Never miss a story
Sign up for our free daily morning email...
...and afternoon text update

become a member

A sign welcomes visitors to the "Live Music Capital of the World" at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Thursday. (Kristin Finan)

A tender brisket plate at The Salt Lick. A perfectly crafted latte at Jo's Coffee. A sudsy pint at the Saxon Pub.

Certain things are just part of the quintessential Austin experience—even if you're just passing through the airport.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in recent years has become well known as a microcosm of what people love about Austin, from the live music that streams through the terminal to the local art that adorns the walls to the outposts of popular Austin shops and restaurants, including those named above.

A year after the pandemic brought the world to a halt—and in turn resulted in the lowest passenger numbers the airport had seen since it opened in 1999—and on the eve of spring break, the terminal on Thursday showed signs that the mini-Austin experience so many once treasured is beginning to reemerge.

Visitors to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Thursday pass The Salt Lick outpost, which offers everything from barbecue plates to a whole brisket to-go. (Kristin Finan)

At Tyler's, clips from former "Austin City Limits" tapings streamed on a TV inside the locally-focused apparel shop, while a socially distanced line queued for breakfast tacos at Tacodeli. In front of the Asleep at the Wheel stage—the largest of the airport's seven stages—plastic shields sat ready to safely welcome, and protect, performers.

"Such a large portion of what we offer is local and is brands that'll be familiar to you as a local to Austin," said Mandy McClendon, spokeswoman for ABIA. "While you may not have all the options, you certainly still will have many of them. For the most part, it does feel like the airport you know and love."

Masks are still required to be worn at the airport. (ABIA)

For those who haven't traveled during the pandemic, the first thing to know is that masks remain required throughout the airport and on flights. Despite Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to end Texas' statewide mask mandate on Wednesday, ABIA is included in an executive order issued by President Joe Biden and implemented by the Transportation Security Administration that requires face masks in airports.

"If you're in an airport you must be wearing a mask. We want to make sure we're communicating that to our passengers because we understand the conflicting advice can be a little bit confusing," McClendon said. "We don't want anyone to end up in a situation where they come to the airport without a mask and then they can't board their flight."

McClendon said that passenger traffic in April 2020 was down 96% from April 2019 and that overall passenger traffic in 2020 was down 63% from 2019, which was the airport's highest-ever passenger travel year. As a result, the airport gave its retail and restaurant vendors the flexibility to "open and close and provide staffing as they're able to and as makes sense for them while also ensuring we have a variety of options open throughout the terminal."

Live music has also continued in the form of small shows featuring only one or two musicians, aside from when the city was in Stage 5, when performances were suspended.

"Music is something that's very important to our terminal," McClendon said. "We have and continue to try to come up with creative ways to still make that a part of the experience."

Zack Morgan playing the piano during his set at the airport in 2020. (ABIA)

As passenger travel continues to increase and more people are vaccinated, McClendon said, expect even more of the things that people love about the airport to return—safely.

"We are an essential operation to Austin," McClendon said. "The more people that we have come through our doors, the more vigilant we want to be about things like social distancing and mask wearing and just making everyone feel comfortable in the terminal."


Artist Chris Rogers painted this East Austin mural after the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, center. Mike Ramos, third from left, was shot to death by an Austin police officer on April 24. (Austonia)

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three charges—second- and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter—in the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose final moments were recorded by onlookers, sparking a global protest movement over police violence and racial injustice. He faces up to 40 years in prison.

Jurors deliberated for 10 hours over two days after an intense, three-week trial before reaching a verdict Tuesday afternoon, four days shy of the first anniversary of the Austin police killing of Mike Ramos, an unarmed, 42-year-old Black and Hispanic man whose name became a rallying cry—along with Floyd's—for Austin protestors, who marched en masse last summer, prompting some police reforms.

Keep Reading Show less

Miami and Austin are going head-to-head for tech transplants. (Pexels)

Californians love Texas, and Austin—with its liberal politics, relatively affordable housing and job opportunities—is particularly adored. In fact, the Lone Star State was the main recipient of departing Californians in 2019, according to the latest available U.S. Census Bureau data.

But other states, including Florida, are seeing increased interest. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has made a name for himself on Twitter recruiting techies and hyping up his city, which has a lot in common with Austin—with the added benefit of a beach and sans the "Don't California my Texas" attitude.

Keep Reading Show less

(Austin FC/Twitter)

In the days after Austin FC's inaugural match against LAFC on Saturday, Head Coach Josh Wolff says he's watched the game "a number of times, to say the least."

In the match, Wolff and over 500,000 other viewers looked on as Austin FC took to the pitch for the first time, held their own in the first half against LAFC and eventually fell 2-0 to a team that's sometimes regarded as the best in the league.

Keep Reading Show less