A Sneak Peek At Salt Lake’s New Airport

Filed Under: Delta, SkyTeam

As a Californian and a loyal Delta Medallion, I’m currently gritting my teeth through a reconstruction of Delta’s terminals 2 and 3 that leaves travelers on the short end of the stick until at least 2023.

In the meantime, the New York Times has an interesting look at a far more ambitious $3.6 billion project going on (relatively) under our noses at Salt Lake City International Airport, another Delta hub.  The Times piece, in particular, has some fantastic photos of the construction that you’d not be able to see from the street.

Curbside rendering courtesy of Salt Lake City International Airport

I’m actually a huge fan of SLC — both as an origin and destination airport (its convenient access to downtown Salt Lake and to Park City and the size of its operations makes it the best skier airport in North America) and as a domestic and international transit hub.  While the airport isn’t the newest and the SkyClub isn’t the glossiest, it’s compact enough that any reasonable connection is doable without breaking a sweat, and the transatlantic routes on Delta metal (to London, Paris and Amsterdam) are relatively easy to snag for awards.  Customs is easy and baggage claim is a cinch.  The food options (in particular, High West Distillery) are impressive. In short, it’s an unsung hero of airports.  All things being equal, I’d rather connect in Salt Lake than Minneapolis, Detroit, Atlanta or (god forbid) JFK.

The existing tarmac at Salt Lake – not so shabby

Somewhere in the very back of my head I’d heard that Salt Lake City was expanding its airport, but I wasn’t aware of the size and scope of the project until now.  While business goes on as usual at the existing airport, an entirely new terminal system is, improbably, being built alongside the existing terminals without consumer-facing disruption.

Layout showing the new terminals as positioned alongside existing terminals, courtesy of Salt Lake City International Airport

As expected, given that this is a fairly robust Delta hub (despite the Times‘ odd and eye-popping claim that the airport “is a hub for nine airlines” — surely a misunderstanding of the word “hub”), Delta will be helping to finance the construction costs.

Per the Times:

Two features of design and construction distinguish the reconstruction: its linear layout, and the lack of disruption to the airport’s operation.

When the project is finished, the airport will consist of an airy central terminal flanked by the two wings of its 3,700-foot-long South Concourse. In front of that will be the 3,400-foot-long North Concourse.

The unbent concourses, designed by the architecture and engineering firm HOK, are characteristic of airport reconstruction projects to accommodate big planes. The three old terminals, dating to the 1960s, are connected by an outdoor sidewalk and were upgraded sporadically through the decades with clusters of gates served by fans of tightly spaced jet bridges.

The project can occur without disruption because the 7,800-acre airport has enough room to build all the new facilities, including the first wing of the South Concourse. When gates in the new concourses are ready to serve passengers, the airport will close and demolish the old terminals, then build the rest of the South Concourse.

“It’s a very flexible and efficient design,” Mr. Wyatt said. “If we need more space after the initial phase of construction, you can add capacity as far as the eye can see, virtually without any disruption at all.”

Rendering of the new SLC terminal, courtesy of Salt Lake City International Airport

This is all fantastic news as a Delta flyer.  While Delta is doubling down on its investment at LAX and has increased the number of domestic and international nonstops (for instance, Delta currently has no transatlantic nonstops from Los Angeles, although it’s introducing service to Paris and Amsterdam this summer; domestically Delta just introduced a nonstop from LAX to Washington, D.C. but still has no nonstop service to Chicago and only seasonal service to Miami), there’s only so much space at LAX, which is why Delta is also investing in Seattle and Salt Lake City.  SLC is positioned geographically in such a way that it is a more direct distributor hub from West Coast cities than Atlanta is.  More to the point, to have a new airport unveiled without inconveniencing travelers at the existing terminals is nothing short of magic for this beleaguered LAX flyer.

What do you think of the plans for Salt Lake City’s new airport?

