Every day the ease of passing through U.S. immigration and customs is attracting an entirely new kind of passenger to the Shannon hub.
I noticed two British Airways flights departing for New York on Monday and was told by a member of ground staff that they were known as the "high roller" flights originating at London City Airport in the heart of the British capital.
The flights are used mostly by wealthy business travelers in designer smaller aircrafts, keen to access and clear U.S. customs and immigration before reaching the hopelessly crowded New York hub and avoiding Heathrow on the way out. Corporate jets are much more frequent visitors for the same reason.
I could see the attraction. Shannon is a lot busier than it used to be but the airport still retains a friendliness and small-town feel impossible to imagine at JFK.
Dublin, of course, gets the most of the trans-Atlantic bustle, but in the aftermath of a consolidation of the Shannon region’s tourism operations the airport has suddenly taken a leap from the past into the future.
One should never underestimate the impact of plain old charm that the Irish have in abundance.
Traveling back and forth with an elderly relative on this occasion, and using a wheelchair for her, it was remarkable how friendly and accommodating the ground staff were -- right down to the U.S. immigration inspectors.
In an era when air flight is long stripped of any of its romantic associations and every airport and airline journey is a grim grind for most people, common humanity and help for an older passenger is a wonderful assistance.
Then there is the famous duty free shopping area, the first in the world, which has long been Shannon's signature. Back in 1947 the first Duty Free Shop was established by a visionary Irishman named Brendan O’Regan, who was determined to prove there was more to Ireland than Dublin and that a strong regional airport could make it.
Among those inspired by Regan’s vision on a visit to Shannon was Irish American Chuck Feeney, who subsequently established DFS, the largest duty free chain in the world. Feeney has gone on to become one of the greatest philanthropists ever and has donated well over $1 billion to Ireland.
He was the key figure behind the foundation of the University of Limerick, a stone’s throw from the airport and a nice example of synergy given his debt to Shannon.
Then there is the famous Sheridan’s Bar where Irish coffee was invented by bartender Joe Sheridan in 1952 and written about by columnist Stanton Deplane in the San Francisco Examiner, creating a worldwide phenomenon.
All in all Shannon has borrowed from its past as a unique hub, and with its U.S. immigration and customs clearance the airport is once again showing the way. It is the gateway to the west of Ireland, among the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world.
Unlike so many other airports, however, a traveler can benefit from hanging around the airport a little. It’s a place where history resonates yet the future beckons -- and the Irish coffee is still the best!