Coolest New Airport Terminals
Atlanta’s $1.4 billion Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal is one of the much-needed new airport terminals whose innovations address the modern air travel experience—with its complex security procedures, crowded-to-capacity flights, and expectations of Wi-Fi and enough diversions to withstand delays.
“Passengers are spending up to an hour longer inside the airport than they did just a decade or so earlier,” says Tom Theobald, architect and principal at Fentress Architects, which specializes in airport design. He noted that even as air travel has changed dramatically, too often that added time is spent in airports built in the ’60s and ’70s.
Forward-thinking city and airport officials worldwide understand that investing in infrastructure lures more tourists, and at least some are taking action to introduce new terminals, overhaul old ones—or, as in Doha, reclaim a piece of land and start an airport from scratch. A common goal is to improve passenger flow and efficiency, while considering aesthetics, sustainability, and the needs of today’s jet-setters.
You don’t have to go far to be able to charge your smartphone at Sacramento’s International Airport Terminal B, for instance. It was unveiled in October 2011 with 140 tables of two USB ports and a two-plug outlet each—more than any other U.S. airport, according to PC World.
At Liberia airport in northwestern Costa Rica, a new international terminal provides another kind of convenience: easier access to the beaches of Tamarindo, the Nicoya Peninsula, and national parks. It opened to meet growing tourist demand. Instead of assigned ticket counters, any airline can operate at any ticket space or gate location using pioneering common-use terminal equipment.
Even as they introduce new technologies, some terminals and airports are also incorporating decidedly local design elements and vendors. “Not only are the selections healthier, but airports like LAX are bringing in local spots, like Pink’s Hot Dogs, that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the country,” says John DiScala, who spends 220 days a year on the road and founded JohnnyJet.com.
Ready to upgrade your next trip? We’ve listed the airlines that serve these new terminals, including LAX’s T6, and the innovations that will help make your airport experience more pleasant.
Sacramento International Airport Terminal B
Opening Date: October 2011
Fifty-year-old Terminal B needed an overhaul: “The size of the ticket hall, baggage claim, and hold lounges were all undersized for the modern era of aviation,” says Brent Kelley, principal at Corgan Associates, which oversaw the $1 billion makeover along with Fentress Architects. To maximize energy efficiency, the terminal now features solar shading devices, heat-reflecting glass, low-flow fixtures, and redwood-tree remnants embedded into the ceiling. Art adds character to an otherwise airy, utilitarian space. Look for Leap, a red rabbit jumping into a suitcase, and Acorn Stream, a twisting sculpture of a Valley Oak root system hung with hand-cut and polished Swarovski crystals.
Kudos For: The gate area’s 140 triangular tables, each with USB ports and a two-plug outlet for charging gadgets. Plus, Sacramento teamed up with one of its food vendors, HMSHost, to launch a mobile app (B4 You Board) that allows you to order food from restaurants and have it delivered at the gate before boarding.
Who Flies Here: Aeroméxico, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Horizon Air, JetBlue, Southwest.
Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, International Terminal
Opening Date: May 2012
The world’s busiest airport processed more than 92 million passengers in 2011, with more than 10 million of those on international flights. Anticipating a greater surge in international travel over the next few decades, the airport brass has been eagerly awaiting a new global gateway, which finally opened in the form of Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal. The 40-gate international air travel complex connects a new concourse F (and its 12 gates) with an existing smaller concourse.
Kudos For: A new system that makes picking up and rechecking bags between international and domestic flights obsolete; the change could save some passengers as much as 45 minutes in travel time.
Who Flies Here: Air Canada, Air France, AirTran/Southwest, British, Delta Air Lines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Air, Lufthansa.
Winnipeg Richardson International Airport, Canada
Opening Date: October 2011
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh were the first official passengers to arrive at this terminal. They dedicated a time capsule (on display in the aptly named Queen’s Court), to be opened in 2060. In collaboration with Stantec Architecture Ltd., master architect César Pelli—known best for his work on the Petronas Towers in Malaysia and the World Financial Center in New York—designed Canada’s first LEED-certified airport to reflect the wide-open spaces of the surrounding prairies and vast Manitoba skylines. You can see through the building from check-in to airside—and right on through to the great outdoors. Even the passenger boarding areas are glass, so travelers feel connected to their surroundings at all times.
Kudos For: Fifty-five distinctive round skylights in its arrivals bag-claim area allow natural light to pour into the terminal by day and glow in electric blue ring shapes by night.
Who Flies Here: Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz, Delta Air Lines, Air Transat, United Airlines, Sunwing, WestJet.
