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John Wayne Airport's new terminal opens, minus baggage-handling

Terminal C's luggage-moving system failed a certification test last week. Whether it will be up and running for the Thanksgiving holiday is unknown.

November 15, 2011|By Robert J. Lopez, Los Angeles Times
  • A traveler walks past new flat-panel screens and check-in kiosks for Frontier and Southwest airlines in John Wayne Airport's new Terminal C.
A traveler walks past new flat-panel screens and check-in kiosks for Frontier… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

After five years in the works, officials at John Wayne Airport on Monday opened a new multimillion-dollar terminal. But there was one problem: The baggage-handling system wasn't working.

Passengers who arrived at Terminal C were greeted with signs saying they had to check in their luggage next door at Terminal B. Airport staff were also waiting for passengers in the new parking structure, where they informed people of the breakdown. Travelers with carry-on baggage were not affected.

"It seemed to run smoothly," airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge said.

Terminal C is the centerpiece of a $543-million airport expansion and renovation project that was approved by the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2005. Construction began in 2006.

On Friday, airport officials were told by the Transportation Security Administration that the baggage-handling system — a series of conveyor belts that moves luggage from the terminal to various planes — had flunked its certification test the day before, Wedge said. As part of the process, the system is required to undergo tests before it can be deemed ready for the public.

It's unclear whether the system will be working in time for next week's busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Wedge said TSA officials told her it was not uncommon for such systems not to pass their initial certification test.

The news left airport officials scrambling to come up with a plan for checking in baggage, all while they were preparing for a dedication ceremony Sunday.

"We were going to open today one way or another," Wedge said. Asked why the public wasn't alerted over the weekend, she said airport staff used the time to make the signs that let people know about the check-in procedures and get ready for opening day.

"We spent a lot of time trying to get the baggage handling system up and running to meet our airport and passengers' needs," Wedge said. "Most importantly was making sure our passengers get where they need to go, and we feel we accomplished that well today."

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