Until Wednesday, business had been miserable for the new valet service at John Wayne Airport, with a scant four or five drivers a day deciding to leave their car keys with the curbside attendants in the maroon vests.
But business began to pick up steam Wednesday, the day airport officials chose to formally kick off their valet service with a grand opening celebration.
By midmorning, 28 cars had been dropped off by airport patrons who paid nearly double the standard rate for the convenience of having their cars parked for them rather than poking around for a spot in the congested airport parking lots.
Most drivers--some of whom said the quest to find available parking had left them with headaches or in foul moods--said they gladly would pay $20 to drop their car off in front of the terminal and have someone else park it.
One woman in a Lexus SUV looked to the sky, sighed deeply and thanked "heaven above" for the service as a valet took her keys.
"People are so happy about it because, well, who wants to be early to the airport? You sit around. This way they can show up with five minutes to spare instead of 30 or 40 to find a parking spot on their own," said valet Mike Edinger, 22.
John Wayne Airport is among a dozen airports that have waded into the valet service arena as a way to combat a shortage of parking. Burbank Airport has offered the service for 11 years.
Shannon Ingraham, 30, of Costa Mesa dropped her Toyota off Wednesday, rushing to catch a flight. She had left her office with hopes of being early, but after looking for a parking spot for almost 30 minutes, she was running late.
She left her SUV, saying, "So convenient! Thank you so much."
"You only have so much time," said the single mom. "It takes a lot for me to give it up. I think with the valet, it just gives me a little bit more. Plus, traveling is so stressful . . . you have so many things to worry about. You don't want to have to worry about your car."
Chris Whitaker, 38, paid $20 just for the convenience of dropping somebody off Wednesday.
"I don't think I would pay that for one hour again, but I would if I were going on a trip; $20 for an hour is just too much," he said.
The valet rate is far and away the highest at the airport. The rate at the regular terminal lot is $11 a day. The long-term lots cost $7 a day, but patrons must catch an airport shuttle to reach the terminal.
Though John Wayne Airport will experiment with the valet service for a full year before declaring it a success or failure, it not only has helped Burbank Airport deal with a parking crunch but has been an apparent crowd pleaser as well.
"It is an incredible profit center for us," said Victor Gill, spokesman for Burbank Airport. "It started off with about 300 cars a day until the mid-'90s. Now we have about 1,000 cars a day at the valet."
Yolanda Perez, a spokeswoman for John Wayne Airport, said the valet service will be deemed a success if it attracts 350 or so cars a day. "Then we would want it to go up from there," she said.