Daniel Oduber International Airport, Liberia, Costa Rica
Opening Date: January 2012
Exploring Costa Rica’s ecological charms once required routing—and often looping back again—through the capital, San José. No longer. With the opening of this terminal in the northwestern Guanacaste province, visitors can more easily hop a flight on a major airline and get faster access to Tamarindo beach, the Nicoya Peninsula, and three nearby national parks. In keeping with Costa Rica’s green sensibilities, airport planners installed several energy-saving features. At check-in, passengers are cooled by Big Ass Fans (the proper name, believe it or not) rather than air conditioners.
Kudos For: Ditching the assigned ticket counters. Any airline can operate at any ticket space or gate location via common-use terminal equipment (CUTE) by logging on at the workstation—a technology spreading to airports worldwide.
Who Flies Here: Air Berlin, Air Transat, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Jazz Air, JetBlue, Nature Air, United Airlines, US Airways, Sansa, Sunwing, Sun Country, Thomas Cook, Taca.
McCarran International Airport, Terminal 3, Las Vegas
Opening Date: June 2012
City planners and the Department of Aviation literally had to move roads before breaking ground on McCarran’s long-awaited airport expansion. But once State Route 54 (a.k.a. Russell Road) was shifted a quarter mile north, developers had a large enough piece of land to build this nearly 2-million-square-foot, three-story terminal. Visitors are now greeted by one of two replicas of the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign and a 50-foot painting of Vegas showgirls. Even if you haven’t gotten lucky in Sin City, you’ve got a last chance to win big at one of 300 slot machines or in the gaming saloon.
Kudos For: Wi-Fi and visual-guidance docking systems that allow air carriers to approach the gate without assistance. All 14 gates at T3 have such self-boarding podiums, along with kiosks for printing your own baggage tags.
Who Flies Here: Aeroméxico, Airberlin, Air Canada, Alaska, ArkeFly, British Airways, Condor, Copa, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Korean Air, Philippine Airlines, Sunwing, Sun Country, Thomas Cook, United, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin America, VivaAerobus, Volaris, WestJet, XL Airways France.
Los Angeles International Airport, Terminal 6
Opening Date: April 2012 (Terminal 6); May 2013 (Tom Bradley International Terminal)
LAX hadn’t seen a major modernization since 1984: “This airport is so land-constrained, it’s tough to alleviate the congestion and down-the-curbside lines,” says Tom Theobald of Fentress Architects. To tackle the issue at T6, the firm used every square foot, both horizontally and vertically, creating additional security screening areas with a dedicated access point behind the ticketing islands to smooth the flow of travelers. When the $1.5 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal expansion and renovation is completed—in phases between 2013 and 2015—it will have 18 new gates, some of which can handle the new A380 double-decker wide-body airplanes and Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Kudos For: The ticketing and check-in system that has reduced average wait times for those with checked bags from 20 to less than four minutes. In the International Terminal, arriving passengers will be processed in a day-lit customs hall with three times as many immigration booths as before.
Who Flies Here: Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, British Airways, Continental, Copa Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Horizon Air, United at T6; for the international terminal, see this complete airlines list.
New Doha International Airport, Qatar
Opening Date: December 2012
When the first airport purpose-built to handle the new Airbus A380-800 superjets opens this December, it should be ready for some serious crowds: up to 24 million passengers can coast in on two of the longest commercial runways in the world. By 2015, when the project is fully complete, it may host as many as 93 million passengers and take up two thirds as much land as the city it’s meant to service. To prepare and reclaim the parcel needed for the new facility, engineers removed and relocated 6.5 million cubic meters of waste from an old landfill—it was the country’s largest-ever environmental cleanup project.
Kudos For: The airport’s oasis design theme, prominent even from the air. As aircraft approach, passengers will spot a rooftop shaped like a massive, undulating wave.
Who Flies Here: Air Arabia, Air India Express, Bahrain Air, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, British Airways, EgyptAir, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Flydubai, Gulf Air, Iran Air, Iran Aseman Airlines, Jet Airways, Jordan Aviation, KLM, Kuwait Airways, Lufthansa, Middle East Airlines, Nas Air, Nepal Airlines, Oman Air, Pakistan International Airlines, Qatar Airways, RAK Airways, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudia, Shaheen Air International, Sri Lankan Airlines, Sudan Airways, Syrian Air, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines, Yemenia.
