NEW ORLEANS — Known as the city that care forgot has for years suffered from an airport that time forgot. Now, that’s all about to change. After years in the making, New Orleans-Louis Armstrong International Airport’s (MSY) new $1 billion terminal is set to finally take-off on Wednesday, Nov 6, 2019.
Airways visited the terminal less than a week-and-a-half before it goes into service.
When it opens, MSY’s glistening 35-gate, the 927,000-square-foot terminal will become one of only five major US airport projects in the 21st century that were switched light-switched overnight and took over all traffic from a pre-existing facility.
This rare club includes Wichita (ICT), Indianapolis (IND), Panama City/Northwest Florida (ECP), and most recently XWA, the new airport in Williston, ND.
All 16 airlines at MSY will move overnight November 5th-6th from the existing terminal to the new terminal located on the Northside opposite side of the field.
The current hodgepodge of a terminal, first constructed in 1959 and added on in stages in 1974, 1994, and 1996 and face-lifted in time for the 2013 Super Bowl will close to scheduled flights entirely. Much of it will eventually be demolished.
The new terminal designed by the famed, late architect Cesar Pelli has an airy, glass facade design and open-air architectural concept. Though world-class in design, the exterior aesthetic doesn’t echo the “New Orleans Art Noveaux” character. Its aesthetic would be at home anywhere in the world, something not everyone is happy about. This was intentional as the Airport Board wanted the airport to reflect “the next 300 years of New Orleans.”
It may be subtle, but when viewed from above, the terminal takes on the appearance of the Mississippi Delta region that inspired its design. Under the phrase “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, the new terminal boasts many local touches befitting of The Big Easy. More on that later.
The new MSY airport terminal spans 972,000 square feet and features three concourses, 35 gates, two new parking garages for short-term and long-term parking, a surface parking lot, and an economy garage with shuttle service.
Concessions, located past the massive single security checkpoint feature more than 40 food, beverage, news, gift and specialty retail options with a unique Louisiana flair.
When we first toured the terminal in November 2018, it was still under construction with no running water, provisional electrical power, and clearly behind schedule.
The project was conceived as “The Northside Alternative” in 2011 and approved in April 2013 with groundbreaking taking place in January 2016. Opening day was intended to be in May 2018 just in time to commemorate NOLA’s 300th Birthday. It was then postponed three more times finally to November 6, 2019, which is now a firm go.
The new terminal’s temporary certificate of occupancy (COA) was finally granted earlier in October. To commemorate the event, New Orleans flung open the doors for an open house and Airways took a tour.
Ironically on the Saturday of the open house, power at the current terminal failed due to a damaged Entergy transformer following a storm with flights canceled for much of the day. The new terminal is on a different power grid, and also boasts significant backup generators and diesel fuel supply.
The new terminal is located in closer proximity to the region’s main thoroughfare, Interstate10 (I-10). Unfortunately, the direct connection to Interstate I-10 won’t be ready until 2023-2024.
The airport has its own dedicated roadway system with Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) in close coordination with the City of Kenner recently completing improvements to the roadways to accommodate traffic flow through the Veterans Boulevard/Loyola Drive corridor.
MSY will have digital signage on I-10 not only directing drivers to the new airport but alerting them to the parking status.
At the time of our visit, road construction was still underway, signage wasn’t completely erected, and the airport’s address wasn’t visible in GoogleMaps, AppleMaps, or Waze. MSY says this will all be sorted by launch.
Parking at The Big Easy’s MSY is about to get, well… a lot more easy. The new MSY claims over 8,000 spaces across different parking options to choose from.
The new Short Term Garage features 2,190 spaces as well as a walkway directly from the fourth level of the garage to the Ticketing and Check-in area on the third level of the terminal and covered ground-level access to the Baggage Claim.
A new five-story, 2,750-space Long Term Garage is located across from the arrivals area on the east side of the facility. The ground level is configured with multiple electric car charging stations.
Just a short walk away from the terminal is a 685-space Surface Parking Lot that is a lower-priced option. As the airport grows, this land could be the site for another airport garage.
The existing terminal’s current Long Term Garage will become a remote 2,438-space Economy Garage with an “optimized shuttle service available to and from the new terminal.” Undoubtedly, there will be passengers who depart from the old terminal and arrive at the new terminal and be among the first to use this service.
Departures and arrivals operate on separate levels.
There are dedicated lanes at the arrivals level for public transportation to enhance traffic flow which split into two sides surrounding the terminal. The Eastside has designated lanes for personal transportation, taxis, ride-share, and shuttles to the rental car center on Airline Boulevard.
The Westside links the ground transportation center, hotel shuttles, and off-airport parking.
MAKING AN ENTRANCE: THE TICKET HALL
The expansive check-in hall’s design is bright with natural light. It has both dedicated and common-use check-in desks with extensive kiosks and provisions for eventual new technologies like biometric check-in.
Like a sports arena, there is a dramatic wraparound “nanowall” digital signage behind the ticket counters. Much like a digital billboard or LED signage at a sports arena, this is especially useful for when carriers enter or exit the market and common use spaces. It also provides the airline’s dynamic branding opportunities.
There’s also ample restrooms and a coffee-bar pre-security.
A giant skylight projects from the roof down to the base level over the TSA checkpoint and baggage claim, allowing for even more natural light.
A huge, life-sized photo of a live oak tree extends from the arrivals’ first level to the third ticketing level, creating a capacious atrium.
TSA CENTRAL SECURITY CHECK-POINT
Reminiscent of Denver, passenger descend down escalators to the TSA checkpoint. It has up to 16 operational lanes, with promised wait times of no longer than 15 minutes. On opening day, 10-12 checkpoints will be in operation. TSA Pre and Clear will be operational on day one as well.
