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"A little love" for Terminal F at Phila. airport: More upgrades are planned

Businessman Thomas Bennett did not relish taking a shuttle bus from Terminal C, where he flew in from Pittsburgh, to connect to a flight in Terminal F, at the other end of Philadelphia International Airport.

Businessman Thomas Bennett did not relish taking a shuttle bus from Terminal C, where he flew in from Pittsburgh, to connect to a flight in Terminal F, at the other end of Philadelphia International Airport.

Especially in the rain.

"I would put a cover where the bus drop is here," Bennett said the other day, as he waited in busy Terminal F to board a commuter jet to Manchester, N.H.

Bennett, who clocks 100 to 150 flights a year, gives the Philadelphia airport a general thumbs-up.

But, he said, "if you are talking specifically about F Terminal, it seems a little distant, and it needs a little love."

Love is just what the commuter Terminal F is getting: a $127 million expansion and makeover aimed at making travel easier and more fun.

Soon, those inclement weather days will be over for Bennett and the 4.9 million other travelers who fly each year on small planes into or out of the 38-gate commuter terminal.

Terminal F is getting a new, larger shuttle bus stop with a covered vestibule. Passengers won't have to step into rain or snow when connecting by bus to other terminals.

And passengers may rejoice that, inside, the terminal is getting twice as many restaurants and concessions, more passenger seating, and an expanded security checkpoint to accommodate the crowds.

The improvements are unrelated to a long-term $6.4 billion airport proposal that calls for a fifth runway along the Delaware River. US Airways is acting as construction manager of the Terminal F redesign, which will be completed in early 2016 and financed by fees charged to airlines.

One-sixth of the Philadelphia airport's 31 million annual passengers start or end trips in Terminal F, which was designed in the late 1990s for smaller 30- and 50-seat regional jets.

When the $98 million terminal opened in 2001, US Airways Group Inc. flew 175 daily Express flights out of it. Today, US Airways operates 275 daily Express flights and uses all 38 gates.

When 50-seat jets were in fashion, fuel was $1 a gallon. "Now at $4 a gallon that changes the economics," said Rhett Workman, US Airways managing director of corporate real estate. Delta Air Lines recently announced plans to shed 218 50-seat jets.

"Regional jets are not going away," said aviation consultant Michael Boyd in Evergreen, Colo. "We are just going to have bigger airplanes."

As US Airways expanded in Philadelphia, its second-largest hub and primary international hub, more "feeder" traffic has come into Terminal F.

Gates rejiggered

With planes fuller, and the increase in flights, "we started to outgrow or stretch the capacity of the existing terminal," said Keith Brune, the airport's deputy director for operations and facilities.

Construction is under way to enlarge the center "hub" in F Terminal that connects three concourses, doubling the number of restaurants and retail shops, and adding passenger seating. The eateries and concessions will open in phases, some before Thanksgiving, and more next July 1, including a swank tavern that will feature celebrity chef Jose Garces as a consultant. All concessions will be open by September 2013.

In addition to 60,000 square feet of additional retail offerings, including a food court similar to what's in Terminals B and C, a new baggage-claim building will be constructed next to the E-F parking garage - where other terminal bag claims are - on the arrivals road.

Security screening in F Terminal will move to where the baggage claim is now. The existing two screening lanes will be expanded to four.

Walls will be pushed out at the end of Concourses 2 and 3 to expand passenger waiting areas. Aircraft gates will be rejiggered to accommodate larger jets that seat 70, 90, and 100 passengers.

The pedestrian walkway that connects Terminals F and E will be put behind security.

Passengers, for the first time, will be able to go though security once and walk the length of the airport, from Terminal F to the international terminal, A-West.

The public should welcome relocation of the bag-claim carousels. Terminal F has confused passengers since its opening because the baggage claim is near the ticket counter, on the departures road - not on the arrivals where families expect to meet travelers.

There have been instances where passengers have been unable to connect with the folks picking them up. A passenger will stand on the curb outside baggage claim and the person picking him or her up is on the arrivals side.

Then, there are passengers, and employees, who grab their bags and run across five lanes of traffic to the garages, which is unsafe.

With the renovation, passengers will not easily be able to walk out of F Terminal onto the departures road.

"When you walk out of the concourse, you will have to go up, either an escalator or an elevator, to the mezzanine level," Workman said. "Once you are on the mezzanine level, you will have two choices - turn left and walk down the secure connector [corridor] to Concourse E. Or exit through two sets of security exit doors that will feed you into the skywalk going across to the bag-claim facility."

"It will be mandated, when you walk out of that F Concourse, you will have to go up. It won't be an option."

Up to now, there has been no taxi stand at Terminal F - much to the chagrin of many travelers. When the new bag-claim building opens in 2014, taxis will be "staged" at F as they are at the other terminals, said Michael Williams, airport ground transportation manager for Parkway Corp. "Taxis will be there," he said.

Pairing celebrity chefs with food and drink in airports has been the brainchild of Rick Blatstein, of Philadelphia's OTG Management.

OTG has paired well-known chefs in passenger terminals for JetBlue Airways and Delta at New York's JFK and LaGuardia airports, and airports in Toronto and Minneapolis.

The tavern in Terminal F will lean toward comfort food "with a Jose Garces twist," said Blatstein.

At every seat will be an Apple iPad to order food, surf the Web, check flight times. Every table and bar stool will have a place to plug in and charge up: a 110-volt outlet and a USB port. Sixty brands of beers will be available and an "extensive" wine list, said Blatstein, who on Christmas Eve 1996 opened Jet Rock Bar & Grill at the Philadelphia airport.

OTG's first celebrity chef was Michael Schulson (Sampan, Izakaya at the Borgata in Atlantic City) who helped create Sky Asian Bistro in Philadelphia airport's Terminal C. Schulson also worked with OTG at JFK airport in JetBlue's Terminal 5.

'A root canal'

"When you fly a lot you see people sitting in these chairs, lined up like they are getting ready to go get a root canal," Blatstein said. "It should be fun."

The retail offerings in F will be a mix of Philadelphia and national brands, including the Re:Vive sports bar, Philly Pretzel Factory, XpresSpa, Tobu Japanese restaurant, a sunglass company, jeweler, and electronics store, as well as Chipotle, LeBus Bakery and La Colombe Coffee, a yet-to-be named "well-known" Philadelphia cheesesteak operator and "a burger concept," said James Tyrrell, the city's deputy aviation director for property and business development. "We're talking to companies like Five Guys, 500 Degrees, Smashburger."

Tyrrell said retail sales were projected to grow from $15 million to nearly $23 million a year when all the shops open.

On the mezzanine level will be "break" rooms for flight crews and gate agents, and a US Airways club for frequent fliers. Terminal F will have a two-story wall of windows overlooking the airfield.

"Chef Jose Garces looks forward to working with OTG as a consulting chef as this project moves forward," said spokeswoman Clare Pelino. The airport eatery will not be a Garces Group restaurant. He will be a consultant, she said.

"All our chefs will be trained in his restaurants. He'll be intimately involved in all the menus, and making sure that we are executing properly," Blatstein said. "We do have to live up to his name, and we hold that in very high esteem."