Salt Lake City’s spiffy new terminal just opened — here’s what it was like on day 1

Sep 15, 2020

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Salt Lake City is now home to the newest airport terminal in the nation.

The first phase of a long-term redevelopment project opened today (Sept. 15) at Salt Lake City’s airport (SLC). Though the new 4 million-square-foot terminal is just the first to open, it’s already a massive transformation compared to the nearly 50-year-old facility it replaces.

Flyers passing through SLC will enjoy a brand-new central arrivals and departures hall, a new set of gates in Concourse A-west and more. There’s even a sparkling new parking garage.

This transformation is particularly important to Delta, the airport’s largest tenant and one of the project’s financial contributors. “This city deserves something really nice,” Eric Phillips, Delta’s senior vice president of airport customer service and cargo said in an exclusive interview with TPG. The new terminal “indicates our optimism for a bright future for Salt Lake City,” he continued.

With Tuesday’s grand opening, Delta passengers will be the first to experience an entirely new end-to-end travel experience at its busiest western hub. That’s because Delta now primarily operates from the new A gates, which also feature a massive, flagship Sky Club that’s now the carrier’s largest.

TPG was on the ground for the opening festivities, and here’s your first look at the newest airport terminal in America.

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The opening celebrations

Delta, along with airport authorities, kicked off the morning with a (COVID-safe) celebration.

Media gathered around Gate A21 to witness the first flight — DL2020 bound for Atlanta (ATL) — depart from the new concourse.

There were plenty of red, white and blue balloons, individually wrapped cookies, water bottles and fanfare awaiting the early risers headed to Delta’s mega-hub in the Southeast.

After a ceremonial ribbon cutting, the first passengers were invited to board the Boeing 757. As they boarded, flyers received a commemorative gift bag with a postcard, pin, baggage tag and stylus pen.

As the plane pulled back from the gate, photographers got their cameras ready to witness the traditional water-cannon salute.

The festivities continued an hour later when the first plane arrived at the new concourse. Delta Fight 3540 landed from Idaho Falls at 7:09 a.m. and received a water-cannon salute as it pulled into the gate.

Though the formal celebration ended when DL3540 deplaned, there was a lot more to celebrate about the new terminal — beginning with the landside check-in area and parking garage.

Check-in and parking

The first thing you’ll notice when you pull up to the new airport is the four-lane-wide roadway that’ll help alleviate traffic congestion.

When you enter the terminal for the first time, your eyes will immediately be drawn to “The Canyon” — the hall spanning the length of the main concourse adorned with a football-field-sized art installation by Gordon Huether.

The 50-foot-high ceilings create the feeling that you’ve entered a cathedral dedicated to Utah’s natural beauty.

It might take a minute to remember that you’re in an airport. But once you do, there are plenty of check-in counters to help you start your journey.

After checking in, you’ll take the escalator down one level, pass through the arrivals area and head to the centralized security checkpoint featuring 16 lanes (with Clear and PreCheck on offer too).

Along the way, you’ll have fantastic views of “The Canyon.”

In addition to the new terminal, a new parking garage opened Tuesday alongside the terminal. The garage has a camera-based sensor system that uses lights to indicate open spots — a measure meant to decrease both stress and traffic. The garage offers 3,600 parking spaces, double the capacity of the previous facility.

It’s connected to the arrival lobby via pedestrian bridges, as opposed to traffic-disrupting crosswalks in the old terminal.

If you’re renting a car, you’ll appreciate that SLC has an on-site, consolidated rental car center dubbed The Gateway. No waiting for a shuttle bus here.

For your convenience, you’ll also find quick-service airline check-in counters adjacent to the rental car counters.

Related: Exclusive first look at Delta’s largest, brand-new Sky Club in Salt Lake City

Gate area

After clearing security, you’ll find yourself on the other side of “The Canyon.” As you walk towards the floor-to-ceiling windows adorning The Plaza, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the airport’s control tower and Wasatch Mountain Range in the distance.

