Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

Visitors explore the new three-story Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport at an open house. The airport is scheduled to open Nov. 6.

New Orleanians have a reputation for clinging to the old and having some trouble adjusting to the new. But not everything old is worth saving — or missed when it’s outlived its usefulness. Put the dingy, outmoded terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport on that list.

Its replacement, a gleaming new $1.3 billion terminal that debuts Wednesday, is the most significant public project in years. It’s a huge step up for locals, and a signal to the traveling world that the city, for all its love of the past, is also a 21st-century destination.

“There’s no such thing as a second chance to make a first impression,” Aviation Board chairman Michael Bagneris said at Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting.

The new facility lives up to that billing. Designed with a nod to the Mississippi River’s curves, the building is lined with windows and full of light. A three-story atrium houses eye-catching artwork and live music.

Nor is it a New Orleans-only development. The New Orleans airport’s wide range of non-stop flights (including a select few international destinations) and location in Kenner make it a truly regional amenity — and a great complement to other airports in Baton Rouge and Lafayette.

Even after being spruced up ahead of the 2013 Super Bowl, the old New Orleans airport building showed its age, both visually and operationally.

Credit for the new building goes to officials at all levels of government, none more than former Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who launched the drive to turn a perennial problem into an asset. Not that there weren’t plenty of problems along the way, including sewer and drainage system snafus that pushed the opening back a year and a half into Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s term. Tuesday, she applauded Landrieu and called the terminal “the best thing you left us with.”

Travelers will have some things to get used to, including new traffic patterns and parking options. Access could be messy for the first few years until the state-funded flyover ramp from Interstate 10 is completed in 2023. Best to arrive early.

Those who do will encounter something almost entirely new. Separate pick-up and drop-off roadways. A single TSA checkpoint for flights, and the freedom to wander from concourse to concourse once through. Restaurants with the same offerings that travelers might encounter during a night out on the town. Plenty of charging stations and bathroom stalls, and a pet relief area.

It will technically still be the same airport, but other than the runways, one parking garage and the rental car hub, it’s all updated and state of the art. For a city that holds tight to its history, the airy, shiny new terminal plants a flag for the future.

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