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The Gadling tour of JetBlue's new Terminal 5 at JFK
Although there's still much to be accomplished in the next 6 weeks, the building is already shaping up as a winner. JetBlue has built a showpiece home for its growing brand - a building that in many ways looks poised to usher travelers into a new era of domestic air travel. It was equally refreshing to find a totally new (dare I say revolutionary?) approach to the airport culinary and concession experience - one that is sure to please the palates of picky New Yorkers and fellow travelers from across the U.S.
With a project this ambitious, JetBlue has also built themselves very high expectations for their new terminal's success both in the press and with their passengers. But as we saw with the opening of London Heathrow's new British Airways terminal earlier this year, there are inevitably some kinks that need to be worked out. Here's hoping everything goes smoothly for JetBlue at launch.
So what exactly did we find during our visit? Follow the link below to get the full overview, and make sure to check out our gallery too for the full Terminal 5 experience.
Gallery: JetBlue Terminal 5
As I entered into the main departure hall from the AirTrain, I was immediately struck by the room's massive size and scale. Combining the latest in cutting edge design, the interior is large, airy and brightly lit with huge windows allowing in plenty of natural light. There was certainly no shortage of check-in kiosks, which are strategically placed in large groups throughout the hall. Though it hasn't completely disappeared, there's much less emphasis on check-in desks, clearly an attempt by JetBlue towards a more streamlined, online check-in process.
Also impressive was the attention given to the usually agonizing TSA-screening. Instead of one or two open lanes crammed up against a wall, Terminal 5 is equipped with 20 some-odd security checkpoints - a nod to the central role this process now plays in our post-9/11 lives. Will all these 20-something lanes be open when you head to the airport? That remains to be seen - but the fact the infrastructure is in place is a good sign.
Terminal Atrium and Concessions
After passing through security, travelers are greeted with a huge open atrium. The showpiece is clearly the huge circular string of flat-screen monitors, which hovers like some futuristic alien mothership above the large open space below. The monitors just had JetBlue branding on them today, but I imagine they will be used to potentially display flight info and perhaps some interactive art installations in the months and years ahead.
The edges of the atrium are also home to what is sure to be one of the more talked-about features of the new Terminal 5 - its restaurants and stores. If you've ever eaten a flavorless $10 sandwich at the airport before, you're going to be in for a shock. JetBlue has what looks to be some great restaurants planned, including a hybrid sushi/noodle bar, a Spanish tapas bar (Tapas?! At the airport!?!) and even an old-school French bistro.
Even better, there looks to be a nice assortment of shops, including one of only three outlets of Japanese retailer Muji in the United States. While nice places to eat and shop might not be a dealbreaker when you choose an airline, it certainly goes a long way towards "re-humanizing" the domestic air travel experience.
The actual gate areas were nice - each has its own fully-digital flat-screen display to provide information and destination weather. Very nice, but nothing revolutionary. The terminal is largely decorated in neutral colors with a blue-ish carpeting reminding of JetBlue's color scheme. I also particularly liked the panoramic views from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, which afford sweeping views of the take-off and landing of other planes at JFK.
Baggage Claim and Wrap-Up
Before wrapping up my Terminal 5 visit, I payed a quick visit to the baggage claim below. The massive carousels are set far apart from each other to avoid overcrowding. It's hard to review a baggage claim area until you actually use it though - the jury is still out on this one until we see if everyone is getting their luggage back come October!
And with that I ended my tour of Terminal 5. As I passed by designer Eero Saarinen's retro-futuristic TWA Flight Center on my way out, I couldn't help but wonder. Saarinen envisioned air travel as the future of the country's transportation hopes and designed his building to match that dream. But Saarinen probably never anticipated the spectre of 9/11 and its impact on an already battered airline industry, cutting costs and tossing traveler amenities. JetBlue's Terminal 5 seems very much an attempt to return to aviation's glory days, and one can only hope that they succeed.