This brand-new terminal might just get New Orleans off the list of USA’s worst airports

Brad Japhe

Special to USA TODAY

Published 6: 18 PM EST Nov 7, 2019

NEW ORLEANS – On Wednesday, New Orleans finally cut the ribbon on a new 35-gate  terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) after six years of construction.

The $1.3 billion dollar project is tantamount to a brand-new airport since all 16 commercial airlines will operate out of the new terminal. (According to passenger data, Southwest Airlines is the airport’s biggest carrier, followed by Delta and American.)

The new terminal replaces a 50-year-old facility that was ranked among America’s 10 worst airports by The Points Guy and traffic-analysis firm INRIX due to its lack of amenities and on-time departure rates. In an FAQ on its connection, the airport admitted the old terminal did not “make a good impression of our community.”

For the nearly 12 million passengers that fly into the city annually, it promises a significant upgrade to the travel experience. Here’s what you can look forward to on your next touchdown in the Crescent City. 

One security checkpoint

The new terminal is meant to move passengers through with greater efficiency, from curbside arrival to wheels-up. That means widened lanes for vehicle drop-off on the departures level and a consolidated security checkpoint with 15 TSA lanes. It also has an advanced bag-screening system.

MSY also has lanes dedicated to TSA PreCheck (visit the TSA connection for availability) and CLEAR (located at the main security checkpoint).

More parking

There are also new parking garages with 2,190 spaces for short-term parking and 2,750 for long-term needs. There’s also a new 685-spot surface lot and a second staging lot devoted for taxis, rideshare and cellphone pickups. (More specific information on rules governing pickup locations is available on the Uber and Lyft sites.)

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Long-term parking and the rental car facility are staying on the south side of the airport so those passengers will need to catch a shuttle to and from the new terminal.

Better ambience

The 972,000-square-foot airport’s tiered atrium exposes its three stories in a spacious and sensible design. Escalators lead down from check-in to a single entry that fans out to three main concourses. Outside on the tarmac, dual taxi lanes bring aircraft between terminal and runway with minimal bottlenecks. 

Nicer amenities

Passengers have access to free WiFi, charging stations, water bottle-refilling stations, post-security pet-relief area and three nursing rooms. 

Way better food with local flavor

The most welcome improvements at the new MSY are the ones that elevate your senses.

“(The) terminal provides a stunning new welcome and departure experience, reflective of our World-class city,” said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of New Orleans & Company, formerly known as the Convention & Visitors Bureau. “(It) incorporates New Orleans’ culture through the local concessions, retail vendors and live music.”

This is no exaggeration. The structure triples the number of food and beverage options of its predecessor, replacing stale and generic airport standbys with Bayou specialties.

Leah’s Kitchen, (located on Level 2 near the TSA checkpoint), celebrates its namesake chef Leah Chase, the Queen of Creole Cuisine, with staples such as oysters Rockefeller and barbecued shrimp.

Celebrity chef (and New Orleans native) Emeril Lagasse outfits the menu at Emeril’s Table (Concourse B, near Gate B10) with crusted drumfish, stuffed clams and sausages of both andouille and boudin variety. 

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The rounded end of concourse C is well served by Folse Market (Concourse C, Gate C10): an outsized food hall dishing out all the comfort classics. Muffuletta sandwiches, fried catfish po’ boys, a series of seafood gumbos roll out across three separate stations, under a vaulted skylight. Most selections are priced at or near where they’d be in the French Quarter.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be the Big Easy without the adult beverages. Home to one of the most advanced cocktail scenes in the country, New Orleans can now boast of an airport to match. In Concourse B, Bar Sazerac (Concourse B, Gate B4) is a throwback lounge honoring the city’s trademark drink: a blend of rye whiskey, Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar, with an absinthe rinse.

For a more modern approach, imbibers will enjoy the inventive arrangements at Cure (Concourse C, Gate C6), where two pages of the menu are devoted to original cocktails. Tipples at the beautiful, brass-fitted bar start at $12.99 per pour. For oenophiles, Heritage School of Music (Concourse B, Gate B2) offers a wide selection of wine by the glass. It’s backdropped by live performances daily.

“After a long wait I’m beyond exited about the new MSY,” says Caroline Nabors Rosen, president of the locally-based Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. The self-professed gourmand became one of the first to test out the digs after flying back home on opening day. “The feel of these shops is all about hospitality – it really seems like a true slice of the city, itself.”

In addition to the mixed drink venues, Rosen was most impressed by MoPho (Level 2, Concourse B, Gate B6), which showcases a creole flex on Vietnamese fare, and The Munch Factory (Level 2, Concourse C, Gate C6), a local standout known for its decadent duck and waffles.

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Lines were already forming around new satellite outposts for two other city standards: Lucky Dogs (Level 2, Concourse C, Gate C2) and Cafe Du Monde (between the TSA checkpoint and Gate A1). Those standing in the queue seemed unfazed. After waiting the better part of a decade to get a World-class gateway, what was a few more minutes in line?

“It took a damn long time to get here,” Rosen said, alluding to the nearly two years worth of delays involved in rebuilding MSY. “But I’m so honored to have her.”

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