  1. I’m a native of SLC and go back often, as well as using it as a connecting hub to Europe. As was pointed out by Ben, award availability to London and Paris is fairly easy to get in SLC. The Skyclub is not that great, but it works. SLC as it stands is quite easy to move through. Weather interruptions are rare, even in winter. And its so easy to get in and out of to downtown.
    I was just there and the construction is massive, but yet there is no inconvenience.
    I’m very excited for the new airport!.

  2. Looks like a smaller version of the Delta terminal in Detroit, which is very nice and easy to use. Glad they have a design that works well and is replicable.

  3. I happen to be a native in BOI who often sees the BOI-SLC route, went there in 2010, boring. Today, still boring, no transpacs. Hope Delta restart SLC-NRT and the Chinese tourism business is booming and Yellowstone is only a few hours hop away from here they can hopefully start that. Good to see SLC being nice in a few years.

  4. I’ve always thought SLC needed an upgrade. It is truly an easy airport to transition through, but not really an airport that you would want to spend any kind of time in. Delta has like ~70% market share there – so it should really be a mountain state showcase for them. In its current condition it isn’t.

  5. arguing against all this Delta Love is the reality that DL has intentionally put hubs in some very poor weather locations. I love to proximity to Snowbird and Alta, but with that winter access is the harsh truth that the weather’s awful out at the airport, fog, snow, temp inversions.

    coupled with thunderstorms in ATL, the bizzards in DTW and MSP and whatever it is that’s afflicting DL’s JFK ops today (c’mon guys, the snow ended DAYS ago), the “airline that claims to never cancel flights” sure mis-connects and strands passengers a lot.

    SLC may be the best DL hub, but that’s like saying “Rubella is the best childhood disease”.
    It might be a true statement, but it’s hardly comforting.

  6. Keep us up to date of the plans, Lucky. It would make interesting posts. I have not been to SLC in over 5 years.

    My wild guess is that the first to be built will be the left/west part of the south concourse, followed by south of the terminal then the part of the north concourse. The terminal would be next followed by tearing down a lot of the old concourses and terminal then finishing the east/right part of the south terminal.

    In the late 1980’s, Louisville was rebuilt. They built the terminal in front of the old terminal then tore it down. Then they added a Y shaped concourse and tore the old gates down. Then they opened new parallel runways.

  7. Looks a lot like the concourse layout at DEN or ATL. I wonder if we’ll see a trend of more airports being built/renovated with this type of layout. If that’s the most efficient and cost-effective layout for concourses then I’m all for it but part of me will miss every airport having it’s own unique layout and being able to identify it from that.

  8. @007 Deo, you are right. It’s Nick. See, something only a secret agent would instantly see.

    I see that there is a SLC airport construction page here https://www.slcairport.com/thenewslc/construction-updates/

    Looks like they already partly redid the roads to where the new terminal will be and some other south of the terminal improvements. They’ve already started the west/left parts of the north and south concourse. So a little different that I expected, but not much.

  9. If I were master planner, I’d retain the short walking distances of the concourse by adding a concourse G and H and extend the terminal. H would be somewhat long north south. Then demolish F.

    The new terminal design looks nice but I like to save money and keep part of the old.

  10. @Tachyon_OGG_SBA_IAD
    JFK is a complete mess, yes, but it’s not solely due to the snow or its lingering aftermath. Yes, there have been significant equipment outages and damage due to the weather, but also, two aircraft collided on the ramp (slows everything down!) and with extra flights scheduled to make up for lost capacity (or for diverted aircraft still making it to JFK–from Detroit, etc), it simply cannot handle the capacity amid all of these issues. Unfortunate, yes, but like so many things, the result of quite a number of issues, some of which stem from the inclement weather. On that note, I suspect much more is yet to come. The winter has barely begun.

