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Our View: Airport reconsiders free-parking cutoff time

Taking someone to the airport early in the morning, Kim Richard Eckert of Duluth said he just "wanted to go inside to see her off since she's had some recent health issues." He also said he wanted to "be a nice guy and not park along the curb by the entrance (like so many of us do), even though (a) few other cars were there."

So Eckert pulled into Duluth International's short-term parking. At 5:54 a.m., he said in a letter to the News Tribune Opinion page.

"(I) was in the terminal for only five minutes or so (less time than I thought it would be) and was back at my car at 6:04," he wrote.

Nonetheless, he was charged for parking: $3. For a measly 10 minutes. As he saw it, it cost him $3 just to do the nice thing and run into the terminal to make sure the woman he dropped off for a flight was all right.

Eckert wrote to the newspaper not about how much he was charged. Three bucks won't be a hardship for most of us. It was just that, "There are many parking lots that let you in and out for free if you're only there for a few minutes. Little wonder so few want to use our airport, not only because of the high air fares but also because of the parking rates."

Airport spokeswoman Natalie Peterson said she doesn't know about the practices of other parking facilities. But at Duluth International, "Anything under five minutes is waived. ... Where do you draw the line?"

And, "Of course travelers are able to pull up curbside" to run inside with someone they're dropping off and then come right back out, Peterson said in an interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page. Perhaps that's what Eckert should have done — instead of pulling into short-term parking at all. Other travelers and their rides can consider the advice.

"It's something that happens all the time," Peterson said.

Parking fees are important to Duluth International Airport, which owns its ramp. Those fees and those fees alone pay for the ramp's upkeep and operation.

"It's been a wonderful asset for us, but it does come at a cost," Peterson said. "We don't receive government subsidies. We need real money."

Nonetheless, if the airport is willing to waive its parking fee for the first five minutes, why not 10 minutes, which would have helped out Eckert?

Peterson said the airport would consider it.

"We very much listen to our customers," she said. "It's something we're always willing to talk about. We're very customer-friendly."

It's the nice thing to be.