MSP International Airport’s Terminal 1-Lindbergh Turns 50

The $8.5 million terminal had 600,000 square feet and boasted 24 gates on two concourses, or “piers,” when it opened in 1962.


MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL — Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) International Airport’s Terminal 1-Lindbergh celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, a monument to the sweeping changes that have altered aviation, the airport and world as a whole in the past five decades.

“When the terminal opened in January 1962, the aviation industry was still highly regulated, commercial air fares were priced beyond the means of most family budgets, and global trade was still in its relative infancy,” said Jeff Hamiel, executive director of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which owns and operates MSP. “It was clear even then that aviation would become an essential tool for growing jobs and tourism, and the new terminal prepared us to make the most of America’s changing economic landscape.”

The $8.5 million terminal had 600,000 square feet and boasted 24 gates on two concourses, or “piers,” when it opened in 1962. The facility could accommodate up to 14,000 travelers a day. It was designed for expansion and grew in phases as demand warranted.

Today, the terminal has 2.8 million square feet and 117 aircraft gates on seven concourses. Airlines carried about 33 million passengers to and from MSP last year, compared to fewer than 2 million in 1962. On average, some 80,000 people a day now fly through Terminal 1-Lindbergh.

Deregulation of the airline industry in 1978 spurred competition on routes and consolidation among airlines. Of the seven airlines that served MSP when the terminal opened, only United Airlines still exists. The others – Braniff, Eastern, North Central, Northwest, Ozark and Western – have since succumbed to acquisition, merger or liquidation.

MSP became a major hub in 1986 with the merger of the two largest carriers at the airport, Northwest and Republic, creating the world’s fourth largest airline. Although Delta Air Lines didn’t begin serving the Twin Cities until 1984, it became the dominant carrier in 2008 when it acquired Northwest Airlines.

“Becoming a hub enabled MSP to attract far more air service than the region would be able to support on its own,” Hamiel said. “In the mid-1990s, as many as 55 percent of travelers at MSP were connecting passengers, creating demand for more flights to more cities than the local market itself warranted. The continued strength of the hub accounts for the fact that people in the Twin Cities have access to more direct air service, per capita, than do residents of any other U.S. cities except Atlanta and Denver. Expansion of Terminal 1-Lindbergh over the years has largely mirrored the growth of the Twin Cities hub operation.”

As the Northwest Airlines hub grew, so did the need to expand MSP’s terminal and airfield capacity. In 1996, the Minnesota Legislature directed that MSP be expanded at its present site rather than replaced by a new airport in Dakota County, triggering campus-wide airport improvements, including significant changes to Terminal 1-Lindbergh. Terminal improvements included: expansion of Concourse C, development of new regional concourses A and B, new parking and auto rental facilities, more food and retail space, a transit center, two automated tram systems, a skyway connecting concourses C and G, and access to Minneapolis and the Mall of America via light rail. A new Terminal 2-Humphrey, new cargo facilities and a fourth runway also helped ensure the airport could continue to meet the region’s air service needs at its current site.

Because it was the only active terminal at MSP when it opened for business on January 21, 1962, Terminal 1-Lindbergh wasn’t actually named until 1985, when it was rededicated to famous Minnesota aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. Naming the terminal had become necessary because the MAC was in the process of developing a second terminal from a former United Airlines hangar and cargo facility and needed to be able to differentiate the two terminals. The second terminal opened in 1986 as the Humbert H. Humphrey International Charter Terminal. A numeric designator was added to both terminal names in 2010 in an effort to win approval from state and federal highway officials for signs directing drivers to the correct terminal for their airline. The terminals are now Terminal 1-Lindbergh and Terminal 2-Humphrey, respectively.

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