4 months in: Here’s how it’s going at the new New Orleans International Airport

Mar 8, 2020

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When it opened to the public on November 6, 2019, the new 35-gate, state-of-the-art terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) was celebrated with live music, a second line parade and a very early morning appearance by the New Orleans rapper Darwin Turner, better known as Choppa.

The celebration was deserved, if just a wee bit overdue.

The brand-new $1 billion Cesar Pelli-designed terminal built on the north side of the airfield replaced a very worn facility that first opened in 1959 and which still sits on the south side of the airfield. The new terminal, about eight years in the making, had suffered numerous delays and missed deadlines, but most opening day flights took off on schedule, with some bonus commemorative gestures.

During the first days and weeks of operation, MSY had some kinks at the security checkpoint, with the baggage system and with ride-hailing services at the arrivals curb. But during a recent tour of MSY with airport spokeswoman Erin Burns, I found everything seems to be up and running smoothly, with many of the promised amenities, including the MSY Guest Pass program, proving to be extremely popular.

Security Checkpoints

The new MSY Airport was designed with 15 lanes at a centralized checkpoint. Only 10 of those lanes were operational at opening and sometime wait times stretched to 30 minutes. “Now we have all 15 lanes in place and wait times have been averaging about 5 minutes and up to 15 or 20 minutes during peak periods,” said Burns, “We think our idea is working.”

The new Baggage system

MSY’s new baggage system caused some problems during opening week and during the holidays. “There were growing pains with the new system,” said Burns. “But we have experts and teams in place to monitor and address the issues with the system and it’s performing much better now. For example, we have people staffed at some key locations to free up jams.”

Ride-hailing pickups

The pickup area at MSY for Uber and Lyft passengers is conveniently located right outside baggage claim, between Doors 9 and 11. But despite the pin-match program each service uses to speed pickups, there are still backups and long lines during peak periods.  “We’ve got our planning and development team taking a hard look at that,” Burns said. “And we’re looking at what type of improvements we can make there.”

MSY Guest Pass program

As announced during the opening celebration in December, MSY rolled out a MSY Guest Pass program that allows non-ticketed visitors to spend time in the post-security area of the airport.

“Lots of people took advantage of that in December and January so they could spend more time with loved one coming into town,” said Burns. “And the general community is still curious about the new airport and everything we have past security.”

The MSY Guest Pass program has 100 slots on Saturdays and Sundays and 50 slots available each weekday. “There have been some days we’ve been maxed out,” says Burns. “But that’s a good sign.”

Shops and restaurants

Burns says the availability of many branches of local restaurants and shops, plus the design of concessions down the center of the concourses is bringing returns “well beyond our wildest imagination.” Burns says food and beverage sales alone are up 44% over the same time last year and many concessions have ended up hiring additional employees.

New clubs and lounges

The 4,600-square-foot New Orleans-themed Delta Sky Club was the only lounge up and running when the new terminal opened at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Since then, two other lounges have opened: The Club MSY and the United Club.

The Club MSY is located upstairs, near the entrance to Concourse A and is laid out with a Productivity Zone, a Relax Zone and a cozy Rest Zone with lower ambient lighting and chairs conducive for napping. The club also has a bar and a well-stocked buffet in the Replenish Zone. As a nice bonus, there’s a shower inside one of the club’s four restrooms. Hours: 4:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

At the end of February, United Airlines opened a United Club at MSY Airport. The 6,000-square foot lounge is located downstairs, one Level 1, on the C Concourse next to Gate C7. The 95-seat club is laid out with several seating areas, two phone booths, a bar serving local favorites such as Abita Amber beer, and a generous buffet stocked with local-themed menu items such as muffuletta and pimento cheese sliders, gumbo and rice, and cornbread. As a nice touch, photographs of vintage aircraft line the walls.

New service from MSY

Spirit Airlines recently announced plans for its first international routes from New Orleans. In June, the airline plans to add service between MSY and both Cancun (CUN) and San Pedro Sula (SAP) in Honduras.

“New Orleans has the largest population of Hondurans outside of Honduras,” said Burns. “We haven’t had sustained service to Honduras since Hurricane Katrina, so this means a lot to the local community and is an important connection to the south for us.”

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