Doing the Dance: How Salt Lake City Phased Its New Terminal

SLC - Salt Lake City

It’s been described as doing open heart surgery on a patient that’s awake. Building a new terminal can be challenging, as anyone who has gone through LaGuardia in the last couple years knows. But with Salt Lake City opening the first part of its new terminal this month, I thought it would be interesting to look through how the construction has been phased… along with what’s next.

To start, let’s look at the old Salt Lake terminals. There were technically three terminals from east to west: Terminal 1, Terminal 2, and the International Terminal. These were connected to five concourses lettered from A to E, also from east to west. Everything was connected behind security.

This hodge-podge of a terminal complex was built a really long time ago with a capacity of less than half the passengers who actually used the airport before the pandemic. Of course, Delta has made this a major mountain hub, so it has been bursting at the seams for some time. Anyone who has ever flown on a regional flight out of the god-forsaken Concourse E knows what I’m talking about.

There’s been an effort to build a new terminal for a really long time, but as is always the case, it took years to come together. The new plan has a single terminal with two parallel concourses, but it was placed to overlap the existing terminal by a fair bit, so phasing was required.

The first thing to do was to destroy the bottom half of Concourse E, remove the evil spirits that obviously inhabited the place, and then shut the rest of the place down.

This work allowed them to build what they’re calling Concourse A West along with the new terminal headhouse. At the same time, they’ve been building Concourse B West, but that is set to open in the second phase.

When the new terminal and Concourse A was ready to open this month, there was a lot of talk about how exactly to phase things. The pandemic allowed them to really smooth out the process and cut down the complexity of the plan.

When the new A opened, Delta moved in. Concourse D was shut down, but the other three concourses in the old terminal remained open. Concourse C is the same and is exclusively used by Delta. The old Concourse B had to be re-lettered to make room for the new B, so it’s now F. It serves Delta, Southwest, and United. Then the old A is now G, and that’s where Alaska, American, Frontier, and JetBlue fly. In other words, it’s the cats and dogs concourse.

This is how it looked when it opened, and it’s how things stand today.

This is, to be kind, not ideal. The old ticketing/baggage areas have all been shut down, so travelers have to check in at the new terminal and then walk through the connector into the old gate areas. If you’re flying on any airline but Delta, leave some extra time.

This, fortunately, is just temporary until October 27. That’s when Concourse B West will open for the first time, and all the cats and dogs move in (along with more gates for Delta). When that happens, the old terminal will stop being used completely. You can thank the pandemic for that quick shift.

A will be connected to B via an underground tunnel. What’s interesting here is that this tunnel was built a decade ago and is just temporary. It’ll be temporary for a long time, but it’s not the final plan.

This configuration will exist until — as currently planned — December 2024. During that time, the old terminals and concourses will all be knocked down. (Demolition is actually already underway around the old parking garage.) Then they can build the rest of Concourse A. It will look like this:

As I understand it, Delta will be on A and everyone else will go on B. There will also be hardstands for some regional flights, if demand requires it. That’s going to be a feature for some time, it seems. They’ll park the airplanes behind B, I believe.

The final phase isn’t currently scheduled. It sounds like this will be planned out as demand warrants. This will result in the completion of the rest of B and the new tunnel.

And there you have it. The moral of this story? If you’re flying before October 27, bring walking shoes and leave extra time. But starting October 27 things should be rather nice in the new digs.

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43 comments on “Doing the Dance: How Salt Lake City Phased Its New Terminal

  1. I wish MSP and CLT would reconfigure their layouts… I hope it’s changed, but 8 or so years ago I once clocked the walk from gate to rental car at MSP at 40+ minutes, and remember that it included at least 4 or 5 escalators (up and down), with fairly poor signage.

    If you’re connecting through CLT and have one flight on a small plane arriving/departing in the E gates and another on a mainline jet, you’ll definitely get your exercise during your connection. There are some long walks at CLT, but hey, rocking chairs for when you get tired.

    For hub airports I’m a big fan of ATL’s configuration… Not the prettiest architecture, and could be better in terms of curb-to-gate time, but very efficient for connecting pax given the number of gates. In contrast, DFW was built to minimize curb-to-gate distance, and is great for that, but is not ideal for those with connections there.

