The crowning achievement in an already exciting year at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport came to fruition beginning Wednesday night with the official opening of its new $39.5 million terminal.
The first arriving passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 5529 from Denver entered the new 56,000-square-foot terminal ahead of schedule on Wednesday, perhaps a good omen for a project that’s been years in the making.
“It’s been built as a perfect welcome mat for visitors to come explore our region,” said Airport Director Kevin Bumen. “We’re glad to finally have a facility that’s so worth that effort.”
The first departing flights for the new terminal came at 5:30 a.m. Thursday.
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“We’ve really had no issues,” Bumen said on Thursday. “They’ve been very minor, little things that passengers wouldn’t notice, nothing major.”
Cookies and other goodies were available in the gate area for passengers and goody bags were available at the information desk in the lobby. As of Thursday morning, Bumen said the terminal had seen about 10 flights in and out of the building.
“So far, so good,” he said.
Rodney and Laurie Lucas of Ohio pulled up to the new terminal Thursday morning after a two-week visit with Laurie’s aunt, who lives in SLO. They had flown into the old terminal, and were “totally confused” when they tried to return their rental car.
“It looks great,” Rodney said. And Laurie added that airport employees helped point them to the new rental car area. “We got great service,” she said.
Dan Rodriguez, a Templeton resident, had just landed. He flew to Las Vegas out of the old terminal on Saturday.
“It’s great to see that much improved,” Rodriguez said, commenting on all the space in the new terminal. “It’s very nice.”
Robert Lincoln, an off-duty SkyWest pilot who’s based in San Francisco but lives in the area, stopped by to check out the new terminal.
“I’m very impressed,” he said. “It’s long overdue and much better. The old one was too cramped and shop-worn.”
Lincoln said the new terminal was comparable to terminals in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.
Construction of the building — almost 45,000 square feet larger than the previous terminal — has been ongoing since 2015 and aims to provide travelers with a variety of new amenities, including a larger checkpoint area and a food and beverage concession post-security.
The expanded security checkpoint area also includes a full-body scanner, in addition to a walk-through magnetometer scanner, so passengers won’t have to endure physical pat-downs if one machine goes down.
The new terminal can handle about 1.2 million passengers per year, according to Bumen, though he emphasized that that figure is a “soft number” and the terminal could accommodate more.
Bumen said the airport currently expects to see about a half-million total passengers over the next year, which also could feature the addition of nonstop flights to Portland and Dallas.