Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has more than 600 nonstop flights daily to more than 100 cities in the United States and worldwide, according to airport officials.
With JetBlue Airways now offering international flights to Cuba and Norwegian Air Shuttle continuing to offer more flights to Europe, the expansion of Terminal 4 with the July opening of Concourse G seems to be arriving right on time.
The opening of Concourse G marks the first or western phase of a $450 million expansion and modernization project in the terminal – the project is being completed in two phases to minimize inconveniences to travelers as flights continue to operate through construction. The second or eastern phase should begin later this year and be completed in late 2018. A $295 million modernization and expansion project at Terminal 1 is underway, while a $110 million project at Terminal 2 is expected to begin later this year. All this follows the 2014 opening of the airport’s south runway.
The projects are timely as the airport continues to become more popular with travelers. In 2014, FLL was the 21st busiest airport in the U.S. with 24.6 million passengers, according to airport officials. That same year, it was also ranked 15th in international passengers in the U.S. In the last 10 years, international traffic has tripled at the airport. More international options are available, from new Cuba routes from several carriers to direct European flights thanks to low-cost international airline Norwegian Air Shuttle.
“Some of the demographics are shifting at the airport,” says FLL’s director, Mark Gale. “Our growth is on the international side.”
Having said that, earlier this year when JetBlue began a direct FLL-to-San Diego route, it meant the airport now offers direct flights to the 50 top U.S. markets. Domestic fares are also among the lowest among large airports, with fares averaging 21 percent less than Miami International Airport and 11 percent less than Palm Beach International Airport, according to airport officials. “The many available flights with several airlines and lower ticket prices make us more attractive than other airports,” says Russell McCaffrey, dean of industry, manufacturing, construction and transportation at Broward College.
Traffic at the airport will continue to grow yearly due in part to its location in South Florida, McCaffrey says. “We are right in the middle of the region,” McCaffrey says. “Even though Miami is better known, the Fort Lauderdale airport is great for people looking to explore the entire region, not just the south but the north.”
Cuba is Just the Beginning
JetBlue became the first U.S. carrier to begin flights to Cuba on Aug. 31 when its airplane departed from FLL and landed at the Abel Santamaria Airport in Santa Clara, three hours east of Havana. It marked the first scheduled flights between Cuba and the U.S. in 50 years. Flights were offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until Oct. 1, when daily flights were scheduled to begin. The carrier will also fly daily to Camaguey beginning Nov. 3 and Holguin starting Nov. 10. Routes to Havana have not yet been announced. Southwest Airlines, Silver Airways and Spirit Airlines will also offer flights to Cuba in the coming months, Gale says.
JetBlue currently has 80 departing flights from FLL with plans to increase flights to 140 in the next five years,
“There was one big gap in the flights we offered to the Caribbean,” says Philip Stewart, manager for corporate communications at JetBlue. “It was Cuba. Now, we can make it affordable for customers to travel there as well.”
Americans can travel to Cuba under 12 categories of travel, which exclude travel for strictly tourism. Travelers will need to obtain a Cuba tourist card or visa, which JetBlue will sell upon check-in. Visas for business or media won’t be available at check-in. The health insurance coverage required by the Cuba government before entry will be included in JetBlue fares, Stewart says.
“We want to make it easier and remove the complexity for customers to travel to Cuba,” he says.
Ahead of its flights planned to Cuba later this year, Southwest kicked off its first international flight in early August with daily nonstop service to Nassau, Bahamas. Southwest is the third-busiest carrier at FLL with 18 percent of passenger traffic this year through June, according to airport records.
“This is just the beginning of an international future here for Southwest Airlines at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport,” said Steve Goldberg, vice president of ground operations at Southwest, during the airline’s celebration at FLL of its first international flight. “Soon we will serve from Fort Lauderdale three cities in Cuba – Havana, Varadero and Santa Clara.”
What’s the Deal with Cuba?
A Latin country with preserved, immaculate 16th-century Spanish colonial architecture, pristine sandy beaches, known for its finest cigars and rum – none other than Cuba.
Under the Obama administration, relations have been somewhat restored between the U.S. and Cuba, which means many Americans are able to travel to Cuba. So, pack your bags and head to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International? Not quite.
Cuban tourism remains technically banned; however, you can go if your travel falls under one of the government’s 12 categories. They mostly include travel such as family visits, governmental and certain export or other business work, public performances or sports, charitable or educational work or publishing, music or film. For the average tourist who isn’t going to, say, shoot a film or play an exhibition baseball game, there’s also a category for educational trips. One of the Obama administration’s biggest changes was doing away with the rule that “person to person” educational trips must be done with a licensed tour provider. Now you can go on an educational trip and essentially keep a diary of what you did and learned while in Cuba. Those book report skills you developed in elementary school? They could come in handy again.
Something for Everyone
Southwest is in command of the $295 million modernization and expansion of Terminal 1. It includes a new Concourse A with five international gates that will join its existing Concourses B and C, when completed in 2017. Concourse A will also have a new Customs and Border Protection inspection station as well as new restaurants and shops. A new security checkpoint will also give travelers access to all three concourses.
Since 2013, Norwegian Air Shuttle has offered flights to Europe from FLL. In August it added a Paris route to a European destination list that also includes London, Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm. Then last month the carrier announced its next destination, Barcelona; flights from FLL are scheduled to begin in August 2017. The carrier also plans to offer flights to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe beginning in December. Last year, Norwegian carried 191,464 passengers to and from FLL.
