Soon, New Orleans is going to have a new airport. Construction is nearing the end for a new, state-of-the-art terminal, which will replace the old airport. Next time you pass through the present airport, look out and see the gleaming new structure across the runway. It’s striking.

As someone who writes about airports and air travel, I’ve felt fortunate to live in one of the few cities in the United States where a new terminal is being built. It’s exciting to see the progress, to imagine the future of this place and what it will mean for the city.

There’s a lot of snarky criticism online about the new airport. I’ve raised my own critical questions concerning hubris, climate change and long-term planning. But overall I’ve watched the development with keen interest and appreciation: the new terminal will be an impressive, elegant point of arrival and departure, for locals as well as for the visitors on which our economy depends. 

A few reflections on the new airport:

It won’t be as big as the current airport, but it will more efficiently facilitate the flows of passengers and airplanes. Where the existing airport is comprised of three discrete concourses cobbled together, the new airport has been designed and built as a whole piece. The result will be a more organized, integrated travel experience.

It’s going to be a better place to work. This may sound obvious, but it shouldn’t be overlooked: A lot of people work at an airport, and the current airport can feel dank and dreary. The new airport takes advantage of the wonderful natural light of the Gulf Coast, and this will help make it a happier workplace. I used to work at an airport myself, so I know what it’s like to labor in these places day in and day out. Natural lighting and well-planned architecture can make the grind more tolerable. 

It’s going to be a better place to wait. Recently, the airport tweeted a picture of the new seating, still wrapped in plastic, and bragging about more power outlets between the seats for passengers’ phones and computers. It may seem odd to emphasize the waiting that will happen here, but I appreciate the directness: at airports people have to wait, sometimes for many hours when weather gets bad or for mechanical delays. At the new airport, even the waiting will be better. 

It’s going to be a better place to eat. The cornucopia of restaurants will be a huge improvement, and the single consolidated checkpoint will mean that once passengers are through security, the world is their oyster. 


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It’s going to have nicer restrooms. Airport restrooms are not known for being pleasant. While one rarely takes note of a good airport restroom, a bad one can practically ruin a whole trip. That the new airport is proud of its restrooms bodes well for its general passenger experience. 

Now, a hard truth: It’s not going to be easier to get to, at first. The exit ramps will take several years to be ironed out. This gets a lot of negative attention. But since we know this going into the grand opening, perhaps we can all promise to be patient. The airport will eventually have better access from the highway, and it will be worth the wait. The old airport has been there for more than 60 years; the new terminal will hopefully exist for as long. With this timescale in mind, we can surely tolerate clunky access for a few years. 

It will also be more complicated to pick up or drop off a rental car. While not optimal by any means, this is just a situation we have to accept. And it is not unprecedented: Plenty of airports have off-site rental facilities. Again, not ideal, but we can live with this. 

The new terminal is scheduled to open this coming May, but don’t be surprised if the date is pushed back again. Airports are complex entities with innumerable variables that have to mesh in order for the whole montage to work. It is vital that the new airport be given the necessary time to get things right. In the meantime, we can be grateful that we still have a functioning, perfectly decent airport. 

To end on a positive note: The new airport will be a great venue for local artists and performers. It’s still unclear how exactly this will play out, but with such prominent space available it is a good bet that for motivated creatives the new terminal will offer exciting possibilities for showcasing the vibrant art and music scene of our region. 

When it opens, it will be a terminal New Orleans can be proud of. An airport that, against all odds, we might actually look forward to passing through, even spending time in. 

Christopher Schaberg is Dorothy Harrell Brown Distinguished Professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans and the author of three books on airports, the most recent of which is "Airportness: The Nature of Flight."