    In terms of mid-size airports that aren’t intended as hubs, TPA and its monorails are great. In 12 minutes I’ve gone from from touch down to curb (not arrival to curb, but from when the tires create the puff of smoke on the runway to when I step on the curb), and that includes not only taxiing time but time waiting to depart from a cheap seat in the tail end of a mainline jet.

    1. The great morphing of SLC into the DTW Mcnamara terminal. I’ve seen some photos out there and it does look very nice. Congrats to the people of SLC.

      @Kilroy, The trick to getting to car rental at MSP is taking the exit on the connector bridge between C & G gates. It avoids all the up and down of escalators/elevators. Still can be a significant walk if you arrive at E or F concourse. It’s my home airport so I don’t do layovers there hardly ever but can imagine there is running involved to make tight connections. CLT has joined ORD on my airports to avoid due to the poor setup and significant distance between gates when making tight connections. ATL just works and probably why that rather boring airport design keeps popping up…like in Salt Lake City.

      1. Good point. I was actually thinking of Denver. They will need to add a terminal C further out just so a Priority Pass restaurant can be placed as far away from main traffic as possible.

      2. I actually reviewed the MSP map and saw the C/G connector, but if that was in place when I arrived there for a business trip years ago, both my boss and I missed the signs for it.

        I should add New York’s Idlewild airport (hate to call it JFK) to the list of airports I don’t like the configuration of, though I’ve only flown out of there once or twice. That’s less about the terminal layout and more about the poor set up for connecting passengers… I still can’t believe that there are major hubs and international airports like JFK that do not offer air-side transportation between all terminals (thus requiring connecting pax to leave the secured area, transit to another terminal, and then go through security again). That’s just absurd in my book.

        1. Trying to connect between alliances at JFK is a NIGHTMARE. If you leave security to go to another terminal (i.e. Star Alliance), you might as well catch a cab to LGA or EWR as it’ll be faster.

          1. Agree that JFK would not be the easiest to connect between airlines, but the Airtrain is not so bad. It’s a hassle to leave security in any airport, but you never have to spend more than 5 minutes on AirTrain between any terminals.

      3. The one time I had to connect in MSP, Delta apparently noticed I had a 40 minute connection, and helpfully put the E-Jet to RDU right next to the M88 I flew in on from DEN. They can’t do that sort of tweaking every time, but I’m betting that there’s enough leeway that they can put 50-60 minute connections further away and have everything work :)

    2. I’m with you on MSP and CLT, but I never understand the connection hate for DFW. I find that to be one of the easiest connections in the country with the frequent trains and easy layout. But apparently that’s just me.

      1. Thank you. I have only connected in DFW once, because I live here. But I don’t get the problem. You can get from any gate to any gate (other than that stupid satellite over in E) in 20ish minutes with the Skylink. I can’t do that in DEN or ATL, not by a long shot.

      2. When I flew through DFW, I hated it. Long walks, a slow one way train; It was misery. Plus, only having gates on one side of a concourse is inefficient for connections. I just hate DFW.

    3. Once you get to know MSP, it is easy. On the plus side, you will get your steps in as it is not TPA as TPA is well designed and simple to traverse. MSP is my home airport and it needs some attention. The expansion of the final pod in G will help a bit as Delta squeezes 4 or 5 flights in a block so often from G17 to G21, so the expansion is a necessity. MSP can seem complex, it isn’t as it is pretty much a horseshoe. Should business pick up again at MSP (hope so) the long term idea of moving everyone but Delta and Friends (whatever Skyteam will be by then) to an expanded T2 will make it much more efficient and begin to use the gem of T2 to its fullest extent. Once that happens, hopefully a redesign of concourses D, E and F will result in something more efficient for all travelers. Time will tell on this.

    1. I’m based in Chicago and there are rumors that the new Global Terminal (terminal 2) and satellite construction will be delayed due to Covid and problems securing debt. Terminal 5 (old international terminal, now all the cats & dogs plus international) is already well underway and should be completed by end of 2021. One would think they’d take advantage of the downturn in PAX to accelerate construction but this is Chicago so it’ll be 5 years late and $2B over budget.

      1. Oops, I didn’t refresh my screen and Chris did a much better job above! This is where I wish there was a delete button!

