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JetBlue's post-9/11 terminal will help a 1962 icon endure

Security was a big concern at JetBlue's new terminal at JFK Airport, which opens Oct. 1. But it will also have a retail area and touch-screen stands passengers can use to order food that will be delivered to them at the gate. Security was a big concern at JetBlue's new terminal at JFK Airport, which opens Oct. 1. But it will also have a retail area and touch-screen stands passengers can use to order food that will be delivered to them at the gate. (Photos by Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)
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Associated Press / August 7, 2008

NEW YORK - JetBlue Airways Corp. is in the final stretch of a four-year, $743 million project to construct a modern terminal - the first one designed and built since 9/11 - that will be linked to a symbol of 20th century aviation.

JetBlue's new terminal and home base, at Kennedy International Airport, features a 20-lane security checkpoint, the largest such screening area in North America, said Tom Kennedy, project director. There's also fully automated bag screening and wide open spaces to make moving around easier.

The new space is connected to the landmark Trans World Airlines terminal, designed by architect Eero Saarinen. It was built in 1962 and closed when TWA ended operations in October 2001. Connecting the new terminal to the historic site was a unique feat, said William D. Hooper Jr., managing director of the architectural firm Gensler.

"It's an icon of 20th-century aviation, and it was a piece of the puzzle," Hooper said. "We had to respect it - we didn't want [the new terminal] to have a looming presence."

JetBlue expects the new terminal to handle about 250 flights each day, more than doubling the carrier's current activity at JFK's Terminal 6.

This month, the low-fare carrier will welcome an invited group of more than 1,000 of its frequent fliers, hand them a script, and ask them to participate in a full-scale "dress rehearsal." The practice run will offer a chance to fix any kinks.

The old TWA terminal, which will eventually hold some JetBlue check-in kiosks, will not be open for the dress rehearsal or when the lights go on in the new Terminal 5 on Oct. 1. The historic structure awaits a face lift by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with the interior expected to be completed in the spring.

Each person playing a flier will be handed a list of details about their simulated flight, including a pseudonym. The individuals will then go through the check-in process, obtain a fake boarding pass, go through security, pass the food court, and head to the gate.

The new terminal was designed with an emphasis on openness. The depth of passenger drop-off lanes is twice the size of average lanes at other airports. The security screening areas span a football-field-size space. There is a lot of talk about "flow," suggesting the space should provide a natural path from one place to another.

There are twice as many X-ray machines as metal detectors, in an effort to speed up what can be one of the more annoying parts of air travel. Rubber floors cover the security space - because it's more comfortable for shoeless feet than tile or carpeting. A blue wall nearby will hold a bench where travelers can sit to put their shoes back on.

The dress rehearsal may seem like a bit of pomp and circumstance, but airline officials know how important it can be. When British Airways opened its new terminal in London, chaos erupted as baggage systems malfunctioned and staffing issues arose, despite multiple test runs. JetBlue says its doing everything possible to make sure nothing like that happens at JFK.

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