The TSA checkpoint is framed by an uninterrupted massive glass curtain presenting a vista on to the ramp. The sweeping glass curtain is analogous to the Mississippi River.
Past security, the wall of glass windows (all able to withstand Hurricane-force winds of up to 150 MPH) provide a central connecting point between the three concourses should passengers ever have to connect. It’s also a massive retail mall, dining hall, and location of the three airline lounges.
This includes a New Orleans Advocate newsstand, legendary Leah’s Chase’s new restaurant, and a food court with Shake Shack and Chick-Fil-A.
As part of an ecological growing trend, water bottle refilling stations are located post-security.
Once past security, there are three concourses with 35 common use gates. This common use concept allows the new facility with fewer gates to accommodate more passengers and traffic than the old terminal.
The smallest Concourse, A with five gates can accommodate wide-body aircraft and international arrivals with a sterile area directly connected to the new Customs and Border Immigration facility. Between Air Canada, British Airways, COPA, Condor among others, New Orleans has seen significant growth in international flights.
There are very few amenities on this concourse which is expected to be used with much less frequency than B and C. With the exponential growth of international service at MSY, it was commissioned in 2016 after the original Concourses B and C. Concourse A is even missing from some of the airport’s promotional materials.
To the right of security is Concourse B. Southwest, American, Frontier, JetBlue, and other carriers will operate out of this concourse’s 14 gates. Concourse B has a live music stage.
Turning to the left past security, Concourse C is a virtual twin to Concourse B with Delta, United, Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant assigned to the 15 gates here.
Retail and many restaurants are open down the spine of the concourse with restrooms and gates on either side. A word of warning, the new MSY involves a lot of walking that could’ve been alleviated by some moving sidewalks down the concourses now reserved for commerce.
With all the imbibing associated with “Nawlins”, The new airport has the most number of bathrooms per passenger of any airport in the U.S. save Houston’s Bush Intercontinental.
They are fully automated with sanitary seat covers. Of note, the stalls are large enough to accommodate rolling carry-on bags. Unusual for an airport restroom, they have windows allowing for natural flight.
There are USB and AC power chargers available at 50 percent of the seats in the gate areas as well as at many dining and drinking outlets. Fast, free Wi-Fi is located throughout the terminal.
Three Mother’s Rooms provide privacy for nursing mom’s.
There are three airline clubs: A new two-level Delta Sky Club which will open on opening day. It is located just before the entrance of Concourse C.
United’s first club at MSY is still under construction and will be located on the ground level of Concourse C. Its timing is TBD. A new Priority Pass Lounge will open in January on the second level near Concourse A.
There will be local cuisine on offer at the clubs, but with the abundant choices on the concourses, passengers might forego the typical lounge.
A FOOD HALL DISGUISED AS AN AIRPORT
The old MSY Terminal didn’t reflect little in the ways of the culinary arts New Orleans is renowned for. To let the alimentary indulgent times roll until the flight out, HMSHost and Delaware North have worked with local iconic restauranteurs to create a true local taste.
Famed new and old names such as the French Quarter’s Cafe Du Monde famous for beignets, Emeril’s Table from Chef Emeril Legasse, Midway Pizza, Leah’s Kitchen from the family of the late legendary Leah Chase, Angelo Brocato’s: an Italian ice cream parlor dating back to 1905, Sazerac, Lucky Dog, Ye Olde College Inn, MoPho, Cure, PJ’s Coffee, and Folse Food Market make the terminal seem more like a food hall than an airport. In fact, you might wish to just fly in and so a food and pub crawl at the airport.
The upgraded concessions will also include national chains such as Shake Shack, Chick-Fil-A, Auntie Anne’s, Chili’s, Starbucks, and New Orleans-based Smoothie King.
Even the retail is local with Fleurty Girl, New Orleans Couture, and The New Orleans Advocate Newsstand.
WHERE’S THE MUSIC Y’AT?
It wouldn’t be Nawlins without live music. MSY follows other airports in music-centric cities like Austin and Nashville with two live music stages. One stage is located post-security on Concourse B.
The other live music venue is located in the arrivals level at the Jazz Garden. While live music performances celebrate the region, the terminal is notable for its current lack of an art program – something the airport says it will address in the future.
NOLA’S FRONT DOOR: THE ARRIVAL EXPERIENCE
The in-line baggage system has six carousels with a wall theme resembling the Mississippi River.
The airport has running tests with “dummy” bags. Baggage claim is typically a pain point at newly opened terminal airports, but MSY authorities contend the system is functioning well and ready to go.
We weren’t allowed to see the new Customs and Border Protection facility but were told Global entry will be functioning from the onset, though automatic passport control will not.
This is New Orleans so why not have the party begin at baggage claim? When visitors arrive in New Orleans, the first they often ask their driver to stop is a liquor store. To capitalize on this, MSY boasts a Provisions branded liquor store in the arrivals area. US airport: a liquor store.
WHILE ONE STORY ENDS, WHILE ANOTHER BEGINS
With the Open Houses over, this week is crunch time for the new terminal to inaugurate service on Wednesday, November 6th. On November 1st, there will be a full security sweep and after that, the new terminal’s airside will be permanently under TSA security control.
MSY authorities say the final flight to depart from the old terminal will be on Tuesday, November 5th with a Southwest flight scheduled for a 9:30 PM CST departure taking the honors. The airport is planning a celebration of the 60-year-old terminal with a traditional second line parade.
Earlier that day, a ribbon-cutting and tour will christen the new terminal. The new terminal will open on Wednesday morning November 6th at 3 AM CST for a first flight out with Southwest again taking the honors at 5 AM local time.
MSY is ready to fly. Airways will return in a few days and be on-site as the new MSY Takes Flight: covering the last day of the old MSY, overnight move, and the first flight out of the new MSY.
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