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Sky Harbor Is Just Plane Great — and About To Get Even Better
By Tom Evans
I spent most of the month of June traveling (#humblebrag). And as a result, I got to do the Pepsi Challenge between seven different airports around the country in a very condensed amount of time.
And my friends, I am here today to tell you — we have one of the sweetest airports you’ll find anywhere in the country. Or world, for that matter. In an age where travel has gone from enviable to excruciating, Sky Harbor International Airport is a place that takes the stress out of modern travel and replaces it with a refreshing, enjoyable airport environment.
Not only that, but Sky Harbor is about to take it up another notch, thanks to investment in some key expansions and renovations that should take it into the future nicely.
“The goal behind everything we do at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is to provide world-class customer service to every person every day,” said Greg Roybal, public information officer for the airport. “We pride ourselves on being ‘America’s Friendliest Airport,’ and in order to maintain that high level of service, we constantly look for improvements that will make Sky Harbor more efficient and more accessible.”
This is not something to take for granted. It’s somewhat rare in this day and age to see a significant investment in an airport that’s in the middle of the city. When you think of some of the massive airports that have been the subject of major growth the past couple of decades — O’Hare, Denver, Dallas and Atlanta come to mind — most are located in the suburbs. Sky Harbor’s presence in the middle of town may have its drawbacks, but for the most part, the convenience is a nice feature.
And, let’s face it. Airports are massive public buildings with extraordinary traffic, and as such, they wear quickly. They require investment and reinvestment by their very nature and mission. Sky Harbor handles 120,000 passengers per day. That added up to a total of 43 million passengers in 2016.
But the most recent amount of investment in Terminal 4 — including the addition of an impressive cadre of locally based restaurants and retailers — has made the three-decade-old terminal one of the best facilities in the country. Along with the dining options, the open concourses, (relatively) efficient security areas and (somewhat) quick baggage service set Terminal 4 apart.
Terminal 3 is in the midst of getting the same treatment. It’s already been the subject of improvements to the ticket counters and security checkpoints, as well as a museum gallery. The South Concourse is being completely redone with 15 new gates, and the North Concourse is getting the Terminal 4 food and beverage treatment.
Lest you think Terminal 4 is missing out, Sky Harbor’s international facilities are being upgraded to process more passengers and smooth the immigration process. These improvements are critical in achieving the one goal that has eluded the airport’s powers that be over the years — securing a significant number of overseas routes. Another eight-gate concourse is being added to the terminal’s southwest portion. And the retail revamp that started a few years back will continue with a second phase over the next two years that will add another 16 new stores.
“Our friends and neighbors in the Valley of the Sun should also know that we are always exploring new air service opportunities, and this year that turned into an additional British Airways flight at the peak of summer travel season and new international service to Frankfurt, Germany on Condor beginning in May 2018,” Roybal said.
Finally, if you’ve not done so already, do yourself a favor and hit the Sky Train sometime. It’s slick. You can access it easily via light rail or choose to get dropped off there directly, giving you a chance to enjoy a free ride with some exceptional views. Heck, take the kids — they’ll eat it up. It too is being expanded, with plans to finish the run from 44th Street all the way through the three existing terminals and parking areas to the new(ish) rental car center by the year 2022.
There’s obvious economic benefits to all this. While Sky Harbor is of course a publicly owned facility, it’s also a revenue generator, allowing all this growth and improvement to take place without pulling from other public programs. Sky Harbor is the largest economic driver in the state, with an estimated economic impact of $38 billion each year. Its growth and convenience makes Phoenix a more desirable travel destination (read: tourism dollars) and easier business destination (read: economic development and job growth), which creates…more economic impact and helps fund some of those aforementioned public programs.
But forget about all that. It’s the beginning of August, so chances are you’re either on your way back from summer vacation or came back recently. I’m sure you took in all of Sky Harbor’s amenities on your last big trip. And if not, and you’re looking for an excuse to travel, you can always say you want to compare airports.