Tales from T-4

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Like a rat maze, escalators going nowhere but up and down, opaque glass walls obstruct our view of what’s ahead, and “under construction” panels make the space inhospitable.  Billed as a model of legibility, Madrid’s Terminal 4, which includes a Satellite Terminal (T4s) two kilometers away, was designed to handle up to seventy million passengers per year.  It cost one billion euros to build.

Ranked third in 2013 for the number of visitors received, Spain is a tourism marvel.  Its allure is the old and new, side by side.  Sometimes called “el culto de lo nuevo,” Spain has been distancing itself from its past by funding the most daring construction projects in history.  T4 is no exception.  There is one problem:  the building is unfinished.

We left T4 twice, once to San Sebastian then, on our return from the beach vacation, to Dallas.  We arrived the first time to be told by Iberia that we could not fly out early for our destination even though there were plenty of seats on the flights.  But our search for food was the true test of endurance and patience.  Not wishing to eat at McDonald’s, we walked in circles, and up and down escalators, for close to an hour before finding a Spanish restaurant I had identified.  My inquiry at the information desk was not fruitful; I was given a map that lays on my desk as I write this blog.

Published by the Ministerio de Fomento (roughly, Ministry of Development, but I prefer this translation twist, Ministry of Encouragement), no restaurants or restrooms appear on the map.  More a colorful artwork, than a map, we are instructed to put this paper in the waste basket when finished with it.  This is the farce of Spanish bureacracy:  there is an appearance of order where there is chaos.

On our way to Dallas, we spent another hour searching for the passage from Spain to Concourse U.  We finally exited immigration into a concourse with little air conditioning and no services except a limited coffee bar and vending machines.  Having left the Basque country for Madrid’s airport, we were subject to more security questions at the gate.  In fairness, all passengers were expected to again present their passports and answer questions.  However, the gate agent spoke with me for 30 minutes:  Who packed your luggage?  When did it leave your hotel?  How did it travel to the airport? Did you check it in?  I knew the airline was concerned about my daughter’s 85 bouncy balls (think hard, rubber super balls) but I did not want to seem impertinent or too knowing.  I kept my mouth shut about the bouncy balls.

The same year it opened in 2006, the T4 parking lot was blown up by a van bomb put there by ETA, Spain’s internal Basque terrorist organization.  Two people died, immigrants asleep in their car, and 52 were injured.  This bombing ended the ceasefire which had been in effect since 2003.  I believe terrorism is simply meaningless violence, without comprehensible motivation.  But T4 had become the symbol of Madrid’s central government and its big spending.

Today many projects stand unfinished in Spain’s capital, the real estate boom gone bust.  T4 is serviceable for sure, but not perfect as originally proposed.  An opinion writer for Spain’s newspaper, Jerónimo Andreu for El País, sums up the problem in the title of his article, “Los cadáveres de Madrid” published February 22, 2013, a little over seven years after T4 opened.  Andreu tells us of a related T4 project.  On the new, pink Metro line to T4, an underground check-in terminal was built at Nuevos Ministerios with 34 counters.  It now stands empty.

With a boarding pier of 1.2 kilometers, T-4 has 174 check-in counters and 64 stands for planes.  In 2010 and 2011 49 million passengers traveled through the terminal.  I read the slogan on my T4 map, “Acortamos distancias.  Acercamos personas.”  Ironically it reads, “We shorten distances.  We bring people closer.”

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