Wednesday, June 27, 2012 | 5:43 p.m.
- McCarran’s new Terminal 3 begins ascent, but it almost wasn’t to be (06-27-2012)
- Art in McCarran’s new Terminal 3 depicts airplanes, the desert and showgirls (06-27-2012)
- Thousands show up to check out new terminal at McCarran (06-09-2012)
- Sneak peek: An inside look at McCarran’s Terminal 3 (02-08-2012)
- Security systems at McCarran’s Terminal 3 will be second to none, officials say (01-27-2012)
- New McCarran terminal among tourism highlights for 2012 (01-02-2012)
- Terminal 3 features energy-efficient technology (08-06-2010)
As a Virgin Atlantic flight taxied up to Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport, the pilot came over the loudspeaker to make an announcement.
“He said not to worry about the fire engines,” said Daniel Roberts, who was flying into Las Vegas from London.
The water fountain arch created by the pair of firetrucks on the tarmac was the first of many surprises for passengers aboard the flight, which was the first to arrive at the brand-new, $2.4 billion Terminal 3, which officially opened Wednesday.
As they exited the jet bridge, passengers were greeted by incarnations of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and the Rat Pack, and after picking up their luggage, travelers were handed glasses of sparkling cider by showgirls while costumed cast members from several Cirque du Soleil shows welcomed them to Las Vegas.
“It was overwhelming,” Roberts, a native of Nottingham, England, said of the arrival. “(The airport) is clean, efficient, you can tell it’s new. It’s nice to see the Strip in the background. It lets you know you’re close.”
The opening of the 14-gate Terminal 3 marks the culmination of decades of planning and five years of construction, and officials hope that it will make Las Vegas more accessible to international travelers as foreign tourism continues to become a bigger part of the area’s economy.
Fifteen international air carriers will move into T3, leaving behind their previous home in the soon-to-be-razed Terminal 2. A 16th international carrier, Panama City-based Copa Airlines, marked its first flight ever into Las Vegas Wednesday afternoon when one of its planes landed after Virgin Atlantic’s, making it the second to arrive at T3.
Though the cavernous terminal was mostly empty Wednesday, a full international schedule will begin Thursday, bringing in 115 flights and thousands of passengers from around the world each week.
Several domestic carriers also will take up residence in the new terminal. Beginning July 31, five domestic air carriers — Alaska, Frontier, JetBlue, Sun Country and Virgin America — will move into T3. And, on Aug. 22, United and Hawaiian airlines will move their ticket counters and baggage claim to the new building but fly from the D gates, which will be accessible through an underground tram line.
Clark County Commission Chairwoman Susan Brager said the new terminal — which includes shops, fine-dining restaurants and ubiquitous rows of slot machines — will help provide a warm welcome to arriving travelers and will leave departing passengers with a lasting, positive impression of Las Vegas.
“Everything people expect once they get to the Strip, now they’ll have that when they get off the airplane,” she said.
Chris Rossi, Virgin Atlantic’s senior vice president for North America, said that when his airline started flying into Las Vegas more than a decade ago, it had little international company at Terminal 2.
Through the years as international visitors to Las Vegas became more numerous, space at the terminal began to get tight, he said.
“The operations at the airport outgrew the terminal,” Rossi said. “This gives us room to grow.”