An early look at T3 in Vegas

McCarran International Airport's new Terminal 3

The public recently got to explore McCarran International Airport’s new terminal

By Renée LiButti

Spirits are soaring at McCarran International Airport. In just over two weeks, Las Vegas’ main airport will open a brand new terminal. Terminal 3 (or T3, as it is dubbed for short) will serve both international and domestic flights.

On June 9, the community was invited to explore the grounds during a Public Day event. Thousands of residents were eager to get a sneak peek at the massive 1.9 million-square-foot, three-story terminal, which is half a mile long. It boasts 14 aircraft gates as well as an eight-mile baggage conveyor system and a 5,954-space parking garage.

The expansive domestic ticketing lobby at McCarran International Airport's new Terminal 3 is home to self-service kiosks and eye-catching signage.

The $2.4 billion facility is both the largest public works project in the state of Nevada and the largest capital improvement undertaking since the airport opened in 1948. It took countless years of planning and more than five years to erect. Construction on T3 began in June of 2007.  More than 1,800 skilled workers were employed at its peak. Eight miles of roadway separating arriving and departing passengers also had to be built. With its contemporary frame and long, open hallways where light pours in through floor-to-ceiling windows, the new terminal will be welcoming millions of travelers from around the world in for years to come.

“T3 gives us additional space, which will alleviate peak congestion at Terminal 1.  That’s probably the most elemental change travelers will notice when they use the new facility,” said Chris Jones, the public affairs and marketing manager at McCarran International Airport, regarding the way it can support the check-in, security screening and baggage claim needs of up to 26 gates at McCarran International Airport’s D Concourse, which is located via an underground tram just a 45-second ride away. “It also has some new technologies that will make the space more efficient and flexible going forward.”

For example, there are self-boarding podiums at all the gates and self-service kiosks equipped for customers to print and affix their own baggage tags. T3 also has 32 curbside check-in stations, with 130 more inside the ticketing lobby. An extensive and free WiFi system provides internet access throughout the facility – and even on the ramps. Plenty of places allow visitors to recharge cell phones, laptops or handheld devices. Plus, there is an abundance of dynamic signage and interactive directories.

The baggage claim area at McCarran International Airport's Terminal 3

The baggage claim area at McCarran International Airport's new Terminal 3 consists of 15 carousels.

“The atmosphere is a lot like the D Gates, but evolved to meet the needs of a post-9/11 airport, and one where more people need power plugs,” said Jones. “It’s a constant evolution as to what an airport needs.”

In order to achieve nearly 100 percent accurate baggage tracing, radio frequency identification (RFID) will be used here. Basically, tags with small memory storage chips are printed and attached at the ticketing sites. Each one has a unique identifier that is recognized by RFID readers while the bag is transported via conveyor belts en route to screening machines and then onto the appropriate plane.

In addition to learning about the latest technologies, visitors to T3 on Public Day were awed by multiple large-scale art installations. They provide a stark contrast to the glitzy sensory overload experience offered at Terminal 1.

You can appreciate the beauty of a desert sky, thanks to the stunning sunset and cloud bank portrayed in “Sunset Mirage” and “Cloud 9.” The two 90-foot-long fused glass and metal structures were created by Barbara and Larry Domsky.

The public art installation "Blue Arroyo" at T3

The public art installation "Blue Arroyo" on Terminal 3's Level O is a beautiful river-like sculpture created by Talley Fisher.

Sculptor Talley Fisher crafted three stunning pieces for T3. “Blue Arroyo” symbolizes a river that flows above the heads of travelers passing through the east end of the terminal’s lowest level. Her serene “Waterfall” installation is a curtain of beads that spills all the way down the window walls from Level 2 to Level 0. And, at 75 feet in length and 45 feet in width, her “Desert Sunrise” features striking shapes that have been cut out of perforated aluminum in colors ranging from gold and orange to deep red and purple.

