Hours-long delays, a power outage and a security breach weren’t what passengers were expecting from the brand-new Terminal A at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) on Thursday, Jan. 12.
After all, this stunning, $2.7-billion facility was first unveiled back in November, and the opening was delayed by more than a month for additional testing and tweaking.
Yet Avery Hoffman, the owner of New Jersey-based Lion18 Renovations, left the new terminal on opening day incredibly unimpressed.
“It was terrible,” Hoffman said about his morning at the new terminal. His JetBlue flight, a 7:15 a.m. departure to Fort Lauderdale, was one of the first to depart from the new facility, and his experience was replete with issues.
A power outage at the TSA security checkpoint halted all screening for nearly 20 minutes and knocked out half of the checkpoint lanes for about two hours.
Once all the machines were reconnected to the main power supply after two hours, a security breach was identified, leading to an investigation by the TSA, which further snarled the screening process.
While Clear expedited lanes were open, TSA Precheck wasn’t, sending scores of frustrated frequent flyers into hour-long lines to clear standard security.
Hoffman eventually passed through security after more than an hour, only to arrive at Gate A3 to a delayed flight because the ground staff couldn’t figure out how to operate the new jet bridge system.
Suffice it to say, Hoffman and his family, and many other frustrated travelers couldn’t wait to get airborne on their way out of New Jersey on Thursday — and it wasn’t just because it was a gloomy and wet winter morning.
By early afternoon, the security lines were starting to thin out, and the TSA Precheck lanes began opening at around 1 p.m. local time.
That said, the situation throughout the day got so bad that United sent out an alert to all departing Newark travelers, saying that “we’re expecting longer than usual lines for security screenings at Terminal A in Newark Liberty International Airport, and we encourage you to arrive earlier to avoid any disruptions to your travel.”
The opening-day hiccups notwithstanding, the new Terminal A marks a major upgrade for the airport, which some travelers have historically avoided at all costs.
A grand-opening celebration
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the local government agency that oversees and manages the region’s largest airports, invited a handful of media to a grand opening celebration on Thursday.
“It’s the first day at the New Terminal A and it’s been a long time in the making. We are excited to welcome customers to the new facility,“ said Huntley Lawrence, chief operating officer of the Port Authority.
“There have been a number of operational trials in the past few days, and sometimes you don’t find out all the bugs. There were a few challenges this morning that we are working our way through,” he added.
Some of the issues Lawrence identified had already been addressed before the opening, such as asking Uber and Lyft to update their maps and wayfinding to direct drivers and passengers to the new facility.
Others, like the security breach and power outage, weren’t expected and were keeping passengers waiting over an hour to clear security more than eight hours after the facility opened.
After the remarks, media were shuttled to the airside area to officially inaugurate the facility with a traditional water cannon salute for an arriving United Boeing 737-700 jet, registered N38727, which landed at 10:10 a.m. local time from West Palm Beach.
For the deplaning passengers, entering the new Terminal A for the first time was seemingly a big surprise — many of them had lined up along the windows to snap pictures of the plane and gate areas.
In fact, the new facility is so physically stunning that it may be enough to change Newark’s reputation.
Inside Newark’s new Terminal A
The new facility spells perhaps the biggest passenger-facing upgrade yet for Newark, and it’s a massive improvement compared to the outdated Terminal A, which officially closed in conjunction with Thursday’s opening.
The improvements begin from the moment you get dropped off — a new four-lane roadway leads directly into the expansive new facility. The additional lanes should help alleviate the traffic bottlenecks that used to plague the old terminal.
Once inside, it takes just seconds to realize how much of an upgrade the new check-in hall is. From the soaring ceilings to the plethora of natural light to the eye-catching artwork, the new Terminal A is simply stunning.
There are a variety of check-in experiences, including kiosks, counters and even new dedicated premium areas.
Both JetBlue and United operate private check-in lobbies for premium passengers, including those with Mosaic and Premier elite status, respectively, as well as those flying in Mint business class and United’s premium cabins, respectively.
While security was the big bottleneck on Thursday, it’s poised to get significantly more efficient in the coming days.
The new terminal features 16 Transportation Security Administration checkpoint lanes that are all accessible from the centralized check-in area. Once you clear security (or after you’ve landed), you have access to any gate without needing to be screened again.
This is a major improvement from the old Terminal A, which had individual security checkpoints at each pier of gates. This made connections much harder and caused backups during the busiest departure banks.
Just note that the security lanes feature the new computed tomography, or CT, scanners, which seem to always take longer than the older machines.
Once you clear security, you’ll be on the upper level of the central plaza area, with expansive views of the departure hall.
At the outset, 21 of the terminal’s 33 gates are operational. A second phase of construction is expected to be completed this summer, which will include the opening of the remaining 12 gates, along with some additional food and beverage outlets and shops.
For now, local New Jersey-based concessionaires, such as Jersey Mike’s, Office Tavern and Grill and New Jersey Monthly, are available throughout the terminal, and there’s significantly more seating for passengers throughout the space.
While the physical facility is a night-and-day improvement compared with the existing Terminal A, perhaps the biggest upgrade is the amount of natural light that makes the space so much more inviting.
That, combined with the spacious bathrooms, variety of seating options, locally-inspired artwork and the trees and gardens spread throughout the terminal, made it a hit with departing travelers who seemed to be enjoying the new facility.
Which airlines operate from Terminal A?
At the outset, Air Canada, American Airlines, JetBlue and United Airlines (only select flights) are using the new Terminal A. Delta Air Lines will move into the new facility later this year when a 12-gate expansion opens.
Of the aforementioned airlines, United is the only one that calls Newark a hub. While the majority of the airline’s flights will continue to operate from the now-outdated Terminal C, select flights will depart and arrive in Terminal A.
United explained that it’ll strategically operate flights from Terminal A that have the fewest number of connecting passengers. Even though there is an post-security shuttle between Terminals A, B and C, landing in the new facility and then connecting to United’s Terminal C home isn’t especially convenient.
For now, there are no lounges in Terminal A, though that’s about to change in the coming months. The Central Plaza after security will be home to three airline lounges located on the mezzanine level above the concessions.
The south side of the lounge area will be home to an American Admirals Club and Delta Sky Club, while the north side of this space will be dedicated to a new United Club that’ll also welcome eligible Air Canada and other Star Alliance flyers.
The terminal will also be home to a signature American Express Centurion Lounge featuring views of the Port of Newark, New York Harbor, Newark Harbor and the Manhattan skyline, a piano lounge, a jazz-themed bar and a speakeasy-themed cocktail lounge. Amex is also planning wellness rooms, workstations and multiple food buffets.
The Amex lounge will be located in the North Concourse, which is opening in the summer as part of the second phase of construction.
Newark’s new Terminal A has been in the works since 2018, and it ushers in a new era for an airport that has historically been regarded as one of the worst in the country. At $2.7 billion, the new facility represents the largest single investment in New Jersey by the Port Authority in the agency’s 101-year history.
While the facility hit some opening-day snags, it’s well on its way to improving Newark’s reputation. The soaring ceilings, modernized amenities, centralized security and spacious gate areas are only some of the improvements that you’ll find in this world-class terminal.
In fact, the next time you fly from Terminal A, you may not believe that you’ve actually arrived at Newark.
The good news is that more improvements are coming to the airport, including the opening of a second phase of construction in Terminal A, as well as a larger redevelopment project that’ll modernize the entire airport.
Until then, just cross your fingers that the security bottlenecks have been addressed, and you’ll be poised to have a great experience passing through Newark.
For more about Newark Airport, be sure to check out: