Glenda Taylor and daughter Kemeah familiarize themselves with gleaming new Central Terminal B at Sacramento International Airport on Sunday.

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It's takeoff time for Sacramento International's new Terminal B

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

The big switch is on tonight.

Sacramento International Airport will close shop at its original 1967 Terminal B tonight and begin ushering in the first arriving flights at its $1 billion facility next door.

Sacramento County officials will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the new Central Terminal B at 4 a.m. Thursday, just before the first outbound fliers arrive.

The expansion project, 10 years in the planning and more than three years in construction, should position the region's airport for growth for the next 50 years, airport officials said. It opens, however, with the aviation industry and the local economy in the doldrums and passenger numbers down.

The transition should be smooth, said architect Brent Kelley of Corgan Associates, the airport project consultant.

Systems testing has been ongoing for months to make sure the buildings are ready. Federal officials were conducting a final security sweep late Tuesday.

"It's ready to go," Kelley said. "The airlines have already done their training and practiced on the systems."

Southwest Airlines, the airport's main carrier, will move into the new facility. A spokesman for the airline called the changeover a "real undertaking."

"This facility has been well thought out, but change brings the opportunity for hiccups," Southwest's Brad Hawkins said.

Southwest headquarters officials will be on site to oversee the transition, he said.

Airport officials said they believe fliers will get the hang of the new facilities quickly. The terminal and concourse buildings and the automated people mover connecting them are designed to be "intuitive" to use, Kelley said.

Fliers, however, may need a little extra time initially to get their bearings, airport spokeswoman Karen Doron said. She suggested first-time fliers arrive 10 to 15 minutes earlier than usual.

Airport volunteers in red shirts will fan out Thursday morning to guide fliers.

The new facilities have received generally good reviews at recent public showings. The two buildings feature $8 million in public art, 14 food and drink outlets, 10 stores, and stylish architecture.

"It's like having an art gallery and restaurant row with a side of airport," county Supervisor Phil Serna said while surveying the new facilities at an open house over the weekend.

Local restaurants include Esquire Grill, Jack's Urban Eats, Dos Coyotes and Old Soul cafe. It was uncertain Tuesday whether the Cafeteria 15L outlet will be open by Thursday.

Almost all airlines will move tonight. By Thursday morning, new Central Terminal B will house Southwest, Aeromexico, Alaska/Horizon, American, Frontier, Hawaiian and JetBlue.

Terminal A will house Continental, Delta, United and US Airways.

For a brief while tonight before old B closes, flights will be arriving at all three terminals. People picking up passengers should check with their airlines to verify which terminal to go to.

In the days leading up to the opening, some potential fliers expressed concerns about a key connecting element of the project, the automated people mover.

Bill Myers of Elk Grove rode it Sunday during the open house and said it may sway too much for some older riders.

Architect Kelley said first-time riders may need a moment to get the hang of it. The people mover travels at about 22 miles per hour. But the mover is the same as ones in use at the Denver, Dallas and San Francisco airports.

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