In a carefully managed soft opening of Central Florida’s newest source of bragging rights, Orlando International Airport’s Terminal C began operations Tuesday afternoon as a classic thunderstorm beat on skylights above and 160 Aer Lingus passengers emerged from their immigrations check.
“I feel like a celebrity,” said flight attendant Yasmin Whiston, hamming it up a bit for an audience of dozens of airport employees, who hooped, cheered and clapped for every baggage-toting traveler emerging from glazed, double doors. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Terminal C is the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority’s $2.8 billion bet on a future of a tourism-driven economy. With enormous interior spaces framed by dramatic skylights and windowed walls, the terminal is dedicated to delivering a powerful, lasting impression not so much to departing passengers but to those arriving for vacations.
Airports conventionally dump incoming travelers into their windowless basements. But the walk for arriving passengers at Terminal C from jetways and gates to baggage carousels and taxis stays on upper floors and, ideally, under blue skies – although lightning bolts dominated the view for Aer Lingus fliers.
“Twenty-first Century look,” said Adan Bergin, captain of the Aer Lingus flight from Manchester, England, of his first impression of the new building. Being good sports, he and another pilot lined up with eight flight attendants, forming a wall of teal-blue blazers.
The first passenger emerging from the secure customs and immigration hall was a woman who identified herself as Julie as she responded to a crowd of cameras, saying things like “exciting” and “beautiful.”
She was led to a table of SeaWorld insulated cups and large cookies being handed out to commemorate a rare event for Orlando International Airport.
A lot of ordinary activity is not present yet at the terminal. Starbucks was dark, and Gatlin Trade – a shop of stuffed animals, magazines and candy bars – opened later. Ubers and Lyfts aren’t venturing along the terminal’s outside arrival curb.
For a short while as passengers emerged, fire alarms popped off sharp flashes of white light – a test, said a recording. The men’s room nearest to the welcoming festivities did not have soap.
A more normal routine will solidify next week when JetBlue begins service as the terminal’s anchor tenant. The airline’s ticket counter, downstairs in the departure area, is futuristic and dazzling but empty.
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The long-range vision for Terminal C is breathtaking, with 120 gates and looking nothing like terminals A and B in the airport’s original campus a mile to the north.
But it took decades of planning, decision-making, delays and construction to arrive at 3:12 p.m., when the Aer Lingus flight 35 touched down after 8 hours and 40 minutes over the Atlantic Ocean and taxied to Terminal C’s gate 241.
“Welcome to Terminal C,” someone said to passenger John Hayes of England. He and his wife travel twice a year to Central Florida, where they have a second home. “For years, we’ve watched this being built. It’s fabulous,” he said.
A second, arriving flight was scheduled for 5 p.m. from Brazil on GOL and the day’s third and final arrival was for 7 p.m. from Dublin on Aer Lingus.
Gerald Steele drove from his home in Manatee County to pick up friends on the GOL flight. The thunderstorm made his drive a little dicey, which he was still edgy from when he asked how long Terminal C had been open.
“Wow,” he said, when told he was on hand for the very first flights. “Making history.”