It was a busy, bustling place … almost like an airport.
Eighteen days before the first passengers deplane and board flights at McCarran International Airport’s Terminal 3, local residents got their first look at the inside of the $2.4 billion facility at a Saturday open house that attracted more people than airport officials expected.
“We weren’t sure how many would come, but I think we had about 6,000 (after about three hours),” said Randall Walker, director of the Clark County Aviation Department, which oversees McCarran.
But at about four hours into the event, far more than that had made their way to the 14-gate terminal that is nearly a half-mile long and owns the tagline “where the future takes off.”
“We printed up about 12,000 raffle tickets, but a little while ago we had to go print some more,” Walker said.
The raffle tickets were part of a self-guided tour conducted scavenger-hunt style. Find seven stations within the airport, get your ticket punched. Get all seven stations punched and your ticket is entered in a prize drawing. That assured that most people found their way to domestic ticketing, international ticketing, baggage claim, the security checkpoint, domestic gates, international gates and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection area.
Showgirls and Elvis Presley impersonators were on hand as well as face-painters, balloon animal fashioners, acrobats and clowns.
Airlines at McCarran, even the ones that won’t take up residence at T3, had ticket giveways and handed out branded swag and the retail vendors at the airport served food samples to long lines of people.
One vendor, Hudson News, had 10,000 items to hand out and everything was gone after three hours.
Walker attributed the big turnout to pent-up anticipation to see the inside of a place they’ve watched take shape since construction began five years ago.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘When are you going to open?’ because they’ve seen it from the outside,” Walker said. “Well, today’s the day. The free food and prizes help, but I think a lot of people have been curious and I’m glad they took the opportunity to see the art and the technology we have here, especially since a lot of people don’t fly internationally and others use airlines that won’t use this terminal.”
When T3 opens June 27, four of the airport’s 16 international carriers will have flights. The next day, Terminal 2 will close and the rest of the international airlines will move in.
By the end of July, five domestic carriers – Alaska, Frontier, JetBlue, Sun Country and Virgin America – move in. And, by late August, Hawaiian and United will have ticket counters at T3, but flights will arrive and depart from the D gates. An underground tram connects the terminal with those gates.
Walker said the D gates, opened in 1998, have always been his favorite part of the airport, but he may change his mind and embrace T3 as his favorite now.
“It’s been amazing to see how much airport technology has changed since the ‘90s,” Walker said. “We’ve done a lot to prepare for changes in the future by installing a lot of accessible conduit so this facility will serve us well for a long time.”