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The Year’s Airport Upgrades

Nov 1, 2007
2007 / November 2007

The average frequent flyer ’s airport experience lies somewhere between Alice’s rabbit hole and Star Trek’s wormhole. Sometimes it’s as confusing as the Mad Hatter’s tea party; other times it’s a gateway to a brave new world.

In light of increasing air traffic, new jumbo aircraft, and the relentless forward march of technology, it’s essential that airports change with the times — and that’s just what they’re doing. Whether they are installing automated kiosks, tweaking technology or adding brand-new terminals, airports around the world have been busy rolling out new facilities aimed at making life easier — or at least more interesting — for global travelers.

Hot on the heels of the debut of its totally renovated Terminal 2, Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN) is getting ready to kick off operations at its brand-new Terminal 3. The $1.1-billion terminal, scheduled to open in January, is a beautifully designed building flooded with natural light. More than 900 skylights have moving shades that adjust to sunlight, creating the effect of a rainforest canopy. That sense of verdant freshness is enhanced by tropical plantings, most notably the “Green Wall” — a five-story vertical garden with four waterfalls.

Earlier this year in Tokyo, Oneworld alliance members American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines and Qantas set up shop in Narita International Airport’s (NRT) renovated and improved Terminal 2. As they settled in, several opted to further upgrade the facility. JAL revamped both its first-class lounge and its Sakura lounge, tripling the size of its lounge facilities. Both JAL lounges offer buffet-style hot meal service, fully stocked bars with bartenders, and salad bars. Each has shower rooms, relaxation rooms with massage chairs, and high-speed wireless Internet; and the whole package comes wrapped in warm timber, glass and stone.

American opened a new Admirals Club lounge in Narita’s T2, double the size of its former T1 location. In addition to comfortable chairs and a bar, it has upscale shower areas, and work areas with more than 100 Ethernet ports. Qantas added a shiny new business-class lounge. Cathay Pacific’s new Narita lounge emulates The Pier, one of its premium lounges in Hong Kong. In the work area, it has more than a dozen PCs as well as ample data and power ports for laptops; “personal living spaces” provide privacy.

Not to be outdone, airlines using other terminals at Narita also upgraded their facilities. Virgin Atlantic’s reopened Clubhouse, for Upper Class and Flying Gold members, has been entirely refurbished, now with more open space, a sun deck and new business facilities that provide Internet connectivity and charging ports for mobile phones and PDAs. Air France’s new lounge at Narita is the first of a series of designer lounges the airline is introducing around the world, with open space, “enveloping” ergonomic seats with individual PC sockets and reading lamps, WiFi, a “quiet zone,” and a full bar, for the airline’s first- and business-class passengers and loyalty club premium-level members.

In May, Qantas introduced a spectacular new first-class lounge at Sydney International (SYD). Designed by internationally acclaimed Australian designer Marc Newson, the lounge has a 180-degree view of the city and Botany Bay, a vertical garden, a 48-seat open-kitchen restaurant with waiter service, a well-stocked library, and a day spa. Bathrooms are individual “shower suites,” lined with marble and outfitted with radiant heating. Giant oak sculptures give the open space a sense of intimacy.

Meanwhile, at Los Angeles International (LAX), an extensive $600 million makeover of the Tom Bradley Terminal is underway. The demolition involved tearing out 16 airport lounges that served the passengers of 33 airlines. To help fund the renovation, individual airlines chipped in at least $15 million toward the construction of four new lounges — one for each of the major alliances (Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam), plus one for the elite passengers and club members of nine unaffiliated carriers. The Star Alliance lounge and the unaffiliated lounge were the first to open. The others are expected to open soon (and may be open by the time this article goes to press). In the meantime, the terminal continues to operate around the construction. For up-to-date information about the facilities and how construction may affect your travel plans, sign up for the LAXpectations newsletter.

Whole new terminals — whether built from scratch or entirely redone — cropped up in significant numbers this year, beginning with two premium offerings. Silverjet’s dedicated terminal building at London Luton Airport (LTN) gives passengers a private lounge, showers and WiFi access, all wrapped up in a “clubby” den atmosphere. Plus, there’s private check-in that lets you arrive as late as 45 minutes before departure (30 minutes, if you only have hand luggage). Qatar Airways opened its Premium Terminal at Doha International (DOH), exclusively for the use of departing first- and business- class passengers, with ample private space and a spa. The $90 million facility also has a business center, complete with secretarial services.

Two much-needed new terminals were christened in Eastern European capitals. In December, a second terminal opened at Bulgaria’s Sofia Airport (SOF), adding welcome capacity (the original terminal building opened before World War II). The unusual design uses cone-type aluminum structures, reminiscent of early space capsules, for support. It has seven gates and almost 40 check-in desks. Plus, aircraft can now dock directly so passengers no longer need to take shuttle buses between the tarmac and the terminal. In addition to a new runway, which opened before the terminal did, other projects on the Sofia Airport master plan include a new highway connection, an artificial lake and a fountain, due by year’s end.

In Albania, the new terminal at Tirana International (TIA) opened in March. Designed by Malaysian architect Hin Tan, the new terminal can handle about 500 passengers an hour. The linear design resembles a biplane wing complete with struts, and will be expanded in sections over the next several years. New access roads were part of the upgrade package, helping Tirana (previously known as Rinas Airport) to cope with accelerating demand for air travel.

To the west, both of Paris’ main airports have undergone significant facelifts. A $35 million renovation of the South Terminal international passenger section at Paris-Orly Airport (ORY) is making life easier for travelers. Fourteen security checkpoints now process 1,800 to 2,000 passengers an hour, an improvement of between 20 and 33 percent. The terminal’s boarding concourse features a new Icare lounge open to the business-class passengers of, to date, 10 airlines. Ground-floor passport control and a larger baggage claim area will also help simplify life for new arrivals.

Also this summer, Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) opened a new concourse designed mostly for large aircraft. Called Satellite 3, or S3, it is an add-on to Terminals 2E and 2F and will increase the airport’s yearly passenger capacity by 8.5 million passengers. It can accommodate up to 26 planes, including six A380s. The $870 million facility, used mostly by Air France, KLM and other SkyTeam alliance members, is linked to Terminal 2E by a 45-second automated train ride. S3’s departure lounge, the Parisien Gallery, is stocked with PlayStation 3 consoles to keep children of all ages occupied.

The most recent airport facilities to open are both in the United States. In September, Miami’s new South Terminal Concourse J opened for business, with its own customs and immigration facilities, two new security checkpoints and 15 new gates capable of handling international flights. Airlines that are moving into the new terminal, which encompasses the former main terminal concourses E through H plus the new J building, include Star Alliance and SkyTeam carriers Delta, Lufthansa and LAN. Oneworld carriers will now be grouped together in the North Terminal, formerly Concourses A through D. The 1.7-million-square-foot J concourse resembles a metallic aircraft wing, with 110-foot-high glass walls, vaulted ceilings and towering windows. Connecting Concourse J to the older Concourse H (which once constituted the South Terminal in its entirety) is a round pavilion with a view of the airfield.

Also in September, American Airlines opened the newest and biggest terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), a 1.5-million-square-foot facility that also houses Oneworld partners Malév and Finnair. The new terminal cost $1.3 billion and is half again as large as Madison Square Garden. In addition to two new Admirals Club lounges and a new Flagship Lounge for international first-class passengers, the American terminal (T9) also has new premium-class check-in service, with not only separate desks but premium security lanes too, and curbside baggage check-in — even for international flights. Almost 90 ticket counters are arranged in rows perpendicular to the entrance rather than opposite the doors, supplemented by 44 self-service kiosks.


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