NEWARK — The era of snaking, endless security lines, cramped corridors of luggage-hauling travelers and bland amenities is nearly in the past as the first phase of the reconstructed Terminal A at Newark Liberty International Airport prepares to open Dec. 8.
“Folks will find something that is not only modern, high-tech, open, transparent, plenty of light, easy to maneuver, but it’s Jersey,” Gov. Phil Murphy said on a tour of the facility Tuesday morning.
The significance of the $2.7 billion building was on display at its christening, with 700 invitees, a procession of the state police color guard and bagpipe musicians, and a band to greet the governor and first lady Tammy Murphy on their tour. The new, expanded terminal is a long-awaited upgrade for flyers landing in the Garden State.
“You told us you don’t like the experience at our airport, you may not have gotten a response back to your comments initially, but trust me, we heard it, and many of us took it personally,” said Huntley Lawrence, a 27-year resident of New Jersey who is the chief operating officer of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Saying he’s been “restless” about the airport experience for years, Lawrence said his message to customers is: “We heard you.”
What’s new at Terminal A and what to expect
The new terminal will have 33 gates. The December opening of the first 21 gates was slightly delayed due to “a revenue downturn” that resulted from the pandemic and slowed construction, according to Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole. The 12 remaining gates will open in nine months.
United Airlines, JetBlue, Air Canada and American Airlines will be the first companies to transition to the new Terminal A, with Delta moving over next year.
Bids on a more than $2 billion replacement of the Newark AirTrain came in over budget, delaying the bid process for construction on that project, too, but the current monorail will service the new Terminal A in the meantime.
Construction on the new facility began in 2018, the bulk of it taking place during unprecedented times, with the pandemic and supply chain issues from the invasion of Ukraine.
“The most extraordinary part of this is that we overcame COVID, over a year and a half of decimating our labor force, men off sick on quarantine, replacements, late delivery of materials because of manufacturing problems,” said Ron Tutor, CEO of Tutor Perini, the construction company that built the new terminal.
The current Terminal A at Newark Airport was designed for 9 million passengers to pass through annually, but it has served millions more than that for years, making the building feel cramped and overall outdated.
The new building will be able to handle at least 13 million passengers annually, with nearly double the number of gates of the old one; 60 kiosks that can be used by flyers from any airline to check in and take care of baggage labels; and vastly increased space and lines for security.
Those parking or renting a car will be able to walk directly to that new facility, as opposed to driving to the old parking lot serviced by the previous terminal.
Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said, “We have worked hard to create a truly New Jersey sense of place.”
More improvements expected at Newark
The airport’s artwork features local artists, whose selection came with the assistance of the first lady, and bathrooms that are themed for four areas of the state, such as Ocean. There are six concession spaces of local businesses that stick out for their industrial-inspired design using shipping-container framing, paying homage to the birthplace of the steel containers, with Port Newark and its cranes visible from the terminal’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
“That’s why these types of projects are our way of demonstrating our commitment to making it so much better,” said Lawrence.
Although the number of runways did not increase, Lawrence said, accelerating the movement of airplanes from gate to takeoff is a “multi-pronged” problem that should also improve with the help of the new terminal. This will be achieved, he said, by working with the Federal Aviation Administration on scheduling, improved ground facilities and efficiently using the 140 acres of airfield space for planes to taxi.
In 2018, LaGuardia Airport was the first of the Port Authority’s three airports in the region to unveil upgrades, showing its new $8 billion facilities; more than $4 billion of renovation work is ongoing at Kennedy Airport. Design of a new Terminal B at Newark Airport is also in the works, and the bi-state agency has hired a consultant to examine the airport as a whole for renovation.
Nearly every dignitary who spoke Tuesday thanked the thousands of union workers who helped build the Newark facility.
“The people in the city have to benefit from its growth and development, and this is an example of that today,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who said he spoke with two electricians on a recent tour. “They were looking up at the building in amazement and awe, just talking to themselves, small talk, but that told me people had so much pride, this was not just another building.”