Miami International Airport, North Terminal Development Program
Opening Date: Summer 2012
Many Americans traveling to Latin America and the Caribbean have regarded passing through Miami’s dingy, cramped international terminal as a necessary evil. Now, after decades of planning, the final phase in the new North Terminal is nearing completion: its 72-lane federal inspection area can process 3,600 passengers hourly, and an eight-lane re-check area is dedicated exclusively to those connecting between international flights. “Once the final phase is complete, Miami will have a 50-gate superconcourse that will serve as a far more respectable ‘front door’ to the U.S.,” says John DiScala of JohnnyJet.com.
Kudos For: An AirportLink Metrorail extension that will speed connections to downtown Miami—unless you get distracted by the 20-plus new concessions and luxury shops that opened in the airport last year, carrying brands such as Coach, Emporio Armani, Mont Blanc, and Thomas Pink.
Who Flies Here: American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia.
Lviv Danylo Halytskyi International Airport, Ukraine
Opening Date: April 2012
Sometimes a sports event is so big it can prompt an airport overhaul—and we’re not only talking about the Olympics. Soon after the Ukraine was tapped as a cohost of the Euro 2012 soccer championship, officials decided that they needed a modernized facility to handle the anticipated crowds. Partially funded by the government, the $200 million project resulted in a newly expanded runway capable of landing larger aircraft, and a new terminal building that can process more than 1,900 passengers per hour—six times more than its original capacity.
Kudos For: Completing construction in time—just 22 months, a pace far faster than any other airport or terminal on this list.
Who Flies Here: Aerosvit Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Astra Airlines, Czech Airlines, EuroLOT, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa Regional, Sky Wings Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, UM Airlines, UTair, UTair Ukraine, Wizz Air, Yamal Airlines.
San Francisco’s Terminal 2
Opening Date: April 2011
SFO is the world’s only airport that’s also an accredited museum, so art is everywhere—inside and out—at this 14-gate terminal. Laminated glass panels change color as passengers pull up to the main entrance hall, and a massive burgundy netting sculpture suspended from the ceiling moves slightly thanks to computer-controlled breezes. Sustainability was also built into energy-efficient T2: repurposed material from the original terminal was used, along with reclaimed water for toilets; preferential parking goes to electric and hybrid cars; passengers can refill empty water bottles at stations after security. These efforts are intended to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 1,667 tons per year.
Kudos For: The very first airport yoga room, a 150-square-foot space that provides mirrors and yoga mats, but bans shoes and cell phones. Cat Cora, one of Food Network’s Iron Chefs, and local celebrity chef Tyler Florence have opened culinary outposts in Terminal 2, alongside local restaurants such as Napa Farmer’s Market and The Plant Café.
Who Flies Here: American Airlines, Virgin America.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Terminal 2
Opening Date: January 2011
Fentress Architects—designers of the white peaks of Denver’s airport and the bold curves of South Korea’s Incheon—also masterminded the rolling roof of the new T2. “We wanted a warm, welcoming place that exuded southern hospitality and reflected the Piedmont region’s rich history of arts, crafts, and agriculture,” says Fentress’s Tom Theobald. The firm used long-span wood trusses (the first of their kind in any airport), a nod to the region’s heritage of furniture-makers and craftsmen; artist Ed Carpenter’s work Triplet is suspended from the ceiling. Lest the scientists in the nearby Research Triangle feel left out, Fentress chose a carpet pattern of abstract DNA sequences.
Kudos For: Three ticketing islands that reduce congestion, getting you through the bag-check process more quickly (in place of traditional ticket counters).
Who Flies Here: Air Canada, American, American Eagle, Delta, US Airways.
Berlin Brandenburg Airport
Opening Date: March 2013
Three Berlin-based airports will shut their runways and cease operations as the Brandenburg takes over as the primary hub—assuming that day comes. Technical difficulties postponed the June 2012 debut of a project officials cleared back in 1996. It’s been unpopular with many locals reluctant to say auf Wiedersehen to the more manageable inner-city Tegel airport (distances between curb and plane were as little as 100 feet). The new airport has been designed to handle 27 million passengers and up to 45 million in coming years. What the 3,600-acre glass, concrete, and steel structure lacks in ease (and some say style), it makes up for in amenities. Past security, you’ll encounter five acres of shops and restaurants, while outside the terminal, planners have built “Airport City,” a six-building complex of hotels, restaurants, bars, and cafés.
Kudos For: A six-track railway station underneath the airport that’s built to whisk passengers between Brandenburg and downtown Berlin in just 20 minutes.
Who Flies Here: Aer Lingus, Air Berlin, Air France, British Airways, EasyJet, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Ryanair, United, and more than 60 other airlines.