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Design: Meet the airport's new airport

McCarran's new Terminal 3: Easy by design

Cabbie, concierge, tour guide, host — as Las Vegans, we play these roles often for friends and relatives freshly arrived at McCarran. And it all begins with that first ritual: the airport pickup. It can sometimes seem to require ninja reflexes to maneuver among the traffic surging to pick up, drop off or park — but now it’s about to get a little bit easier with the opening of McCarran’s Terminal 3 on June 27.

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Terminal 3? Think of the $2.4 billion complex as a whole new airport — and more. For one, with its 14 gates, 6,000-car parking garage and 31 security-check lanes, it’s an edifice built on faith that the tourists will keep rolling in, for one. But it also represents an evolution in traffic and pedestrian design over its predecessor, the well-worn Terminal 1 (or what most of us know as just the airport.)

“We took the best features of Terminal 1 that worked and kept them, and improved the things we knew we could improve upon,” says Harry Waters, the airport’s assistant director of aviation on landside operations.

Indeed, a drive-through tour reveals a suite of changes it might be good to know about the next time you’re finally packing off Aunt Jane to Boise. The awareness begins before you even step into the car: Now all airlines will be designated as arriving at or departing from either Terminal 1 or Terminal 3. Take note and watch for the signs as you pull into the airport, whether from Paradise or the 215 tunnel.

Most notably, walking from the parking garage to the new terminal should be, well, just a walk. The three bridges from the parking garage are dedicated to pedestrians; no more waiting behind a cattle guard to be hand-waved across the lanes of traffic or stepping tentatively on the crosswalk in hopes that someone will stop. Below, on the ground level, islands separate pickups for shuttles and cabs. Cabbies also get a cut-out lane and a connector tunnel to help keep the lanes unclogged.

Who asked for this? The public did, in years’ worth of quarterly surveys taken by McCarran officials, quizzing travelers on their airport. (The public also asked for more substantial, sit-down dining options that don’t involve chicken nuggets, so watch for eateries such as La Tapenade Mediterranean Café and Vegas ChopHouse to beckon in Terminal 3 while waiting for your next flight.)

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“The airport is an important part of the tourist experience,” says McCarran spokesperson Chris Jones. “It’s the first impression and last impression they get of Las Vegas.”

Ironically, Terminal 2’s future is, well, terminal. The small terminal that services international flights will be shuttered after the Terminal 3 opens and absorbs its flights. The inside joke goes that airport officials hope to auction off the right to film Terminal 2’s implosion to a movie studio — a fitting, Vegas-style transition to make way for McCarran’s second act.  

McCarran International Airport hosts an open house 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 9 to familiarize the public with Terminal 3. Info:

As a longtime journalist in Southern Nevada, native Las Vegan Andrew Kiraly has served as a reporter covering topics as diverse as health, sports, politics, the gaming industry and conservation. He joined Desert Companion in 2010, where he has helped steward the magazine to become a vibrant monthly publication that has won numerous honors for its journalism, photography and design, including several Maggie Awards.