First flight lifts off from America’s newest airport in Salt Lake City

A water cannon salutes a Delta airplane arriving from Billings, Montana, at the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open. The flight from Billings was the first to arrive at the airport.

A water cannon salutes a Delta airplane arriving from Billings, Montana, at the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open. The flight from Billings was the first to arrive at the airport.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The brand-new Salt Lake City International Airport lifted off before sunrise Tuesday morning with a blast.

Two firetrucks honored the first flight to soar out of the new airport — Delta Flight 2020 — with a water cannon salute at 5 a.m. The aircraft taxied to the runway through the two streams of water arching overhead as a crowd of onlookers, including dignitaries like Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, watched from behind Concourse A’s glass windows, clapping and cheering.

The massive, $4.1 billion replacement of the old Salt Lake City International Airport, which is slated to be demolished and built over starting by the end of the year, opened its doors to travelers for the first time Tuesday. Passengers walked into an airport they’ve never seen before, with a new massive central terminal and its first concourse, Concourse A. Monday marked the last day for travelers passing through the old airport.

The airport also opened a new parking garage, with 3,600 stalls — double the public parking capacity of the old garage — that sits right next to the central terminal. Overnight ahead of the grand opening, airport officials restriped the roadways to direct passengers to the new structure, which led vehicles straight to the new drop-off and pickup zones with ease.

The inaugural flight — with a name signifying a chaotic and uncertain year for the aviation industry and yet a new era for Salt Lake City International Airport — took off toward Atlanta, the headquarters for Delta, which call’s Salt Lake City home to its fourth-largest hub airport.

Mendenhall on Tuesday proclaimed that hub “the most beautiful airport in the U.S. and the world.”

“This is a tremendous day for Salt Lake City and the entire region,” the mayor said after a ribbon-cutting ceremony honoring the official grand opening of the new airport.

It was all pomp and circumstance as city, airport and Delta officials celebrated the grand opening with Delta cookies, a cake replica of the new terminal paired with a frosting airplane, and balloon suitcases.

It was the last thing Julie Erwin, of South Jordan, expected when she and her husband got up before the crack of dawn at 3:50 a.m. to head to the airport for their vacation in Florida.

Still bleary-eyed while she sat at gate A21, waiting to board her flight to Atlanta where they had a layover, Erwin said she had no idea it was opening day for Salt Lake’s new airport. She also had no idea her flight would be the inaugural Delta Flight 2020 — and she certainly didn’t expect the water cannon salute.

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  • Passengers lounge during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • A Delta pilot gestures as a flight from Billings arrives at the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open. The flight from Billings was the first to arrive at the airport. The flight from Billings was the first to arrive at the airport.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Passengers arrive from Billings, Montana, on the first flight to the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open. The flight from Billings was the first to arrive at the airport. The flight from Billings was the first to arrive at the airport.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Passengers go through security at the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Payton Schmanski and her mother, Lori, depart for Atlanta from the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Passengers walk through the terminal during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Cookies are handed out during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Eric Phillips, Delta Air Lines Airport senior vice president for customer service and cargo, cuts a ribbon during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • A passenger checks at the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Delta Air Lines celebrates with cake replica of the new terminal paired with a frosting airplane as the first flight prepares to leave the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open. The first flight to leave was headed to Atlanta.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Delta gate agent Juliana Leituala checks a bag for Brooke Eveganie and Jake Pelger during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Passengers wait for the first flight to leave the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Art by an escalator is pictured during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Jeff Young takes a photo of “The Canyon, ” an art installation by Gordon Huether, during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Workers take a break during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Danny Fifita, 1, walks with his bag at the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Passengers wait in the Delta Sky Club during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open. The flight from Billings was the first to arrive at the airport. The flight from Billings was the first to arrive at the airport.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • A Delta airplane from Billings arrives at the new Salt Lake City International Airport during the first phase opening in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open. The flight from Billings was the first to arrive at the airport. The flight from Billings was the first to arrive at the airport.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Passengers walk through the concourse during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Passengers walks thorough the terminal during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • A youngster plays with a toy with a view of a Delta airplane during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Passengers walks through the concourse during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Passengers leave an airplane during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News



  • Delta planes await departure during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The airport’s parking garage, terminal and the west portion of Concourse A are now open.


    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“We were surprised,” she said.

Erwin said a family member drove them to the airport to drop them off, expecting the usual route. But when they arrived, the striping on the one-way road led them away from the old airport and onto a new roadway right up to the new. She said the drop-off zone was easy to navigate, and they exited their car right in front of the new terminal.

When they walked in, Erwin said the first thing that caught her eye was the art installation near the escalators, “The Falls,” an 80-foot sculpture of light-refracting glass panes meant to represent a waterfall in a canyon. And up the escalators, as she looked out across a balcony, Ewrin said she was awed by “The Canyon,” the wavy, football-sized centerpiece art made of more than 500 wavy, fabric-covered, aluminum fins that sweep across the upper walls of the central terminal and illuminate with a programmable lighting system, meant to represent southern Utah’s slot canyons. Both art installations are by California-based artist Gordon Huether.

I made it through security. It was easy and fast. The new conveyor belt bin system was very futuristic. Each passenger has a partitioned area where you pick up a bin from a slot underneath. No more stacking your own bins. @slcairport pic.twitter.com/jlH02h2TAR

— Katie McKellar (@KatieMcKellar1) September 15, 2020

“It’s beautiful. I was surprised by how beautiful it is,” Erwin said.

Erwin appreciated the modern feel of the new terminal and Concourse A, something she predicted will keep Salt Lake City in the minds of visitors when they pass through.

“It’s like Salt Lake has arrived,” she said. “When people come, they don’t think, ‘Oh my goodness, this is such a small and old airport.’ This is up-to-date and modern and it’s just really nice.”

Tuesday’s opening day was 25 years in the making, said Bill Wyatt, executive director of Salt Lake City International Airport, and one that marks a new future for Salt Lake City and the state as a whole. Officials laud the new, state-of-the-art airport as what will be one of the biggest economic drivers in the state for decades to come. They project it will net over $5.5 billion in future economic growth.

“It’s really extraordinary,” Wyatt said. “This project is going to have enormously positive impacts on this community for the balance of a century. That’s a really amazing thing to think about. It’s the first 21st century hub airport (replacement in the U.S.), and it may be the last, because it’s very difficult to do. And it’s right here in Salt Lake.”

State and national airport officials say the new airport positions Salt Lake City to not only weather the COVID-19 storm, but to thrive long afterward, poised to accommodate air travel when it comes back with a vengeance — which they’re confident it will as the dust settles from the pandemic.

To Lorrie Schmanski, of South Weber, the new airport has been a bright spot in an otherwise panic-stricken and gloomy year.

“It’s nice to see something happy and exciting,” she said as she waited at gate A21 to board Delta Flight 2020. “I feel like every time you turn on the news or open a newspaper, it’s been so depressing, sad, full of drama and chaos and stress and tension. It’s nice to see something to celebrate.”

Schmanski, who was headed to Atlanta for a business trip, said she navigated the new airport with ease, even though she also did not expect to go to a brand-new building. She also was impressed by the futuristic technology at the large new security screening area, which provides each passenger a partitioned area where they pick up a bin from a slot underneath.

She said it’s a strange time, amid COVID-19, to open a new airport, but she credited airport officials and airlines with making passengers “feel safe,” appreciating the hand sanitizer stations at practically every corner.

“I’m impressed they actually pulled it off during COVID,” she said. “Because of all the setbacks with everything in the world right now, the fact that they’ve done it during a pandemic and opened it and made it look like this is impressive.”

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