    2. Angry Bob – I haven’t heard anything official, but I would imagine the rebuild of Terminal 2 into the Global Gateway, or whatever it’s called, is likely in trouble for the near term. Whether that means it just ends up getting delayed or if it’s scaled back/canceled entirely is unclear to me.

  2. The SLC rebuild is yet another success in rebuilding airports that were not designed to maximize connections to those that do. Having just connected in SLC in the last month, they are building a highly functional but not flashy terminal. It is worth noting that, like DL’s other hubs, SLC will be on the lower end of new terminals in terms of cost per enplaned passenger.
    It is also worth noting that DL has been adding back capacity to SLC at a far faster rate than DL or other carrier’s hubs, indicating that DL continues to grow its presence in the western US.
    Western Airlines did a great job of handing Delta a great presence in the western US that DL has been building on for 35 years. As DL’s SLC terminal reaches completion, they will now be focused on completing and building out LAX, Western’s former home.
    Considering that Delta was solidly and little more than just an eastern and southern US airline at the time of the Western merger, the Western merger was the first step in making Delta a true nationwide and eventually global competitor with the Pan Am assets and Northwest merger.

    1. Delta’s strategy out West should be interesting to watch. They’re a solid third place in every metric on the West Coast against UA and the AA/AS alliance with weaker JV partners in Asia and now none in Australia vs UA/AA. It’s hard to see where they allocate resources without just wasting money trying to be be anything more than third place. Alaska will always have lower cost domestically and now has help from OW and AA pushing back any international advantage Delta had. United will always have a bigger hub and dominate in California vs Delta.

      I am curious how you already know the future CPE in SLC for delta?

      1. Actually they might be fourth considering how strong WN is out there. They will be miles ahead of AA and AS if you don’t add them together though.

      2. First, CPE projections are part of the approval for airport projects and the tables for SLC were part of the public documents that were (and probably still are) available. Other airports have expected CPEs that are generally a part of their annual reports which are provided to the FAA.

        The first part of your statement is based on incorrect assumptions about how revenue is counted and shared. American and Alaska are and will be in a simple code-share relationship; either one can buy seats on the other but they do not and cannot share revenue and plan the capacity and price their services. They are and will be full competitors meaning their revenue cannot be combined as one.

        Even joint venture revenue cannot be combined for each carrier; you can either count the revenue that is under the joint venture but you cannot say it is all airline A’s or add it in total to airline B’s system revenue.

        Based on actual DOT data, Delta in 2019 was the 2nd largest carrier on the west coast behind UA based on revenue passenger miles and west coast origin and destination revenue. WN carries more passengers than either UA or DL but gets less revenue and carries those passengers over less total distance. If you include PHX, DEN and SLC with the west coast, the results and ranking are still the same.

        Delta surpassed American as the 2nd largest airline on the west coast several years ago with the buildup of SEA.

        History doesn’t really matter much right now but current schedules show that Delta is offering more available seat miles from both the west coast and the west coast plus DEN, SLC and PHX than any other carrier. While revenue numbers will be depressed for 2020, it is very possible that the reordering of revenue and capacity rankings will be reordered, esp. if UA continues to be very slow at adding back capacity.

        DL very likely will become at least a larger #2 over the next couple years while the gap between American and both Delta and United will become greater.

        1. Well, the AA/AS alliance is an entire strategic plan, but just go ahead and discount all the facts there when it doesn’t fit your narrative.

          1. I’m not discounting anything.
            I am providing actual facts.
            AA and AS are separate airlines.

            And regarding your other points, Delta and Korean were the number 2 and 3 carriers behind United across the Pacific in 2019.

            As for Australia, DOT data shows that Delta connected a very low percentage of passengers beyond SYD anyway. The bigger loss to the JV is the loss of VA’s flights to MEL and BNE – but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that DL could add those.
            Also, DL and VA could add a simple codeshare arrangement if they wanted but since US-Australia traffic will be a fraction of 2019 for months to come, there is little value to either side to add something new but also there is little benefit to any of the AU-US JVs given the significant travel restrictions right now.

