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John Wayne Airport expansion: More parking, more restaurant choices, new terminal

The Orange County airport expansion is set to open Monday, with more parking, new restaurant choices, state-of-the-industry check-in and a third terminal.

November 13, 2011|By Chris Erskine, Los Angeles Times staff writer
  • "Flight of Ideas," by artist Beth Nybeck, floats above the baggage carousels in new Terminal C at John Wayne Airport. The sculpture consists of 21 aluminum and plexiglass birds, with wingspans ranging from 3 feet to 14 feet, suspended from an S-shaped structure. The wings display enlargements from aeronautical charts, rendered in multicolored vinyl adhesive.  See full story
"Flight of Ideas," by artist Beth Nybeck, floats above the baggage… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Beginning Monday, passengers at Orange County's John Wayne Airport will find more parking, more elbow room, state-of-the-industry check-in kiosks and an array of works from local artists. They'll also find more places to plug in a laptop and more places to lap up a lunch.

It's all part of the biggest upgrade at John Wayne since the airport's Thomas F. Riley Terminal opened in 1990, modernizing a facility that has historically carried more cachet than most regionals because of its landmark noise-abatement work in the '80s and '90s.

At the very least, the $543-million project will mean a better and more pleasant way for travelers to start or end a trip.

"It's a two-pronged approach," airport director Alan Murphy said of the project's goal. "We hope to make the customer experience better in hopes of attracting more airlines."

However, he added, "the basic architecture is the same. The thing they're going to notice is a more open terminal area and the way it's lighted."

The most striking change is the new Terminal C, home to Southwest and Frontier airlines. The terminal, which joins the existing A and B terminals, has its own short-term parking lot, and for the first time, a customs area. John Wayne's only international flights go to Canada, but the airport is hoping to add more, with Mexico being the most likely target.

"Flight of Ideas," a Plexiglas-and-steel salute to birds and the freedom of flying, will hang over the new baggage claim area of Terminal C, probably the most attention-grabbing of the new art displays that will grace gate areas and the bridges that connect the three terminals.

The space allotted to concessions will nearly double. One of the existing Starbucks is being replaced by a Ruby's Shake Shack , playing off a landmark in the Crystal Cove area of southern Orange County.

New bars and lounges will include a Hobie Sand Bar and the Anaheim Ducks Breakaway Bar & Grill. Laguna Culinary Arts plans to open an airport version of a farmers market, where travelers can grab fresh, healthful snacks.

Visitors also will find more short-term parking. The Terminal C parking structure adds 2,024 spaces, but construction closed others down, leaving a net gain of 1,024 spots at an airport that often reaches parking capacity, particularly at midweek. If needed, there is the option of adding 800 more spaces down the line.

Patrons will be able to swipe a credit card at the parking lot exit, a change intended to eliminate parking stubs and expedite payment. On-site lots cost $2 an hour.

Power-hungry passengers will find more outlets at gate waiting areas. As before, there will be free Wi-Fi, and there will be new work areas at gates as well.

Check-in kiosks will not be airline-specific in Terminal C, a change that will also be seen eventually in terminals A and B. It's all part of a general airport trend to use generic service areas that airlines can share and open and close to accommodate passenger loads.

"The major flaw with [John Wayne] is just that it is so crowded," said passenger Mike Mitchell, who estimates he uses the airport 16 times a year, mostly for business. "But I'm thinking that the move of Southwest to the new terminal may help alleviate that."

How big will John Wayne Airport get? That depends largely on adding new airlines and flights.

The 41st busiest airport in the U.S. handles about 250 commercial flights a day, compared with 1,700 at behemoth LAX. The new construction adds 282,000 square feet, but because of runway limitations on the cozy 500-acre footprint, John Wayne will never be able to handle the bigger A380 or 787 aircraft.

Curfews also limit John Wayne's traffic. No flights can leave after 10 p.m., and no flights can arrive after 11 p.m.

Still, whatever John Wayne is doing, people will pay attention, says Aviation Week's Guy Norris, citing the airport's past leadership on noise control.

"Will this prove to be a second gateway to the south?" he asked, speculating that John Wayne could one day join LAX as a departure point to Mexico and the rest of Latin America.

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