New Orlando terminal bets $2.8 billion on Florida tourism

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Visitors to the new terminal at Orlando International Airport may want to wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a floppy hat.

Sunbeams streaming through its high-ceilinged windows don’t just peck past passengers — they smooch them almost as if they’re spending a day at the beach.

Accompanied by realistic indoor faux palm trees, gigantic LED displays depicting underwater springs, and skylight views of blue skies and puffy clouds, Terminal C lets passengers know they’ve arrived in Florida . And that’s the point, as the world’s seventh busiest airport bets $2.8 billion when the 1.8 million square foot (167,225 square meter) terminal opens to the public this week that Florida tourism is well beyond the pandemic downturn and has a bright future.

“They can see the sun and they really know they’re in the Sunshine State,” Greater Orlando Aviation Authority CEO Kevin Thibault said of passengers arriving at the terminal. “It really is a facility for generations to come.”

With 40.3 million passengers last year, Orlando International Airport was Florida’s busiest airport, according to Airports Council International. However, this figure was still one-fifth less than the number of passengers in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic. For 2022, the airport had a rolling 12-month total at the end of June of 47 million passengers, slightly less than the 50.6 million that came in 2019.

The addition of Terminal C gives the airport the capacity to handle an additional 12 million passengers at the 15 new terminal gates in a first phase, increasing the airport’s capacity by a quarter. Airport officials say this will reduce some of the overcrowding that had grown in the decade before the pandemic began at the airport’s other two terminals, with central Florida emerging as the busiest destination. visited in the United States.

The Orlando area welcomed 59.3 million visitors last year, up two-thirds from 35.3 million in 2020, when central Florida theme parks closed for several months and international travel has been restricted in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. However, the number of visitors to the Orlando area last year still fell short of the pre-pandemic peak of 75.8 million in 2019.

Like Orlando, the state of Florida is on course to match its pre-pandemic tourism numbers this year now that restrictions on international travel have been lifted. Florida welcomed 122 million visitors last year, still below 131 million in 2019. But the first two quarters of this year put Florida’s visitor numbers in 2022 at the same level as three years ago. year.

Orlando International Airport officials said the new terminal is one of the most technologically advanced in the United States.

Suitcases and other baggage at Terminal C will be deposited in large integrated chip bins which are tracked using radio frequency technology. The bins reduce the chances of wheels or straps causing jams in the maze of conveyor belts that move luggage, and the system allows bags to always be tracked. The goal at Orlando airport, which receives the most strollers and golf clubs in the United States, is to move baggage from a gate to the baggage carousel in five minutes, officials said. ‘airport.

“We no longer need to follow the bag. We follow the transportation arrangement,” said Scott Goodwin, assistant director of airport operations.

Passengers on international flights who have registered can match their passport photos with facial scans at the gates, speeding up the boarding process. At security checkpoints leading to the gates, passengers will be able to place their carry-on bags in bins on automated conveyor belts rather than pushing them along tables until they reach X-ray machines, speeding up the screening process by allowing travelers to bypass online slowpokes.

“You can go ahead, grab a trash can, and you won’t be rude to anyone,” said Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Sari Koshetz.

Terminal C is located across from a newly built station that will serve Brightline, a higher-speed line that will begin running between South Florida and Orlando early next year. Airport officials believe this will open Orlando International Airport to Europe-bound passengers from South Florida who may have previously used Miami International Airport.

Thibault said Orlando International Airport officials are currently discussing the possibility of having seamless ticketing between Brightline and terminal airlines, including Aer Lingus, British Airways, Emirates, JetBlue and Lufthansa.

More than 90% of restaurants and shops in the terminal, which include mandatory stores from Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando, have cleared security checkpoints in a bid to give departing passengers time to shop. shopping and eating once they have cleared security.

Arriving passengers will be flooded with sunshine as they will be on the highest level of Terminal C with skylights, a departure from the traditional design of having arrivals on the lower level and departures on the upper level .

“We want them to feel the sun. We want them to feel the palms, flora and fauna,” said Curtis Fentress, whose firm was the design architect for the terminal. “It brings light into the building in a way that stains, like the light that streamed through orange orchards, historically.”

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

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