Three-dimensional artist Stu Schecter has also made a breathtaking composition. “Mirare,” which can be seen after passing through T3’s security checkpoint, is a collection of almost 3,000 small butterfly sculptures. Suspended from the ceiling, they form two airplanes – one is solid and the other is ghost-like.

Visitors can get a glimpse of Mother Nature’s work – on display at nearby destinations – through the eye-catching photography of Peter Lik. “Blaze of Beauty” and “Sacred Sunrise” showcase the Grand Canyon and Canyonlands national parks. Terry Ritter, on the other hand, pays tribute to the city’s lavish productions and iconic showgirls through her dazzling 50-foot mural “Folies in Flight.”

"Folies in Flight" at T3

"Folies in Flight" is a mural in Terminal 3's U.S. Customs and Border Protection area by Terry Ritter. It pays tribute to the city's spectacular showgirls.

“There were deliberate efforts to create a sense of place,” said Jones. “We wanted people to know they were in Las Vegas through the style, artwork, slots, ads and so on.”

In fact, travelers will also spot four neon “Welcome to Las Vegas” signs in the new terminal. They emulate Betty Willis’ iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign, which was built in 1959 and anchors the south end of the famed Las Vegas Strip.

While checking out the artwork and taking in views of the city from the expansive windows, visitors at the open house also had the chance to nibble on samples from the terminal’s nine dining venues. Dewar’s Clubhouse Bar & Grill, La Tapenade Mediterranean Café, The Village Pub and Vegas ChopHouse serve up fine fare in comfortable yet casual settings. Fast food choices include Burger King, Carl’s Jr. and Pei Wei Asian Diner. Gourmet coffee lovers can get their fix at Starbucks or The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

Among the other concessionaires in the new terminal are shops like Apricot Lane Boutique, Hudson News and Gifts, Nuance Duty Free and Vegas Special Tees. XpresSpa pampers travelers with a menu of relaxation services – such as massages, manicures and personal grooming.

So what’s next for T3? The new building still has to be certified by the Transportation Security Administration.

The T3 departures curb

The departures curb is ready and waiting for passengers to arrive when Terminal 3 opens on June 27.

“We will welcome the first flights on the afternoon of June 27, starting with Virgin Atlantic and the first ever Las Vegas flight from Copa, a Panamanian carrier that opens the market up to travelers from Latin America,” said Jones.

Initially, T3 will serve international carriers from Gates E1 to E7. Right now, they are based at Terminal 2, which is closing permanently. Along with Virgin Atlantic and Copa, the 12 other carriers are Aeromexico, Air Berlin, Air Canada, ArkeFly, British Airways, Condor, Korean Air, Philippine Airlines, Sunwing, Thomas Cook, VivaAerobus, Volaris, WestJet and XL Airways France.

Beginning July 31, Gates E8 to E15 (there is no Gate E13 for superstitious reasons) will become home to five domestic carriers: Alaska Airlines, Frontier, JetBlue, Sun Country and Virgin America. And in late August, travelers on Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines will start using the ticketing and baggage claim services at T3, although their flights will still arrive and depart from the D Concourse in Terminal 1.

Airports are vital to cities, and T3 is an investment in Las Vegas’ economic future. According to Jones, feedback from the Public Day event was very positive. Its modern infrastructure will ensure that McCarran International Airport can successfully compete in a global economy. Indeed, with a new door to the world about to open, this is sure to begin a proud and exciting chapter in the city’s aviation and tourism history.


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I’m a Las Vegas native. By profession, I write at Mostly about the city’s hotels, but on other topics – gaming and transportation – too. I really love staying at hotels. And the ones here are among the biggest and best in the world. Some key things I’ve learned: Resort fees are inescapable (frustrating but true), a friendly attitude at the front desk may score you a great view and over-the-top room amenities – bath butlers, Japanese tea service, menus with “intimate” items – do exist. What else should you know about me? Well, I’m comfortable at a blackjack table. And I like eating late-night pancakes in hotel coffee shops. A lot. Follow Renee on Google+.