Balloons flank gates at the new Long Beach Airport terminal, which opened to passengers for the first time Wednesday. Photos by Sarah Bennett.
It’s just after lunch on Wednesday, December 12 and the executive director of the Long Beach Airport is standing at a Jet Blue gate in the municipal airstrip’s brand new concourse watching people get off a plane from Oakland.
“Look at their faces!” he says giddily as passengers enter the long, spacious terminal from the tarmac and immediately look up and around, wide-eyed at the new, high-ceilinged structure and its slick, resort-like amenities. “This is lovely people watching. You can tell which ones flew out of here in the trailers just a few days ago.”
Rodriguez and other airport executives have been looking forward to this day for a while—when access to the triple-wide trailers that have served as makeshift terminals for more than a decade are closed off and passengers instead move from check-in inside the airport’s historic art deco building to the new $45 million LEED-built concourse.
The first passenger to experience the upgraded LGB passed through the new consolidated security screening area at 5AM and left for Phoenix on the first flight out about an hour and a half later.
There is seemingly no end to the positive reactions the structure—which features a half-dozen local concessionaires, trendy-chair-covered patios with fire pits and an open-air palm court that leads to a spacious passenger greeting area—has garnered during just its first few hours in operation.
“Can you believe that everybody is smiling at an airport?” Rodriguez asks as three women exit the plane laughing and several TSA agents walk by and wave. “This is an airport!”
Though architectural mock-ups and descriptions of the airport’s plans for the building have been circulating for months, nothing compares to witnessing the final product firsthand.
The two terminals—home to 11 gates and four airlines—are separated by a large central courtyard filled with native plants, gravel gardens and a wooden boardwalk that brings vibes from the actual beach to the inland Long Beach airport. Each terminal is enclosed, but was built with floor-to-ceiling windows that not only let in tons of natural light, but also provide 180-degree views of the runway and airport activities.
And in a move that is sure to peg LGB as one of the most business-friendly airports around, the new concourse is equipped with free wi-fi and most of the seating options—from the bar stools at the Taco Beach-run “Cantina” to the Eames tandem slings that make up the majority of gate-side seating—come with a modern electrical outlet that allows users to also charge straight from USB plugs.
Coming in the next four months or so (once the trailers are moved off-site) is another open-air patio which will provide additional dining space off of the food-court-style Marché and an expanded passenger-greeting area that will enable people to walk around both sides the 1941 terminal building, a structure that remains the centerpiece of the airport’s entire modernization project.
LGB’s “iPad bar” is directly in front of the food court-style Marché.
Coupled with the high-quality food and drink options from local establishments (including 4th St. Vine wine bar, George’s Greek Café and Polly’s Coffee), the new concourse’s effect is that of a sleek, contemporary mall—not just a transit hub, but a destination all its own.
With a stated goal of putting leisure back into leisure travel, LGB’s grand opening also signals an end to the traditional airport concept. On the day of the concourse’s ribbon-cutting, Los Angeles World Airports, operators of LAX, announced its dining and retail plans for the new Tom Bradley International Terminal—which includes similar-to-LGB slickness and a cluster of L.A.-based coffee and food options.
“We always said we wanted to make something world class,” Rodriguez says, walking past the mid-terminal “iPad bar” where customers can order food from any of the concessionaires and have it delivered to them gate-side, “but we weren’t going to just copy someone else’s vision of world class. We had to make our own, which we did, at one-tenth of the cost of other projects this size.”
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