A rising tide of foreign travelers is driving several multimillion-dollar upgrades at McCarran International Airport's Terminal 2, including expanded ticketing areas, dining options and a high-tech baggage screening system.
"International traffic has been increasing, and with some of those carriers we're talking big (Boeing) 747-400s that hold 460 passengers on full flights," Doris Diaz, who manages the terminal for the Clark County Aviation Department, said Wednesday. "These changes will let us accommodate a lot more people than we could in (the current) smaller area."
The terminal's $3 million expansion will add just 4,000 square feet to its current 183,000, but Diaz said a new design will use floor space much more efficiently. Several offices will be moved to the second floor, allowing ground-level ticketing counters to be repositioned so passengers can queue more easily.
"There have been times, particularly in the fall when the charters are full, when we were so busy that people have had to wait in lines outdoors," Diaz said. "We're confident that's not going to happen anymore."
Work began about six months ago and is scheduled to wrap up next spring, she added.
Terminal 2, which is a few hundred feet north of McCarran's main building, has its own baggage-claim area and a U.S. Customs checkpoint to process foreign passengers who use its 16 international carriers that include Japan Airlines, Mexicana, Philippine Airlines and England's Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Though it's commonly called McCarran's international terminal, Terminal 2 also houses six domestic carriers including Hawaiian Airlines and Indianapolis-based ATA Airlines.
Through July, Terminal 2 had processed nearly 1.7 million arriving and departing travelers, or about 7 percent of McCarran's seven-month total of 24 million.
That percentage could soon increase. On Oct. 31, another big foreign carrier, bmi, will begin thrice-weekly service to Manchester, England, and separately, Virgin plans to increase its schedule to five weekly flights next summer. The reconfigured terminal will be especially valuable then, Diaz said, considering those two airlines will on some days have flights within an hour of each other.
McCarran recently rearranged Terminal 2's gates to host up to four international flights at once. Four other gates are used exclusively for U.S. flights that require less passenger isolation than passport-sensitive overseas journeys.
Some overseas flights may eventually be shifted to McCarran's planned Terminal 3 when it opens about five years from now, but that project has been delayed so often it was prudent to renovate the airport's existing international services, Diaz said. Terminal 2's customs area was upgraded two years ago.
Separately, airport concessionaire HMS Host is spending $16 million to upgrade food and dining amenities airportwide, including next year's planned debut of AbsolutVegas Bar at Terminal 2.
"(The boarding area) is the last thing people see before they leave town. We want them to walk away with a good impression," Diaz said.
North of Terminal 2, the aviation department is also building an in-line baggage screening system that will speed the check-in process by automatically screening all checked luggage for explosives before it's loaded onto aircraft.
Terminal 2's system, which will cost about $19 million, will come on line in next spring.