In a carefully managed soft opening by Central Florida’s newest source of poser rights, Orlando International Airport’s Terminal C began operating Tuesday afternoon when a classic thunderstorm battered the skylights overhead and 160 Aer Lingus passengers swerved out of their immigration checkpoint.
“I feel like a celebrity,” said flight attendant Yasmin Whiston, delivering it to an audience of dozens of airport employees who honked, cheered and clapped at every baggage-laden traveler who emerged from the double glass doors. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Terminal C is the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority’s $2.8 billion bet on a future tourism-driven economy. With vast interior spaces framed by dramatic skylights and walls of windows, the terminal is designed to make a strong, lasting impression not so much on departing passengers as on vacationing travelers.
Conventionally, airports dump arriving travelers into their windowless basements. But the route for arriving passengers at Terminal C from passenger boarding bridges and gates to baggage carousels and taxis remains on the upper floors and ideally under blue skies – although lightning dominated the view for Aer Lingus flyers.
“21st century look,” said Adan Bergin, captain of the Aer Lingus flight from Manchester, England, of his first impression of the new building. He and another pilot lined up with eight flight attendants, forming a wall of teal blazers.
The first passenger to emerge 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 with SeaWorld insulated mugs and large cookies that were being given out to commemorate a rare event for Orlando International Airport.
There is not much usual activity at the terminal yet. Starbucks was dark, and Gatlin Trade—a store selling stuffed animals, magazines, and candy bars—opened later. Ubers and Lyfts do not venture along the outer arrivals curb of the terminal.
As passengers disembarked, fire alarms triggered sharp flashes of white light for a short time – a test, a record said. The men’s room closest to the welcome party had no soap.
A more normal routine will solidify next week when JetBlue begins service as the terminal’s anchor tenant. The airline ticket counter downstairs in the departures area is futuristic and glitzy, but empty.
The long-distance view for Terminal C is stunning, with 120 gates and nothing like Terminals A and B on the airport’s original campus a mile north.
But it took decades of planning, decision-making, delays and construction before Aer Lingus Flight 35 landed at 3:12 p.m. after 8 hours and 40 minutes over the Atlantic and taxied to Gate 241 of Terminal C.
“Welcome to Terminal C,” someone said to passenger John Hayes from England. He and his wife travel twice a year to central Florida where they have a second home. “We watched the construction for years. It’s fabulous,” he said.
A second arriving flight was scheduled for 5pm from Brazil on GOL and the third and final flight of the day was scheduled for 7pm 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 journey a little dicey, which still made him nervous when he asked how long Terminal C had been open.
“Wow,” he said when told he would be on hand for the very first flights. “Write history.”