose hurts too much for them to go on.
  2. Take the moving walkways.

The choice may seem obvious. Take the walkway. Duh. But. Instead of one continuous walkway, the sadists behind the Salt Lake City Airport installed a series of shorter moving walkways, with about 50 feet between them.

Moving walkways may be simple and safe enough for the average adult traveler. But getting children on and off requires dexterity, lightning-fast reflexes and perfect timing. One slip-up on a crowded walkway and you’ve activated some sort of nightmare Rube Goldberg machine with passengers tripping over one another as they try to avoid the toddler splayed on the ground.

After contemplating the choice between dragging our children through the left walking-only-lane and repeatedly performing a circus act getting them on and off the flat escalators, we ultimately chose the latter, and immediately commenced yelling at our brood to “KEEP TO THE RIGHT” and “STAY TOGETHER” and “DON’T STEP ON THE PERSON’S HEELS.” We clenched their hands as the walkways ended, and hustled them through the walking portions between, then dragged everyone onto the next walkway.

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I don’t know if it was the anxiety of keeping everyone from injuring themselves or strangers, or the actual physical work of wrangling three kids through one thousand feet of linoleum, but I began to sweat.

Not as profusely, however, as those to our left in the walking lane, who would stop to catch their breath and check their Apple watches to see their movement rings lap twice around. Some looked longingly at the walkway, but seeing our frantic crew they were making similar calculations of relative risk. Most soldiered on.

A few pedestrians about halfway through veered to the left, sat at a bench, and pulled a snack from their carry-on. These were the most prepared among us. We envied them.

We finally arrived, miraculously in one piece, at Concourse A, where we still had another, I don’t know, 10 or 15 miles to walk before we got to baggage claim.

A full hour after deboarding, and that’s not an exaggeration, we retrieved our luggage, caught the shuttle to the parking lot and made it to our car feeling as though we had just competed in a family decathlon against our will. Kids were crying. Parents were searching for ibuprofen. Which, if we’re being honest, is how most family vacations conclude, but this was a new level of intensity.

Life elevated, I suppose.

My understanding is that the 1,000-foot tunnel of despair now used to get to Concourse B is a temporary solution until Phase 2 of the airport opens in 2024. Or at least that’s what executive director of the Department of Airports Bill Wyatt says in this video that looks like he was forced to film at gunpoint.

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But three years feels not so much temporary as a sort of purgatory, especially for the elderly, anyone who has trouble getting around and anyone with young children planning to travel between now and then, which, much to the chagrin of our fellow travelers, is a lot of us.

Pick any airport in the United States and the gate boarding a flight to Salt Lake City is immediately identifiable by the swarms of children and increased decibels. It’s just who we are. We have a lot of kids. The most per family out of any state in the nation. On occasion we take those children places with us on airplanes.

And for the next three years we need to pray that when we do take our children places on airplanes, it’s via Concourse A. But if it’s Concourse B, plan for an additional hour. And wear good shoes. And maybe bring some tape, strap your kids to you and just run through? That’s probably the least painful way.

Meg Walter is the editor-in-chief of The Beehive and a Deseret News contributor.

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