NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The new approach to food and drink and retail concessions at New Orleans' new airport terminal is a game changer from the old facility. Soon, the airport will also change up some of the rules that have long governed access to the airport concourse.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport will join a handful of airports across the country that allow people who do not have airline tickets to access the concourse, where nearly all of the new terminal's much-discussed concessions are located. Right now, a boarding pass is required to pass through security to eat, drink or shop in the concourses.
The program, called MSY Guest Pass, is slated to begin after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, though a precise date has not been announced.
Aviation Director Kevin Dolliole said the program is aimed at giving the public a different way to access the $1 billion terminal.
"The terminal development is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the state's history, and there's an awful lot of interest in it from the community," Dolliole said. "We have a strong desire to open it open to the community, to invite them in to see, feel, touch it."
And, of course, taste it.
The new terminal has more than 40 concessions, including two dozen restaurants, bars, dessert parlors and coffee shops from a mix of well-known New Orleans names and neighborhood businesses.
The access means people will be able to accompany loved ones right up until they board a flight or be there to greet them when they arrive. Aviation enthusiasts could visit to check out all the planes coming and going too.
But Dolliole said people are interested in visiting the new terminal for the many new amenities that now line its concourses. "When I talk to people, I hear a lot of interest in that," he said.
MSY Guest Pass will function with a set of limits and rules meant to maintain travel safety. Access will be available from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a limit of 50 visitors per day on weekdays and 100 visitors per day on weekends. Visitors are limited to using the program once per month.
To apply for a guest pass, visitors must register at least 24 hours in advance through the airport's web site, flymsy.com. On arrival, they'll check in at a customer service station in the terminal and show identification. They'll be issued a gate pass and proceed to the TSA checkpoint. The same security screening procedures and rules as for travelers will apply to people using the MSY Guest Pass.
The main airports in Seattle, Tampa, Pittsburgh and Detroit have similar programs in place, and Austin is reportedly evaluating the idea.
Dolliole said interest is growing across the country in programs to allow access to concourses as they have developed more amenities behind security.
"Once the TSA allowed it, people in the industry started watching this very closely," he said. "You'll see more airports do this after us."
Wait times for going through security have been an area of particular scrutiny for the new terminal since it opened two weeks ago. Dolliole said he's confident MSY Guest Pass won't lengthen those waits because of the limits on the number of passes and the time frame when they're available, which excludes the early morning hours when the airport is busiest.
"We had to give that very strong consideration," he said. "The TSA had to be very comfortable that they could handle this."
As the post-9/11 era brought more stringent airport security, Dolliole said airports around the country have been reconfigured to place more of their traveler amenities past the checkpoints. That's because travelers are more likely to relax and use an airport's restaurants and shops once they've cleared security and are confident they won't miss their flights.
The new terminal was designed with this outlook in mind. Travelers, and soon MSY Guest Pass visitors, can roam all the concourses once they clear the single security checkpoint, whereas the old terminal had checkpoints for each concourse. Food and drink options were limited.
Concessions now stay open longer, and more are built out as full-service restaurants, with dining rooms, bars and kitchens, which in some cases put the cooking in full view of travelers in the concourse.
While some national chains are represented, like Shake Shack, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and Dylan's Candy Bar, most concessions are partnerships between local businesses and national companies. (Full disclosure: There is an Advocate-branded newsstand and shop in the terminal.)
Local restaurant operators and their concession partners have said their goal is to represent the character and culture of New Orleans and give travelers a way to tap into it from arrival through departure.
The MSY Guest Pass program would open up these offerings to anyone who registers for a visit, including restaurants from star chefs Emeril Lagasse (Emeril's Table) and John Folse (Folse Market), the Chase family (Leah's Kitchen) and Susan Spicer (Mondo).
Angelo Brocato desserts, cocktails from Cure and Bar Sazerac, Asian fusion flavors from MoPho, modern Creole comfort food from the Munch Factory, deep dish pizza from Midway Pizza, burgers and sandwiches from Dook's Burgers, City Greens salads, Ye Olde College Inn po-boys, beignets from Cafe du Monde, coffee from PJs and even Lucky Dogs hot dog stands are all part of the line-up.
The Heritage School of Music, affiliated with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, even offers live music from local performers on a small stage attached to a wine bar.
New Orleans apparel brands including Dirty Coast, Fleurty Girl and NOLA Couture have storefronts in the concourses as well.
Information from: The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.nola.com