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Public gets its first look at McCarran’s Terminal 3

Bernie Zager and Jeanann Ross got lost on their way to Saturday’s open house for Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport, which is to be expected on a roadway system that spans eight miles.

Even longtime Las Vegas residents have related nightmarish stories of driving around the airport trying to get to passenger pickup and departing flights.

Once they arrived at the $2.4 billion Terminal 3, they were in awe.

"It’s gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous," Zager said as he strolled through the 1.9 million-square-foot building. "It’s overwhelming, a very modern facility.

"The signs are still confusing."

Ross enjoyed a background view of the Strip behind the colored "Rays" artwork of Ed Carpenter, and she marveled at other artwork such as the 3,000 butterflies hanging from the ceiling that formed the shape of an airplane and "Folies in Flight," a three-dimensional acrylic painting by Terry Ritter.

An estimated 6,000 to 10,000 Las Vegas residents showed up for the open house, which featured raffle drawings for airline tickets, iPads, flat-screen televisions, jewelry and show tickets. Lines were 50 to 100 people deep for food samples from some of the restaurants.

"Anytime you have something for free, people will come," Ross said. "There’ll be thousands. That’s why we came early."

The three-level terminal is a half-mile long with seven gates for inter­national carriers and seven for domestic airlines. They number 1 through 15. For superstitious reasons, there’s no Gate 13.

It has 32 curbside check-in stations and 130 inside the lobby. The parking garage has nearly 6,000 spaces, and passengers can come directly in on the ground level without crossing traffic.

"I think it’s easier," said Peter Heffer­man, who flies Hawaiian Airlines once a year. "The gates are easier, closer together. You can look down the whole thing. It’s open and spacious."

McCarran brings in about 3 million international passengers a year and that number could triple with the new terminal, said Randy Walker, director of the Clark County Aviation Department.

"It’ll be tough, but we could approach that number with the number of gates and the flexibility we have," he said.

McCarran peaked at more than 44 million passengers in 2005, making it the fifth-busiest airport in the United States. Passenger count fell during the recession, but is back on pace for about 42 million this year, Walker said.

Tom Collins, Clark County commissioner and chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said it’s important to make the airport a pleasant experience for Las Vegas visitors. The city is a top tourist destination with world-class entertainment and is No. 1 in convention business, and McCarran plays a big role, he said.

Though some tourism and airline executives were hesitant about funding the most expensive capital improvement in McCarran’s history, Collins said the terminal makes it convenient, comfortable and easy for people to come to Las Vegas.

"This is a phenomenal benefit for us. You have to put courage over politics," he said. "You can’t look at the number (the $2.4 billion cost). When we were kids, we bought gas for 23 cents a gallon. You’ve got to look at today’s dollar and what you get for it."

McCarran spokeswoman Linda Healey pointed out the "turtles" in the floor, portals with data and power hookups that make it easier to add equipment. Everything was designed with flexibility in mind, she said. Each gate has a pylon with flight information, weather conditions and advertising capability.

The 60,000-square-foot Customs and Border Protection area has 28 lanes that can process about 2,000 international passengers an hour, compared with the 800 an hour through 16 lanes at Terminal 2, the old international terminal that will be demolished.

The walls are decorated with historical photographs provided by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority News Bureau, including pictures of El Rancho and Thunderbird, the first Strip hotels.

The first flights are scheduled June 27 on 16 international carriers: Aero­Mexico, Air Berlin, Air Canada, ArkeFly, British Airways, Condor, Copa, Korean Air, Philippine Airlines, Sunwing, Thomas Cook, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Viva­Aerobus, Volaris, WestJet and XL Airways France.

Air Berlin and Copa from Panama are new carriers at McCarran, and Dutch airline ArkeFly started flights last week.

At the end of July, domestic carriers Alaska Airlines, Frontier, JetBlue, SunCountry and Virgin America will start flying out of Terminal 3. Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines will move their ticketing and check-in system to the new terminal in August, and passengers will take the automated underground transit to the D-gate terminal for departure.

Terminal 3, or T3, will have 16 concessionaires and a 10,000-square-foot duty-free store, which is important to international visitors. Among the restaurateurs are Village Pub, Vegas Chophouse, Pei Wei Asian Diner, La Tapenade Mediterranean Cafe and Dewar’s Clubhouse Bar and Grill.

Retailers include Apricot Lane Boutique, Hudson News and Gifts, Vegas Special Tees, Welcome to Las Vegas gift shop, World of Sports and XpresSpa.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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