“The Fort Lauderdale airport is fantastic for airlines,” says Anders Lindstrom, U.S. director of communications for Norwegian. “The customer experience for international travel is more pleasant as compared to the airport in Miami, which is more congested. The Fort Lauderdale airport serves so many surrounding areas including Miami and West Palm Beach.”
Fort Lauderdale is considered an international destination with many foreign tourists visiting the city, McCaffrey says. “We have name recognition around the world even though Miami is our bigger sister to the south. Even though [tourists] may visit areas north or south, it is fantastic for Broward County because while they are here they are spending money.”
They can also spend money in Terminal 4, where the newly opened Concourse G is chock-full of amenities to accommodate travelers looking for dining, shopping and duty-free options. Gale says the expansion and improvements in Terminal 4, which opened in 1986, will allow the airport to provide a better “guest experience.” The project will also have eco-friendly restrooms as well as a new terrazzo floor and an interactive art wall. “Many airports are older and dated due to being built to a different standard in the 1980s,” Gale says. “[The improvements] give you the sense of traveling in a 21st-century airport.”
The improvements also make Broward County more attractive to travelers, McCaffrey says. “We have to have a competitive infrastructure to attract businesses and tourism, which is big for the county.” Travelers can enjoy an expanded concession area of 34,000 square feet with restaurants such as Casavana Cuba Cuisine, Desano Pizza and Bakery, Plane Box Food Co. and Zona Fresca. Coastal Expression, CNBC Smartshop, Shades of Time and Hoffman’s Chocolate are some of the retail stores where travelers can shop.
“We want to ensure we have a great mix of national and local brands at each terminal,” Gale says. “It is a balance of what people are used to seeing as they travel around the country and what Fort Lauderdale has to offer.”
The restaurant and retail options will also help the local economy by providing revenue to local businesses and allow Fort Lauderdale to challenge other area airports, McCaffrey says. “If we don’t have competitive amenities, people may use another airport like Miami or Palm Beach. We are really competitive with the newer terminals available at Miami airport.”
Travelers looking to plug in can find multiple charging stations for electronic devices such as smart phones and tablets. There is also free Wi-Fi.
A new terrazzo floor designed in the concourse and connector bridge will give travelers a sense of their location in the terminal, says Steve Wiesner, assistant aviation director. “lt is Sawgrass to Seagrass,” says Wiesner of the terrazzo floor. “It gives a sense of the colors from the Everglades to the ocean. Color fades near gates and becomes more intense near restaurants.”
In the international corridor, an interactive art wall, which will be 250 feet long and 10 feet tall, will light bays of glass based on computer sensors that monitor human presence and change colors and shapes accordingly to help create a relaxing atmosphere. The wall will become operational when the entire project is completed in 2018.
When construction is completed, Concourse G will offer 14 gates – 12 gates for international and domestic flights and two gates for domestic flights only. Five gates are currently open with the first phase completed. There will also be a connector bridge to Terminal 3, expected to be completed in November, that will allow international passengers to move between terminals to make connecting flights without having to exit and reenter security.
International travelers are expected to see reduced waiting times due to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection area doubling in size, airport officials say. In Terminal 4, a Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint has also been expanded from six to 10 lanes to reduce processing time.
Airport officials have also strived to make the improvements environmentally friendly. Rainwater and condensate from air conditioning units will be collected in two 35,000-gallon cisterns that are expected to reduce water usage by 40 percent, according to airport officials. A filtration system will clean the water for use in toilets, urinals and the cooling system. The water collected from the cisterns and efficient bathroom fixtures are expected to reduce flushing water use by 50 percent.
The rainwater collected is expected to reduce storm water runoff and provide four- to five-million gallons yearly for use. Condensate from the air conditioning is expected to provide an estimated 4.75 million gallons of water for use.
“We strive to be eco-friendly and reduce our carbon imprint,” Gale says.
Energy use is also expected to be reduced 16 percent through efficient lighting, air conditioning and building construction. Exterior concrete walls were designed with slanted windows to reduce heat load, air conditioning and electric use, Wiesner says. “The natural light allows us to reduce air conditioning and is expected to provide daylight to 90 percent of the building.”
Light-reflective materials were placed on the roof of the building to reduce heat gain and the need for cooling in the building, Wiesner says. More than 50 percent of the construction and demolition materials will also be recycled to save landfill space.
Overall, airport leaders believe continued growth and improvements at FLL will provide a bright future for a facility that continues to attract airlines and routes. “We will continue to grow and improve the airport to provide the best guest experience,” Gale says.
Beyond the Runway
There are also plans to offer more options for passengers traveling to and from FLL. Downtown Fort Lauderdale is one of four stops that Brightline, All Aboard Florida’s Miami-to-Orlando rail service, will eventually make. Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach’s stations are expected to open mid-year 2017, with the final stop at Orlando International Airport coming later the same year. The express trains are expected to make the trip from Miami to Orlando in three hours. Tri-Rail is also studying running trains on the South Florida portion of the line, which runs past the east side of FLL and lends itself naturally to a stop at the airport.
Fort Lauderdale’s planned streetcar system, The Wave, is also expected to impact travel to FLL. Breaking ground in Fort Lauderdale next year, The Wave will initially operate along a 2.8 mile loop downtown. Future expansions could bring passengers to several locations including FLL, Fort Lauderdale’s existing Tri-Rail and Amtrak train station near Broward Boulevard and Interstate 95, the Broward County Convention Center and Port Everglades.
“We have two potential rail connections that will touch the airport in the future and provide a multimodal environment,” Gale says. “Rail connection will only serve to enhance travel options to and from the airport.”