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AIRPORT 2012: HOT ON THE RUNWAYS
By Joe Brancatelli
April 25, 2012 -- Nearly four years after the last spate of airport openings, a new crop of aerodromes is set to open in the United States and Europe. We've needed that long to recover.

Although the 2008 openings went well enough, business travelers are always wary about changes at the airports they know and love—or know and hate, but at least have gotten used to. Whether it's a new terminal or an entirely new airport, change means new tricks to learn, new routines to memorize, new services and facilities to test, and some reliable old airport procedures that need to be dumped from our memory banks.

Here's what's headed our way in the weeks ahead in major business-travel cities such as New York, Atlanta, Berlin, Paris, and Las Vegas. Don't forget to pack your hard hat.

One Airport for a Unified Berlin
As befits a destination that spent most of the jet era divided and damaged, Berlin's airport scene was a mess. Templehof, famous for the Cold War Berlin Airlift, has been converted to an urban park. Tegel, opened in 1960 as West Berlin's first jetport, is its own kind of relic. It was designed when travelers expected to drive their cars right to the departure gates. Schoenefeld is the cold, dreary reminder that there was once a cold, dreary place called East Berlin.

June brings the debut of clumsily named Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt, which, thankfully, looks a lot sleeker than its official moniker. Built on the grounds of Schoenefeld and more than 15 years and 2.5 billion euros in the making, Brandenburg will replace Tegel and Schoenefeld and may eventually rival German's two main hubs, Frankfurt and Munich. At about 155 million square feet, it's certainly large enough. There are 16 departure gates and a six-story terminal building nestled between two runways. The airport estimates it can handle 27 million passengers a year. Lufthansa, the German behemoth, will more than triple its Berlin capacity when Brandenburg opens. Air Berlin, the No. 2 airline, is adding a nonstop route to Los Angeles.

With typical Teutonic efficiency, the Germans have been testing systems at Brandenburg for months, but won't open it for scheduled service until June 3. It'll have a mix of 35 local and international shops and 23 restaurants, ranging from a German beer garden to Starbucks to an organic sausage shop to McDonald's. There'll even be some Cold War humor: One of the dining spots is named Ich Bin Ein Berliner, after President Kennedy's famous 1963 declaration in front of the Berlin Wall. Another is named East Side Berlin and offers sit-down dining in one half of the restaurant and takeaway food on the other side. It also has wall art mimicking the graffiti once scrawled on the Berlin Wall. My favorite is Auf Die Hand, which literally means "on the hand." It's a grab-and-go food shop.

Brandenburg is integrated into country's rail network and connected to the local, commuter, and long-haul train systems. If you won't go public, a cab ride from Zoo Station, the heart of old West Berlin, should cost about 35 euros. A ride from Alexanderplatz, the heart of old East Berlin, should be about 30 euros.

It's New, It's Generic, It's in Atlanta
Speaking of airport facilities with clumsy names, try this one on for size: The Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Maybe we should settle on the much more prosaic, but faster, Atlanta International Terminal. After all, speed is important: The $1.5 billion facility is due to open on May 16.

Surprised you haven't heard much about a new terminal at the nation's busiest airport? Join the crowd. Still, it's the first major redesign of Hartsfield since the 1994 Olympics, and at least a dozen airlines, including Delta and its SkyTeam partners Air France, KLM, and Korean Air should be operating their international services from there.

Part of the International Terminal's problem is Hartsfield's sprawl and penchant for blandness. After all, despite attempts to pump up the promotional volume on the international terminal, passengers are told their overseas flights will operate from Concourse F or Concourse E. That's hardly branding that fires up the huddled masses of frequent flyers yearning for something stylish and new. And without meaning to be too critical, the 1.2-million-square-foot facility seems late-20th-century generic: acres of glass; eerie, blue lighting; rounded, white concrete walls; and sweeping curves meant to remind travelers of airport wings or the joy of flight or something that makes sense only to architects.

However, the International Terminal will have its own exit (Number 239) from Interstate 75 and a 3,500-vehicle parking structure. And driving is the way to go, since it'll be a 12-minute shuttle-bus ride from the nearest connection to Atlanta's MARTA public-rail system. Car renters face something of a haul too. Getting from the international terminal to the airport's car-rental center will require a 15-minute shuttle ride.

Under construction since 2008, the terminal won't be fully ready on opening day and the roster of shops and restaurants seems surprisingly pedestrian. But full credit to the terminal's promotional YouTube video. It makes no claims of eliminating lines of passengers at check-in or security checkpoints. So at least we know the terminal is prepared for the reality of 21st century flight.

Another Remake in Las Vegas
For a town that specializes in remaking itself every few years, Las Vegas has been saddled with a startlingly dull airport. McCarran International has gone 15 years without a major update or expansion even while Vegas itself has boomed, busted, and boomed again several times and the airport itself has absorbed a influx of new international flights serving eager gamblers from overseas.

Whether the $2.4 billion Terminal 3, expected to open its first phase late in June, will bring McCarran up to Vegas' glitzy standards remains to be seen. But it should help alleviate the overcrowding. When completed, the facility will have 1.9 million square feet of space and room for 14 gates and 130 check-in stations. As is now the standard in airport design, everything in Terminal 3 is deemed "common use," which means they can be used by all passengers and any carrier rather then be walled off by airlines zealously guarding their turfs. July's tranche of gates, shops, and other facilities will largely handle that growing wave of international flights. Some additional domestic capacity should go live later in the summer.

New Tricks for Old Airport Dogs
Two airports that frequent flyers love to hate—LaGuardia in New York and Charles De Gaulle in Paris—are getting partial makeovers too. Unfortunately, both projects will require travelers to move around construction as we make our way to and from our flights.

At LaGuardia, New York's close-in but claustrophobic airport, Delta Air Lines is trying to fuse two terminals together after trading for more gates, buildings, and takeoff and landing spots with US Airways. The $100 million project includes a 630-foot covered passenger connection between the existing Terminals C and D; new and renovated club lounges in both buildings; a mall's worth of new shops, restaurants, and food halls; and dozens of new flights to leading business destinations and upstate New York. The project broke ground earlier this month and may be complete by the end of the year. In the meantime, travelers need to take a shuttle bus between the two terminals and Delta's divided proto-hub.

The plans of Air France and the Paris airport authority to remake Charles DeGaulle seem as confusing and convoluted as the airport itself, which handles 60 million flyers a year, most of them confounded and frustrated by the endless hallways, connections, and misdirections of the main terminals. It seems to be even more buildings, additional satellite terminals, and connectors between Terminal 2E and 2F, where most international passengers seem to lose their way and miss their flights. Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to English speakers. We don't even refer to the airport as the French do. We know it as CDG (its three-letter code), deGaulle, or just "Paris." Parisians call it Roissy--but they often seem as lost in the terminals as everyone else.

The Fine Print…
Japan Airlines launched the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights in the United States last week when it began nonstop service between Boston and Tokyo's Narita Airport. The route came with a new code-share deal with JetBlue Airways, which now has links with more than a dozen international carriers.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2012 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.