JetBlue is on the verge of expanding their home base at JFK airport in New York City; the JetBlue T5i addition is ahead of schedule and will be open to operations on 12 November 2014. Construction started just two years ago and the opening is coming several months ahead of the originally announced construction schedule.
The extension of the terminal was designed mostly to fit within the existing aesthetics of the rest of T5; don’t expect to see major changes in the gate area layouts. Still, there are a few new things coming to the terminal which should be welcome additions for passengers passing through. Although the initial T5 construction has plenty of windows and natural light the T5i extension has even larger walls of windows facing the planes. Lots more natural light inside.
The main focus of the expansion is for JetBlue to offer inbound immigration clearance for passengers within the terminal rather than at T4 and then having to transfer back to T5 for onward flights. The move will trim minimum connect time requirements for travelers and save the airline the equivalent of one new airplane in fleet utilization terms. Those passengers should also have one of the better international arrivals experiences available in the NYC area based on the facility layout and capacity.
US citizens will be able to use one of the dozens of automated kiosks for their arrival processing, hopefully reducing the clearance times significantly. For the rest of the arriving passengers there are 20 booths available, though the carrier expects that only 10 will be staffed initially. The staffing, both in terms of the number of lanes available and the hours the facility will operate (it is currently timed to the main international arrivals banks JetBlue operates) are subject to change based on demand, either from JetBlue or partner airlines.
I also was able to walk through the entire Customs & Immigration “back office” space, though it was mostly a no photos area. Suffice it to say that the facility is, as one person mentioned during the tour, “the most secure place in the airport you never want to have to visit.” There are holding cells, interrogation rooms, isolation spaces for plants & animals, a courtroom and more. It is a very impressive facility.
The six international gates are built to handle wide-body aircraft more efficiently than the current setup near gate 12 in the terminal, though still no double-decker jet bridge so no A380 services in the space. An additional three hard stands are in place to handle peak arrival flows.The gates can handle just about anything other than the A380, including 777s, so growth of partner operations is definitely viable. The baggage system inside Customs is rated to handle the volume of bags which typically comes with an A380 so there is room to grow on that front.
Speaking of partners, Aer Lingus announced a new lounge at JFK as part of their new business class cabin introduced a couple weeks ago. The space has a ways to go yet but the views of the Saarinen building and main tower at T4 are spectacular. The lounge area is also quite spacious, with what appear to be shower suites as well as a bar area reasonably visible in the markings on the floor. Plenty of time yet for that lounge construction to be completed and they still have the Airspace Lounge down the way until the new space is ready.
Finally, while there are not a ton of major changes coming, there are a few worth noting. Looking for outdoor space at the terminal? JetBlue plans to offer everyone access to their roof deck area. It will include a dog walk inside security as well as other spaces for passengers to relax during a layover. It faces the road rather than the apron which will limit plane-spotting fun, but fresh air in an airport is always a good thing.
As for the bit of T5i which looks like an extension of the roadway, don’t expect to see cars there anytime soon. But you might spot a goat in the near future. JetBlue plans to install a garden space to help supply some of the local concessions and other goals. The plan includes 6,000 crates of agriculture, ranging from bee hives to barley & hops for the Brooklyn Brewery outpost inside to blue potatoes for their chip supplier. And, if things go to plan, potentially a goat as well. Part of the space will also be used for company functions and other events.
The T5i space is not revolutionary but it is well appointed and will significantly improve the passenger experience for JetBlue’s international customers. And anything to improve the NYC airport experience, especially for international passengers, is a good thing.
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