Portland International Jetport upgrade taking off: A look behind the $75M facelift

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PORTLAND — On Oct. 2, the Portland International Jetport will officially unveil Phase 1 of its new self, a sleek, modern airport addition with soaring ceilings and tons of glass.

Among the new offerings: Travelers who don’t check their bags will be able to walk seamlessly from the parking garage to the airport (so seamlessly it can’t rightfully be called a tunnel), right through security and to their gate.

More: Travelers will be able to get ice-packed lobsters to go and families will be able to drop off visiting Aunt Edna more easily.    

There will even be mood lighting.

It’s not your parents’ Jetport.

Although Phase 2 won’t finish until February, it’s this first-phase opening that will begin to change the way people in southern Maine travel. Starting next Sunday, the public can enter a different way. Travelers will go through security a different way and some will start dealing with baggage in a different way. Big changes for the state’s biggest airport.

What you should know

Currently, the Portland Jetport has 150,000 square feet of space, with six ticket counters downstairs and, upstairs, seven gates and a small security screening area.

The $75 million expansion project ($66 million funded from the $4.50 user fee on each ticket and $9 million from the federal government for an advanced baggage system) adds a 137,000-square-foot, three-level section to the airport, nearly doubling the size. 

When construction is complete in February:

• All ticket counters will move to the ground floor of the new section.

• All departure gates will remain on the second floor, with three new gates added to the second floor of the new section. (The Jetport can also add a fourth gate immediately and has room to add others later should another airline want to operate out of the airport.)

• Security will move to the more spacious third floor of the new section.

So, for the typical traveler with checked luggage, the new configuration, when completed in February, will mean checking in at the new ticket counter at ground level, taking a staircase, escalator or elevator to the new third floor for security, then going down to the second-floor gates for departure. 

There will be other changes too, including:

• Separate traffic lanes dividing drivers who are dropping off travelers from those who are parking or picking up new arrivals from the baggage claim area.

When construction is complete in February, the right lanes will be reserved for dropping off passengers, while the left lanes will be reserved for picking up arriving travelers or parking.

(Between Oct. 2 and February 2012, the right lane will be reserved for dropping off only JetBlue and U.S. Airways passengers; all other traffic will use the left lane. If you’re dropping off grandma for her Delta flight to Florida, don’t worry. The left lane will still allow you to drop her off at the curb.)

• In addition to the ground-level entrance into the terminal, passengers will also be able to walk directly into the airport from the third floor of the parking garage. That entrance will be on the same level as gate security, allowing travelers with only carry-on luggage to park their cars, walk into the airport, pick up a boarding pass at a nearby kiosk and go through security screening, all within steps.

• An additional security screening lane (from four lanes to five), plus additional equipment and space for screenings.The airport will now have a dedicated area for screened travelers to put on their shoes, gather belongings and place laptops back in their cases.

“What I call the recombobulation area,” said Paul Bradbury, airport director.

By the end of October the Jetport will also have for the first time three full-body scanners. The scanners will show shapes, but provide no enhanced image.

• Separate flow lanes within the airport for arriving and departing passengers, so arriving passengers don’t get tangled in security checkpoint lines and departing passengers don’t get confused about where they should go.  

• A new way to deal with checked luggage. Currently, travelers must schlep checked bags from the ticket counter to a security agent after check-in. Once construction is finished, checked luggage will be taken immediately by ticket agents; travelers will no longer be responsible for delivering their bags to a security agent.

(Between Oct. 2 and February, only US Airways and JetBlue ticket counters will be in the new location and only their passengers will follow the new luggage procedure. All other airlines – Air Canada, Air Tran, Continental, Delta and United – will move to the new location and offer the new procedure in February.)


Built in 1968 and renovated twice, the Jetport’s terminal has historically been a standard commercial building mix of carpet, tile and concrete walls. The design for the addition: granite, wood and lots and lots of glass. 

It’s sleek. It’s modern. It’s memorable. (At least airport leaders hope so.)

