The security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta have been dominating headlines lately, and for good reason. They are out of control.
It’s no longer rare for travelers to spend an hour or more in security lines that stretch through the domestic terminal and out into baggage claim. In response, Hartsfield-Jackson has closed its south security checkpoint for three weeks to install new automated screening equipment to help process the airport’s staggering 101.5 million annual visitors.
But this is just a temporary fix. Over the next 20 years, officials plan to spend $6 billion renovating Hartsfield-Jackson, starting this year with a $393 million modernization of the domestic terminal that will bring new runways, roadways and hotels to America’s busiest airport. This first phase will be completed in 2018, and will also incorporate new design features to make the security experience more seamless for travelers.
“We believe that the time it takes to get through security screening should be no longer than the time it takes for a routine doctor’s examination,” Miguel Southwell, general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, told the AP. “Americans will not tolerate a one-hour wait as normal.”
Southwell is right. Travelers typically plan to spend the least amount of time possible at the airport. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects that the number of U.S. airline passengers will grow 2% every year through 2035. Airports have to grow to accommodate these passengers, and in addition to Atlanta, three other major U.S. cities are in the process of renovating their airports to make travel more comfortable, and in some cases they’re spending billions of dollars to do it.
At the top of the list is LaGuardia Airport, which Vice President Joe Biden once referred to as a Third World country. Biden got some flack for his comments, but no one exactly ran to LaGuardia’s defense. The truth is that travelers would rather fly into nearby Newark International or John F. Kennedy airports than step foot in LaGuardia’s outdated facilities. Not to mention the delays – in 2015 the statistics site FiveThirtyEight ranked LaGuardia as the slowest airport in the nation for delaying the average round-trip flight by 56 minutes. Smooth.
LaGuardia serves domestic and international flights, and was built in 1964 to accommodate eight million people a year. In 2015, 14.3 million passengers traveled through the airport.
That’s why the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, has been working on plans to give LaGuardia an estimated $4.7 billion facelift. LaGuardia Gateway Partners will handle the renovations, and if all goes as planned, the existing infrastructure in the Central Terminal Building (also known as Terminal B), will be demolished to make way for a 1.3 million square foot, 35-gate terminal building. The new terminal will also feature an aeronautical ramp, new roads in and out of the terminal, and a new parking garage.
Passengers will be glad to hear that the concourses will be larger, new passenger screening areas will be added, and there will be more self-service kiosks in the check-in area. Funding for this project will come from a variety of sources, including private sector financing, funds from FAA passenger facility charges, revenue from concessions and other fees. Officials say the construction will not interfere with flights or other airport activities, and the project should be complete in 2021.
“The LaGuardia overhaul is a critical and long-overdue project that will upgrade the airport from ‘third world’ to world class and strengthen the region's economy,” said Joe Sitt, chairman of the Global Gateway Alliance. “Now the Port Authority and LaGuardia Gateway Partners must focus on bringing transparency to the project so passengers know whether budgets and timelines are met."
On the West Coast, the Salt Lake City International airport has been struggling with how to appropriately accommodate 22 million passengers a year — twice as many as it was originally designed to serve. Built 50 years ago, Utah’s biggest airport has become a popular hub for airlines, but with just one terminal, it’s bursting at the seams.
The answer is a $2.6 billion dollar project that promises to breathe new life into the growing airport. The first part of the project is a $1.8 billion Terminal Redevelopment Program that will add a second 45-gate terminal and south concourse, car rental facilities, and a parking garage. New shopping and dining options will also be brought in, and travelers will glide through the airport more easily thanks to spacious gate areas and moving walkways. The goal is to have all of this done by 2020.
According to Nancy Volmer from the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, taxpayer dollars will not fund the construction. “The program will be paid for by airport cash and user fees,” she told Yahoo Finance. This includes fees from people who rent cars at the airport.
On May 4, Salt Lake City officials approved the second part of the renovation which includes a $740 million North Concourse with 30 new gates. Parts of the concourse will be completed by 2020, with the second phase wrapping up in 2023.
Down in Phoenix, Ariz., officials at the SkyHarbor International Airport aren’t focusing on building new terminals; instead they’re upgrading existing facilities to deal with a massive increase in foot traffic.
“In 2015, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport handled more than 44 million passengers, said Heather Lissner from the Phoenix Aviation Department. “In 2016, we’ve averaged more than 3.4 million passengers per month, and in March, we broke a record of nearly 4.3 million passengers.”
The $590 million modernization project is being handled by HuntAustin Joint Venture, and will focus on Terminal 3 where Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Frontier Airlines operate. The first phase will be completed later this year, and will consolidate the security checkpoint and make the ticket counters more efficient. Phase two will introduce a new South Concourse with 15 gates, and phase three will add amenities to the North Concourse in the form of new dining options.
Travelers can expect to see additional baggage claim carousels and an expanded curb area for drop-off and pickup. Additionally, every seat in the terminal and concourses will also have access to electrical outlets. The project will be completed in 2020.
The Department of Transportation reports that U.S. and foreign carriers flew a record 895 million travelers through U.S airports in 2015.
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Correction: The headline in a previous version of this article mistakenly said these airports are spending a combined $24.6 billion on renovations; the correct amount is $13.9 billion.