Attendees, You're Cleared for Takeoff to Improved Airports

Although customer satisfaction with airlines is at its lowest point since 2001, customer satisfaction with airports is poised for a healthy jolt after terminal renovations and expansions at several hubs in the South.

Under way at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) and Nashville International Airport (BNA), and recently done at Lexington, KY's Blue Grass Airport (LEX) and Biloxi, MS' Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (GPT), the projects promise a better experience for travelers in, or passing through, the southeastern United States.

In Atlanta, where work is continuing on a $6.2 billion, 10-year capital improvement program at the bustling Hartsfield-Jackson, airport, spokesman Al Snedeker calls the facility's improvements "game-changing" for Atlanta's meeting planner customers.

The upgrades include linking ATL—via the city's new Automated People Mover (APM)—to the nearby Georgia International Convention Center (GICC), and two new hotels, as early as November 2009.

"The connection between the airport and the GICC is going to be a one-of-a-kind connection," he said. "It will eliminate ground transportation costs for meeting planners; they can have their attendees come right into the airport and take the APM to the convention center, which will be two minutes away."

Also debuting at Hartsfield-Jackson next November will be a new, 67.5-acre Consolidated Rental Car (CONRAC) facility; it too will be accessible via APM. "It's going to be much more convenient," Snedeker said.

The largest of the renovations at Hartsfield-Jackson is the construction of a new, $1.68 billion international terminal, which will have 12 new gates when it opens in 2011. The terminal will adjoin to the existing E concourse, resulting in a 40-gate international complex. Providing that complex, Snedeker said, will improve Atlanta's standing as both a domestic hub and an international gateway into the Southeast, as well as the rest of the country.

A new terminal has opened in Raleigh, NC, where Phase I of a two-phase, $570 million airport redevelopment project was finished last month. The new domestic travel facility, Terminal 2, is home to four airlines, 40 check-in kiosks, seven security lanes, 25 shops and restaurants, three baggage carousels, and 19 boarding gates—which will ease congestion inside the busy airport.

When Phase II of the project opens in 2011, it will be three times the size of RDU's existing Terminal C. That phase will add three more security checkpoints, two more baggage claim carousels, 17 more shops and restaurants, and 13 more boarding gates.

Another airport planning upgrades is Nashville's BNU. The airport won't be adding gates or capacity, but it is in the midst of an extensive terminal facelift that represents the airport's first interior renovation since opening in 1987. Scheduled for completion next year, the renovation will give BNU a consolidated, 12-lane security checkpoint, as well as new flight information displays and upgraded interiors. A first wave of improvements included several dozen new restaurants and shops that already have opened at BNU within the last two years.

Also opened within the last two years were airport renovations in Lexington, KY, and Biloxi, MS. In Lexington, Blue Grass Airport completed in 2007 a $16.9 million concourse addition with six new gates.

And in Biloxi, Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport earlier this year completed a five-year, $51 million terminal expansion that added two new gates, an expanded lobby and ticketing area, and larger baggage claim and security areas.

The final piece of the expansion, a $15 million parking garage with 800 spots, opens adjacent to the airport this month.

Originally published Nov. 10, 2008