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9 Incredibly Expensive Airport Makeovers Happening Right Now

July 30, 2016
7 min read
9 Incredibly Expensive Airport Makeovers Happening Right Now
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TPG Contributor Jennifer Wood highlights nine of the biggest airport revamps happening right now, from New York to Rio.

It’s hardly hyperbole to say that the travel industry is in a never-ending state of flux. As bigger planes take to the skies, cheaper airfares become easier to find and new destinations grow in popularity (hello, Cuba), people are traveling in record numbers.

To accommodate the growing amounts of travelers, airports around the world must make adjustments that go far beyond adding another restaurant or even automated screening lines. From New York to Rio, here are nine of the biggest airport revamps happening right now.

1. LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

Cost: $8 billion

When Governor Andrew Cuomo first announced plans to renovate New York's LaGuardia Airport in 2013, it was given a price tag of $3.6 billion. In May, just a month before construction began, that number was upped to $4 billion… and from there it just keeps climbing.

This week, The Real Deal reported that the final tally is now looking like it might be closer to $8 billion. So just what will all that dough buy travelers? The main goal of the project is to rebuild Terminal B, making the airport one unified structure. Expanded taxiways, brand-new check-in and security areas, a new water taxi landing and several more restaurants, lounges and stores will also be added.

“Our plan will fundamentally transform LaGuardia — replacing what is now an outdated and poorly designed complex with the world-class airport New York has always deserved,” Cuomo said. According to a recent article on Curbed, half of Terminal B’s new areas will open in 2018, with the final phase of the project set to be unveiled in 2021.

2. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)

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Cost: $6 billion

If any airport deserves a major overhaul, it’s the world’s busiest airport — and that’s exactly what’s happening in Atlanta. The airport, which services more than 250,000 passengers per day on average, is in the midst of a $6 billion makeover known as ATL Next. Terminals will soon get an updated look, canopies will be added to drop-off zones, and there will be a $1 billion parking overhaul, a new concourse and a new 400-room InterContinental hotel. But don’t expect all this change to happen overnight; ATL Next is expected to be a 20-year project.

3. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Cost: $5 billion

It’s hard to escape traffic in Los Angeles — even when you’re trying to make your way out of Los Angeles. The biggest complaint developers are hearing about so far — perhaps unsurprisingly — is that LAX’s current $5 billion renovation is causing major traffic and parking problems. But the project keeps moving along, and all in the name of sustainability. Once completed, the biggest change will be a two-mile-long people mover that connects the airport's terminals with a number of car rental centers and transit centers, making it easier to get in, out and on your way.

Los Angeles International Airport. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Los Angeles International Airport. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

4. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

Cost: $2.5 billion

Things are about to get a lot bigger in North Carolina. A major $2.5 billion expansion is currently underway at Charlotte Douglas International Airport following a record year of 44.9 million travelers in 2015 (many of whom used the airport for connecting flights). Known as "Destination CLT," the project — which is set to be complete in 2020 — will see a brand new concourse replace an old car rental facility. According to The Charlotte Observer, the first phase is scheduled to open in 2018 and will feature nine new gates, expanded moving walkways and a wider road outside the terminal.

5. San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Cost: $2.4 billion

On June 29, San Francisco International Airport broke ground on a $2.4 billion overhaul of Terminal 1, home to Delta, Southwest, Frontier and Alaska Airlines. A portion of the terminal will be demolished in order to make room for two new boarding areas plus a brand-new check-in area, security space, baggage claim and a luxury hotel. The new terminal is set to make its debut in 2020.

6. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

Cost: $1 billion

Big things are happening in our nation’s capital. In June, The Washington Post reported that Reagan National — which turns 75 this year — is getting its first major makeover in nearly two decades. Set to commence this fall, the $1 billion revamp that will enclose Gate 35X, a much-maligned gate that requires travelers to be shuttled to and from their flights.

“This capital program is not about growth,” Margaret McKeough, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s COO said. “This is truly about relieving congestion. Travelers using Reagan National should expect a certain level of service. It is simply not acceptable to rely on the busing operation.”

DCA is in the midst of a $1 billion overhaul. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

7. Tampa International Airport (TPA)

Cost: $1 billion

In February, travelers passing through Tampa International Airport got a glimpse of the first signs of a $1 billion makeover, which saw the addition of a nearly $9 million warehouse that vastly improved the airport’s concession game. But that’s only the first part of the project; according to the Tampa Bay Times, the completed overhaul will include an expanded main terminal, a consolidated car rental area (with a 1.4-mile-long people mover) and 65 new stores and restaurants. Technology-obsessed travelers will appreciate the 100 new plugs and USB ports being installed.

8. Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport (GIG)

Cost: $600 million

Winning a bid to host the Olympics is a coup for any city — but it doesn’t come cheap. Rio de Janeiro has learned this lesson, sort of the hard way; over the past two years, the city has invested $600 million in making Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport more traveler-friendly, with free Wi-Fi, 100 new shops and restaurants and another 43,000 square feet for lounging. So far, the reviews have been mixed, but with the Summer Olympics set to kick off on August 5, we’ll know more soon.

9. Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)

Cost: $300 million

On paper, it sounds logical: Chicago's O'Hare International Airport plans to expand its international terminal (Terminal 5) by 25 percent and add up to nine more gates, which, they reason, will lead to fewer delays. It seems like a solid plan and they’re about to invest $300 million to find out in what will be the 13-year-old terminal’s first-ever expansion.

Bottom Line

Airports from NYC to Rio are sprucing themselves up, so it'll be interesting to see how these improvements go over. In the meantime, brace yourself for crowds and construction, focus on the future and hope for the best.