Sacramento International Airport launched its towering new $1 billion terminal and concourse complex Thursday with only a handful of minor glitches.
Four restaurants in the new concourse remained shuttered due to construction delays. The airport website failed to note that Southwest Airlines had moved into the new building from Terminal A. Some passengers had to backtrack when security scanners couldn't read the paperless boarding passes on their smartphones. And one over-active toilet flooded.
But overall, airport officials called Day One a success as thousands of fliers found their way to their planes with relative ease, many stopping for a moment to take in the vaulted ceilings, artwork and airy feel of a facility that county officials say could handle a half-century of growth.
"Today marks a new dawn, literally, for the future of Sacramento," said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento. "We're taking this entire region into a new age."
Following tradition, an airport fire department truck with a water cannon shot a spray over the first departing jet at 6 a.m., saluting it as it idled on the tarmac before takeoff.
The new buildings, which took more than three years to construct, have won plaudits for their sleek, big-city feel. Within hours of the 4 a.m. ribbon-cutting Thursday, passengers seemed to have settled in as if they had been using the place for years, typing on laptops, talking on cellphones, sipping coffee and standing in boarding-gate lines.
When they did look up, many said they were impressed with Sacramento's new gateway. Steve Hassins of Sacramento pronounced the new facility much better than Terminal A, not to mention old Terminal B.
"No comparison," he said. "This is gorgeous."
Tammy Orvis and Dave Bouthillier of Willits, who arrived just after 3:30 a.m., were mainly surprised.
"We were unaware that any of this had taken place," Bouthillier said, standing with an Old Soul coffee in hand on the four-story terminal's upper level.
Orvis pointed when she caught a glimpse of an automated people mover shuttle arriving to take them to the concourse building. "Look at that, Dave, a Zephyr," she said, jokingly referring to an Amtrak passenger train.
Barbara Hayes, head of the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization, said the upgraded airport should help her efforts to attract new businesses whose executives fly in to check the region out.
"It's like having the Kings here," she said. "It's not going to persuade a business to locate here, but it's part of that intrinsic package" that Sacramento has to offer.
County official Rob Leonard, who played a key role in the new airport's early planning process, refuted the idea that the new facility feels like something from another city.
"This is Sacramento," he said. "It feels like Sacramento."
The new configuration confused some fliers. Minni Gill, headed to New Delhi, took the wrong fork in the road the direction to old Terminal B and had to loop around a second time.
"It was an anxiety moment," she said. "You have to take a long detour. You wonder, are you exiting back to I-5?"
There appeared to be various schools of thought about the people mover shuttle, which connects the new terminal with the new concourse building. Some passengers noted that other airports have employed similar shuttles for years, and the 45-second ride here is pretty short in comparison. Others found the shuttle an unexpected thrill ride, especially the quick takeoff in the downhill direction toward the concourse building.
"You need to hold on," said Barbara Dendy. "It's fast."
The least-impressed flier may have been Marlin, a black and white Portuguese water dog. The 9-year-old guide dog padded quietly through the terminal carrying a small canvas bag in his mouth with his flying blanket inside. He was headed home to Hawaii with flying companion Trudy Gold.
"He's a good flier. He goes to sleep at my feet," Gold said.
The airport has boasted it will serve fliers authentic Sacramento flavors with its new restaurant lineup. Old Soul, Esquire Grill, and Burgers & Brew were up and running Thursday, but several other restaurants won't open for another week to 10 days because of construction issues, an airport spokeswoman said. Those include Cafeteria 15L, Dos Coyotes and Jack's Urban Eats.
The biggest glitch Thursday morning occurred at Alaska Airlines ticket counters. Self-serve ticketing kiosks failed to work, causing a long line for more than an hour.
Airport officials, however, said they were pleased with what they considered a smooth opening.
"Considering the size and scope of this project, it's going well," spokeswoman Karen Doron said.