“We are selling Portland, Maine, as a destination,” Bradbury said. “Some of the architecture we looked at was Commercial Street, downtown Portland. When you go into what are now cafes, but used to be former ship buildings for handling all the materials coming in for the merchant industry, (there are) big robust wood beams.  So this (design) tried to speak to it. … The old terminal was tinted glass, white precast (concrete), it could have been Miami. This really is speaking to Maine.”

But the glass – both inside and out – is more than a marketing ploy or pretty design. It’s also a navigational tool for confused and harried travelers.

Once the addition opens in October, airline passengers will be able to see into and around the massive new building. Each section allows passengers to view the next: when you drive up, you can see the ticketing area; when you enter the third level of the addition from the garage, you can see security; when you go through security, you can see the departure gates.   

Special features

Not excited about the split traffic lanes? Couldn’t care less about the larger security area? All that glass leaves you cold? There are other special features you might be interested in.

Mood lighting anyone?

On the wall high above the new ticketing area, hundreds of tiny LED lights will sparkle purple, green and other colors chosen for the season. It’s decoration. Mostly.  

“I promise you there will not be a lot of reds, because red’s an anxiety mood. There will be a lot of blues and greens,” said Gregory Hughes, airport marketing manager. “I think reds in an airport is a little risky.”

If pretty colored lights aren’t your thing, maybe history will be. High above the entrance to security, the Jetport has stationed “Antoinette,” a mock-up of an early 1900s plane courtesy of the Owls Head Transportation Museum. The old wooden plane – whose hull was capable of floating, making it part boat – was the height of technology in its era.

“It almost made it across the English channel,” Bradbury said.  

For those travelers who want something more functional than decorative, you can’t get much more useful than a water bottle filler. Located both in the current and new gate areas, the special water bottle stations are designed to allow travelers to fill their water bottles without the splash and hassle of filling up at a water fountain. And without the expense of buying $2 bottled water every time Junior gets thirsty.

The Jetport will also expand its restaurant offerings, with Great American Bagel coming to the current gate area and a food court coming to the new gate area, complete with Starbucks, Burger King and Linda Bean’s, a restaurant that also offers live lobster packed to go for passengers waiting to board a plane.

If your young traveler would rather play with a crustacean than eat one, Linda Bean’s will also feature a touch tank – think petting zoo for sea creatures – though it’s unclear whether the sea life will be fully touchable in the wake of concerns about water on the new airport floor. 

Shipyard Brewing will stay in the current gate area.

All restaurants will open with Phase 1 on Oct. 2.  Maine retail stores Cool As A Moose and DownEast will open in a single space in the new gate area in December.

For those concerned more about the environment than dinner, the Jetport has created environmentally friendly features, including a massive geothermal heating and cooling system with 120 thermal wells drilled 500 feet deep. The goal: save 50,000 gallons of oil a year.

To show its commitment to the environment, the airport is planning to apply for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certification. Jetport leaders know of only one other airport that has LEED gold, in San Francisco.

Making the project green takes both time and investment. But airport leaders believe it will pay off in lower operating costs and a better environment

“If a project like the Jetport doesn’t do it,” Bradbury said, “who will?”

Lindsay Tice is a staff writer at the Sun Journal in Lewiston.

Sidebar Elements

The Portland Jetport expansion adds, among other things, three new gates, geothermal heating and cooling, a new food court, and new traffic patternsPortland International Jetport Director Paul Bradbury, left, speaks about the new baggage handling system being installed as part of the airport expansion during a recent tour with airport marketing manager Greg Hughes. Phase 1 of the renovations with be opening Oct. 2 and Phase 2 will be completed in February 2012.
Ceilings soar in the new Jetport terminal area, where passengers will move from security upstairs to three new gates downstairs.

See for yourself

If you’re not flying any time soon, but you want to check out what the Portland International Jetport expansion has to offer, the airport will host an open house from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 1. For virtual tours of the Jetport expansion, travel flow and more, visit www.portlandjetport.org.