May 25--Traveling through Detroit Metro Airport used to be one of the nation's worst experiences in aviation, with outdated, cramped facilities and foot-wearying hikes from ticket counters to gates.
The opening of Metro's McNamara Terminal in 2002 improved life for passengers of Northwest Airlines and its partners. Now passengers on other airlines that use Metro are to get their own new terminal in 2008.
Today, Wayne County Airport Authority Chief Executive Lester Robinson plans to unveil a three-dimensional model and detailed renderings of Metro's long-planned north terminal.
Passengers will find smoother check-ins, better bathrooms and retail amenities, and a greatly improved baggage claim when the north terminal replaces the older Smith and Berry terminals.
Moreover, as one of a handful of airport terminals designed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Metro's north terminal will be filled with security improvements -- such as more efficient screening of checked luggage -- that won't necessarily be visible to passengers but that should smooth travel.
Airlines that will use Metro's north terminal include American, United, Spirit, Air Canada, Air Tran, Frontier, Southwest, USAirways/America West and USA 3000, as well as nonscheduled airlines such as Champion Air and Ryan Air.
International carriers British Airways, Lufthansa and Royal Jordanian will move from the McNamara Terminal.
Northwest Airlines and its SkyTeam partners, Northwest Airlink, Air France, Continental and Delta will remain in the McNamara Terminal.
The north terminal will be built on the site of the former Davey Terminal, which has been demolished, and the old Marriott Hotel, which is being razed. Funding for the $418-million terminal has been approved, and demolition has begun on older facilities to make way for the construction.
"The north terminal will represent a significant upgrade in customer convenience compared to the Smith and Berry Terminals," Robinson said. "It will also provide a considerable improvement in efficiency for the airlines."
For travelers like Richard Runels, the new terminal can't come soon enough. Runels, 58, of New Baltimore said he dislikes the bottleneck at security checkpoints at the Smith Terminal and the cramped basement-like feel of the baggage claim.
"I think they need better eating facilities and cheaper prices. It will make it a little more appealing," said Runels, a transportation equipment consultant for the U.S. Army who travels two or three times a year. "I know the Smith Terminal, when it opened, was state of the art. But the state of the art changes."
A new terminal can deliver lots of satisfaction. Before the McNamara Terminal opened, Metro rated at the bottom of national surveys of customer satisfaction. Once McNamara opened, Metro's ratings shot up dramatically.
Jon Hypnar, the airport authority's manager for the project, said design work should be completed by the end of June.
About 7,000 tons of structural steel will begin arriving on the construction site early this fall. Twenty-six jet bridges have been purchased, and the baggage system contract has been awarded.
Like the much-larger McNamara Terminal, the 26-gate north terminal will be a linear glass-and-steel structure with a ticketing lobby in front that connects to the gate concourse behind.
But the look and feel of the north terminal will differ from McNamara in significant ways. It will not have the signature swooping curves of McNamara's ceiling. Also absent will be the enormous ceremonial spaces and the cavernous feel of the mile-long concourse.
In contrast, the north terminal will about half as long. Ceilings will be lower, and the design makes much greater use of color than the nearly all-white McNamara Terminal.
"It's going to be a little more intimate," said Bill Hartman, Detroit head of the architectural firm Gensler, which is leading a team of several architectural firms working on the design.
"It's going to feel a little softer, and it's going to be more colorful," he added. "McNamara's the big, audacious older brother in the family. This is the little brother. It's a different personality. Siblings with different personalities."
One of the signature elements of the north terminal will be an ever-changing light pattern running the full length of the ceiling of the ticketing lobby. With thousands of possible combinations, the lighting will be visible as motorists drive up to the terminal, said Ron Harwood, president of Illuminating Concepts, which designed the lighting feature.
Subtle design cues will alert passengers to key places in the terminal. At security check-ins, the ceiling will be lower and the area will be framed in a wood grain-like material.
Different lighting fixtures will signal important junctions. Low-hanging globes will light the food courts. Vertical pipe-like lights will hang in the area where arriving passengers will head down to baggage claim.
The goal is to continue the upgrades started in 2002 with the opening of the McNamara Terminal, which boosted the image of Metro and, by extension, of Detroit.
"We all know the airport has had a lot to do with changing the image of the city," Harwood said. "We think this one will further support it."