            The real game changer for the airline industry is DL’s much greater size at LAX; based on Oct schedules, DL is 1.5X larger than American and every other large player at LAX is adding back a lower percentage of capacity than DL. If that gap persists and/or if Delta continues to grow proportionately more than its peers as capacity comes back, the west coast airline industry revenue breakdown will look very different in a couple years.

      1. Bill from DC – true. Airporthistory.org’s blog as an entry about the Atlanta redevelopment you would like reading:

        https://www.airporthistory.org/blue-concourse/how-atlantas-midfield-terminal-could-have-looked-completely-different

        But I think the optimal layout for a hub transfer airport was the “new” PIT built for Allegheny – er, Piedmont – er, USAir – er, US Airways ;)

        Taking ATL’s 4 (original) conourses and making an “X” out of them was genius, as it eliminated the need for the tram and/or tunnel in a concourse-to-concourse transfer scheme. Super convenient and easy to use in the 90s!

        Ah, the glory days of USAir, with its Pittsburgh to Paris 767s!

    1. Seems like it happened around the time security got annoying enough that you wanted to funnel folks through a more centralized set of larger checkpoints, vs. a more spread-out set of less optimal checkpoints. Though some airports already had the centralized checkpoint configuration (more or less MCO, definitely DEN). An extreme example in the opposite direction is MCI, but DFW’s emphasis on curb-to-gate time is similar. Heck, MIA seems pretty focused on having as much curb space as possible, even though some of its terminal fingers go on forever.

      1. To be honest, that was the “good” thing about flying out of DFW when I lived in that area. Line at the security checkpoint looks long? Easy, walk 100 yards or so down the concourse and try another one. If you’re being picked up or dropped off at the curb, DFW is great. ATL, however, is pretty bad in that regard, as it simply doesn’t seem to have the curb space relative to the number of pax transiting through it that it really needs, especially given how car-centric the ATL metro area is. Perhaps as a result, ATL has fairly aggressive enforcement of the “no stopping unless loading or unloading pax” rule, to the point that my family received a ticket once when picking me up (technically their fault for not waiting in a cell phone waiting lot until I was close to the curb, but at most airports they just threaten you with a ticket and don’t bother writing one unless you refuse to move along).

    2. It’s a highly-efficient layout for airside ops. Planes can taxi in and out independently of one another, as opposed to the older common terminal style that had allies in between piers/concourses. That pier style was adopted out of necessity when original airport headhouses became undersized for traffic, necessitating that piers be added to serve more aircraft stands.

  3. Really interesting to see what DL is doing at SLC. They’ve obviously brought back capacity here quicker than even ATL. Partly due to demand and party due to growing important of having a connecting hub in mountain west region. WN/UA/F9 are battling out at DEN, which is a larger market. But having SLC all to itself is going to be quite the boon for DL for years to come. To me, the biggest obstacle for their SLC hub is if UA actually gets to 700 flights a day at DEN or WN gets to like 400. That will take a way some of their connection traffic.

  4. I love the views and food vendors at SLC (Cafe Rio)! We usually fly Southwest to visit family in SLC every couple of years and I will not miss the long walk down to the very end of the old B (now F) concourse where Southwest currently resides. It’s at ground level so a lot of up and down and there’s not enough space, seating or bathrooms way down there (at least for pre-pandemic traffic). Thanks for helping us make sense of how the transition will work, Brett. I had not been able to figure it all out from reading airport stuff and media coverage.

    1. I’m sorry to tell you that the walk to the new WN gates, will be even farther away in the new concourse. I work for WN at the SLC airport, and I when I took a tour of the new B gates…I was shocked at the distance. Having said that, the gate area is beautiful and spacious. If you have ever flown out of Rome/Heathrow/Bangkok, you’ll understand the distance I am speaking of from counter to gates. So give yourself extra time! Also having walked through the tunnel to the B gates, it makes much more sense that it was built 20 years ago. It looks like a wartime bunker, but they are really trying to give it some life with some amazing murals.

    1. southbay flier – agreed. I remember reading the gushing ad copy in Eastern’s inflight magazine with a huge multi-page insert about the “new Atlanta terminal”. I must be getting old ;)

  5. it wasn’t too challenging for SLC considering how they have plenty of empty space next to original concourses to allow such an approach. The LGA one was truly impressive how they’ve literally rebuilt the entire Central Terminal within the same amount of space, give or take.

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