ATLANTA -- The new $1.4 billion international terminal at the world's busiest airport will be a sleek launching pad for millions of passengers that's designed to help Atlanta grab a growing share of the lucrative market for global travelers.
Its wavy lines, expansive windows and eye-catching artwork offer a stark contrast to the boxy design of the rest of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Airport managers are already expecting an increase in international travelers over the next decade, and they hope the terminal set to open May 16 will convince airlines to route even more of their overseas flights through the city.
"This is America's new global gateway. It gives international passengers their own facility, and it creates a new front door for the airport," said Al Snedeker, the airport's spokesman. "And it eases the load on the rest of the facility."
It was first proposed in 2000 to accommodate the expected surge of international travelers. The airport handled almost 10 million international passengers last year, and the Federal Aviation Administration predicts that number will grow to more than 13 million international passengers by 2015.
The project has taken four years to build and is so vast workers built a new entrance on a busy interstate highway.
Walking into the light-filled terminal, passengers won't fail to notice broad glass windows along every wall that allow them to watch planes lift off from the airport's five runways as they check their bags. The building, unlike the older terminal, features separate levels for arriving and departing travelers to help untangle the traffic outside.
Behind the security checkpoint is the second phase of the project: a new concourse with 12 gates for international flights, giving the airport a total of 40 international gates. That's enough to allow carriers to offer new routes while relieving some of the strain on the airport's other five concourses.
The facility is designed to give jet-lagged passengers a place where they don't mind waiting out a flight delay, turning an airport visit from chaotic to calming. Travelers will be able to dine on organic burgers or tapas at restaurants in the concourse. Artwork includes a crystal chandelier that hangs over the concourse's sun-splashed atrium and another installation that plays soothing music for weary travelers as they file off a plane.
About $1 billion of the expansion is funded by municipal bonds that would be repaid by passenger fees, and the remaining $400 million was picked up by the airlines. The changes are helping Atlanta keep up with other major international airports.
"The future is going to be which of the airline connecting hubs become global portals that not just take people to and from Atlanta, but take people from Buenos Aires to Shanghai through Atlanta," airline analyst Michael Boyd said. "The biggest flow is going to be between Latin America and Asia, and the U.S. is in the middle. Those intermediate stops are the name of the game, and that means on longer flights, a stop in Atlanta makes sense."