    Good for SLC which is, most definitely, a smaller Detroit design. (Which is itself modeled after Osaka…)

  11. @Tachyon_OGG_SBA_IAD
    I have been living in SLC for the past 10 years, and one thing this airport is REALLY good at is not being hugely impacted by weather.
    Most delays i have experienced where linked to the inbound flights not being able to leave their origin airport, and not because of weather delays in SLC.
    I am not saying it never happens, but rather that they are extremely efficient at cleaning up snow, de-icing and letting planes land and take off.
    I think in my 10 year flying out of SLC (and I have been flying on average 100,000 miles a year), I have seen the airport “shut down” because of weather only 3 times, each time during a snow storm, and they re-opened within 2 hours.

    I am really exited about the airport expension, and I can’t wait to see newer and better planes to Europe and hopefully back to Japan / Asia from SLC!

  12. The food options in SLC are “impressive”?

    Maybe if you’re used to Indianapolis or Cleveland.

  13. All the trash talking of JFK and the new SLC layout is an exact clone of T8 at JFK.

    That said, while it’s a very efficient layout of the airport, this looks like a hellscape of moving walkways, escalators, and dungeon tunnels. The current SLC, while I’ll agree it’s ‘boring’ , always reminded me of a less overgrown SeaTac.

  14. @Tachyon_OGG_SBA_IAD, maybe you had a bad experience with DL but the stats simply don’t support your statement.

    SLC was tops in the nation for on time performance 2015,2016, and through September 2017. MSP, DTW, and SEA were also in the top 5. For me personally, I had 65 segments on DL in 2017 with zero misconnects and only 3 delays, the longest of which was 2.5 hours due to a late arriving pilot.

    As for the new airport, I’m curious to see just how long these concourse will be and if there will be a train like DTW. The worst part of the current SLC is how tight the gates are at the end of C and D, which can bedangerously overcrowded when a large bank of flights is upcoming. The long and thin layout relieves this as long as you can still easily get from one end to the other.

  15. oh wow Nick, nice to see you’re alive, welcome! Now to find out if Ford will ever write an article here anytime soon.

  16. Yes, the SkyClub is not the best because it has been there FOREVER. Of course it was a Crown Room before and at one time, ages ago, went through a slight expansion. And way back when, it was a Western Airlines Horizon room. So, you have to ask- is a new SkyClub in the works?

  17. SLC has done a great job over the years. In the ’70s my Aunts loved coming to visit from NYC because they deplaned via stairs and loved to wave like they were movie stars. And I liked globe-trotting all around the map of the world in the floor of terminal 1 (currently under the TSA lines).

    But SLC has done a great job pushing so much traffic through such old facilities, while adding and upgrading along the way. From the terminal 2 addition to the short term parking garage to the long term parking lot with great shuttle service. And now we’re excited to get this new place up and running. My neighbor is a scheduler for the construction work, they’re slammed and paying really well since the overall construction industry in the area is very robust. And my brother-in-law is already bidding finish metal work.

    The piece under construction currently runs from the short term parking garage west to the tarmac, just south of the E gates in T2. They’ve also competed a new park and wait lot for flight arrivals that includes a gas station and several food options. And I think the support buildings for the rental cars are complete as well.

    Here’s some local news about it from last fall


  18. To respond to some other comments:

    It has already been stated, but again, considering how much snow we can get, the airport is rarely closed or delayed because of it.

    “This isn’t exactly a new airport, just a new terminal.” — Considering the only thing remaining is the Delta hanger and the runways, I would say this classifies. New terminal, new concourses, new parking structure, new baggage handling, new rental facilities.

    I wanted to make a note to the article. It has come out in the last few weeks that the airport will likely already be too small upon completion. Considering the push to get more planes here, as discussed in the article, the capacity will be an issue on the day it opens. SLC is already at 250% of capacity and the new airport should meet that number with the room to grow onto the north concourse. However, now they think they will need to build that during the main construction and SLC will be over 100% capacity by 2025.

    Glad to see SLC get some attention though! I am so excited to see this completed.

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