Only 25 gates opened in Tuesday’s first phase of the project. On Oct. 27, a second set of 20 gates in Concourse B-west will open for Alaska, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United Airlines.

When the second set opens, there’ll be a temporary tunnel connecting the two concourses.

When the final phase of the project is complete — as early as 2022 — the eastern gates of both Concourse A and B will open, along with a new 1,000-foot-long central tunnel connecting the two gate areas.

As you walk to your gate, the first things you’ll notice are the wide hallways and multiple moving walkways, offering plenty of space for passengers — even during the busiest arrival and departure banks.

Phillips emphasized that “the customer experience will be outstanding at the new airport. Customers can make connections, arrive and depart without any hassles.” Indeed, after walking from the end of the A concourse to the new Sky Club in just about six minutes, the new SLC makes connecting a breeze.

Gate areas were designed with passenger convenience in mind.

All feature power outlets, USB and USB-C charging ports and cupholders.

You’ll find a Delta Help desk near Gate A17 should you need any help with your flight.

The terminal is decked out with top-notch concessions. For now, nine restaurants and 12 stores are open, including Market Street Grill, California Pizza Kitchen and Shake Shack.

Expect 58 total shops and restaurants once the terminal is fully complete — and the pandemic is over.

Aside from the improved selection, expect to see street pricing. This means that everything sold is priced according to nearby brick-and-mortar stores — eliminating the 10% to 15% markup previously charged in the old terminal.

Another welcome improvement is a plethora of restrooms. In fact, you won’t walk more than 150 feet without passing one!

Each of the terminal’s 24 restrooms features private lactation rooms, deep bathroom stalls and unique artwork.

Art

What sets the new SLC airport apart are the purpose-built, nature-inspired art installations.

As mentioned, the highlight of the new terminal is “The Canyon” by Gordon Huether, designed to make you feel like you’re traveling through one of Utah’s signature canyons. As the airport describes it, “more than 500 fabric-covered, aluminum-framed fins make up this stunning art installation’s wavy, three-dimensional striations.”

Huether’s contributions don’t just stop at “The Canyon.” He also created “The Falls,” a glass sculpture cascading down the three-story escalator bank, spanning from the departures to the ground transportation level.

He’s also working on “The River,” which will be featured in the central tunnel once it’s complete.

With Delta occupying the A concourse, you’ll also find some airline-specific metal art, ranging from an Airbus A330 cruising high above the clouds to a Boeing 767 passing just above the trees.

You’ll also find artwork in one of the most unexpected places — the restroom. As part of the “Whimsy Walls” project, the airport commissioned local and national artists to submit pieces reflecting Utah’s natural beauty. Eighteen works were selected and are now hanging as vinyl wraps in the terminal’s restrooms.

Arrival lobby

If you’re not connecting in SLC, you’ll exit the terminal through “The Canyon.”

As you exit, you’ll find the landside Greeting Room to your right. This large space can accommodate up to 400 people, which will be the perfect area for loved ones to welcome you to Utah once COVID is behind us. It even features a fireplace and a re-creation of the old terminal’s “World Map.”

Continue walking and you’ll find the nine baggage claim carousels. Seven miles of underground conveyor belts were built to speed up baggage delivery times. Plus, the belts are even wider than before to accommodate skis, snowboards and golf clubs.

Once you’ve got your bag, you can either continue walking through the arrival lobby to the parking garage and rental car center or you can descend a set of escalators to the ground transportation and rideshare pickup area.

Bottom line

The new Salt Lake City airport offers an exceptional travel experience.

Some of the most impressive innovations include wide walkways, passenger-focused technology improvements, nature-inspired art, awe-inspiring views, plentiful bathrooms and more.

But the best part? Tuesday’s unveiling is only the beginning — more gates are opening in the coming month and years. And once the entire project is complete, don’t be surprised if SLC becomes a contender for one of the “nation’s best airport” awards.

All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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