Aug. 30--NEW YORK -- American Airlines showed off its new $1.3 billion terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport on Wednesday, a facility the airline hopes will help it become dominant in the lucrative market for international travel.
The terminal, which has been in the works for eight years and is fully operational, replaced a cramped and crowded facility that airline officials said was a major drawback at JFK, one of the airline's major international gateways.
For North Texas travelers, the 1.5 million-square-foot facility means easier connections to overseas destinations through New York. It also gives connecting passengers a spacious and luxurious place to wait for flights.
"Our facilities here were pretty horrible," Gerard Arpey, chief executive of Fort Worth-based American, said after a news conference at the new terminal. "We feel like we're going to be able to give our customers the kind of service they desire."
For American, that customer focus is increasingly pointed toward premium international travelers. That's because those travelers, primarily flying on business, are willing to pay a substantial premium to sit in the more spacious seats in the front of the plane.
"The business-class cabin on international flights is the most profitable product we sell," said David Cush, American's senior vice president of global sales.
The terminal features towering ceilings, glass-and-steel architecture, and extensive shopping and restaurants. It's designed to move passengers as quickly as possible through the process.
That's particularly evident for premium customers. The terminal has an enclosed check-in area for business and first-class passengers, which leads to an exclusive security checkpoint that's likely to have shorter lines than the main security entrance.
The terminal also features two luxurious Admiral's Clubs, which have Internet access, children's playrooms and spalike showers.
"It's a big change," said Craig Kreeger, the airline's senior vice president of international service. "JFK has historically been a challenging airport to make your way through."
American has been at JFK for 80 years, and at one time was its largest carrier. That changed after 2000, when New York-based JetBlue Airways set up shop at the airport.
Today, JetBlue has the most traffic at the airport, with 13 million passengers during the 12 months ending in June, the most-recent figures available. American was second, with about 7.6 million passengers, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the airport.
But American remains the No. 1 carrier for international traffic, which is more lucrative than domestic flying, with 3.8 million passengers during the past year.
American hopes that the spacious new digs will help bring in more New Yorkers as well. The airline has been increasing its focus on the New York market in recent months, with new advertising and a heightened focus on New York business travelers. About two-thirds of JFK travelers don't take connections to other cities.
The airline has also teamed up with city officials to try to generate more tourist travel to America's largest city.
"There have been times when people weren't willing to make investments in Kennedy," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. And the airport suffered after 9-11.
About 30 million people used the airport in 2002, Bloomberg said. This year, that number is expected to jump to 45 million.
The investment at JFK is the latest in a series of moves American has made in recent years to upgrade its premium service. The airline has refitted many of its wide-body airplanes with new lie-flat business-class seats, upgraded airport lounges in key markets like Tokyo, and enhanced in-flight entertainment.
American officials say they've been playing catch-up with international carriers, which have drawn more premium passengers in recent years.