- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

NEW YORK

As a symbol of the last century of flight sits in its shadow, a new JetBlue terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport is undergoing tests ahead of its scheduled Oct. 1 opening.

JetBlue Airways Corp. is in the final stretch of a four-year, $743 million construction project to create a modern terminal and a new home base for the Forest Hills, N.Y., carrier. The space is also the first terminal designed and built since Sept. 11, 2001, and aims to address a number of security and planning concerns.

The new terminal features a 20-lane security checkpoint, the largest screening area of any terminal in North America, according to Tom Kennedy, project director with design and consulting firm Arup. The terminal also features fully automated bag screening and wide open spaces to move passengers as efficiently as possible.

The new space is connected to the landmark Trans World Airlines terminal, designed by architect Eero Saarinen, which was built in 1962 and closed when TWA ended operations in October 2001. Connecting the new terminal to the historic site was a unique feat, said William D. Hooper Jr., managing director of architecture firm Gensler.

“It’s an icon of 20th-century aviation, and it was a piece of the puzzle,” Mr. Hooper said. “We had to respect it - we didn’t want [the new terminal] to have a looming presence.”

JetBlue expects the new terminal to facilitate about 250 flights each day, more than doubling the carrier’s current activity at JFK from its home in Terminal 6.

That kind of traffic requires a lot of planning.

Later this month, JetBlue will welcome an invited group of more than 1,000 of its frequent fliers, hand them a script, and ask them to participate in a full-scale “dress rehearsal” to test everything from staff readiness to mechanics at the new terminal.

The low-cost carrier will recruit a group of customers for an Aug. 23 run-through of terminal operations from check-in to baggage claim. The practice run, operated by Arup, will offer a chance to fix any last-minute glitches.

Volunteers will enter from various points, including a skywalk connecting from public transit and curbside. The TWA terminal, which will eventually hold some JetBlue check-in kiosks, will not be open for the dress rehearsal or when the lights go on in Terminal 5 on Oct. 1. The historic structure awaits a facelift by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with the interior expected to be completed in the spring.

Each person playing the role of a flier will be handed a list of details about their simulated flight, including a pseudonym. The individuals will then go through the check-in process, obtain a fake boarding pass, go through security, pass the food court and head on to their gate.

The new JetBlue terminal was designed with an emphasis on openness. The security screening areas span the space of a football field.

Attention to fine details and numerous statistics and survey analysis is also put into play. There are twice as many X-ray machines as metal detectors, in an effort to speed up what can be one of the more annoying parts of air travel.

The terminal’s “Marketplace” is a wide open space where departing passengers can eat and lounge. Several stores are also slated for the space, ranging from clothing retailer Lacoste to a Borders book shop.

A high main ceiling, bathed in natural light, is decorated with a large ring that will carry the JetBlue logo. Hooper said the sculpted piece is intended to create the feel of a city center, as a clock tower would in a town. From there, travelers will head down a wide corridor to the gates.

Participants in the August trial will follow standard boarding procedure, without actually boarding a flight. After the boarding rows are called, participants will reverse, and go through the arrival process and head to baggage claim with a fake baggage claim tag.

The half-day exercise is designed to test the flow of traffic on a normal day in the terminal. While the dress rehearsal may seem like a bit of pomp and circumstance, airline officials know how vital they can be.

JetBlue executives said they are doing everything to ensure a smooth transition.

“That is not to say that this trial is going to guarantee anything about Day One, but it allows us to follow protocol and test our checks and balances before we officially open the front doors,” said Rich Smyth, JetBlue’s vice president of redevelopment for the Terminal 5 project.

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