Fly the Friendly NOLA Skies
MSY connects the Crescent City to the world.
New Orleans has long been a tourist mecca for both American and international visitors. In 2019, more than 19 million people visited the city. Airports serve as an introduction to a visitor’s experience in a city and can set the tone for the trip to follow. A top-notch destination deserves a top-notch airport, and on November 6, 2019, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) opened its new terminal on Loyola Drive in Kenner. After surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more visitors are being introduced to this Crescent City gem.
“Completing the new $1 billion, 35-gate terminal facility at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is a major source of pride,” said Kevin Dolliole, Director of Aviation for Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. “It drastically improved the first thing visitors see when they arrive in New Orleans.”
Airport officials aren’t the only ones singing the praises of the new terminal. It has won awards from many publications and organizations. It won Best Large Airport in North America from J.D. Power’s 2021 North America Airport Satisfaction Study, Best Airport in North America (5-15 million passengers) from Airports Council International World’s 2021-22 ASQ Program, Best Overall Concessions Program, Best Concessions Program Design and Best Local-Inspired Restaurant (Emeril’s Table) for the 2023 Airport Experience Awards (medium/small airports division), Best Hygiene Measures in North America for Airports Council International World’s 2020-21 ASQ program and Most Efficient Airport in North America (among those serving 5-15 million passengers per year) for the Air Transport Research Society and Fastest Airport Pickup for Uber in 2022.
The new terminal, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli, features abundant natural light and open spaces. It stretches over 987,000 square feet and three concourses. From a square footage perspective, the new terminal is smaller than the old one, but architects wanted to create a more streamlined, efficient experience for travelers. There are a wide variety of shopping and dining options including local eateries like Emeril’s Table, Ye Olde College Inn, Lucky Dogs, MoPho, Angelo Brocato, and Dook’s Burgers as well as popular chain options like Chick-fil-A, Shake Shack, Chili’s, and Starbucks. There are also local clothing merchants like Fleurty Girl and Dirty Coast.
In the old terminal, there were separate security checkpoints for each concourse. So, if a traveler was leaving out of one concourse, but their favorite restaurant was in another concourse, they were out of luck. But the new terminal features a single security checkpoint, so no matter what concourse a traveler’s flight departs from they can enjoy any of the dining or shopping options in the airport.
While the excitement was tangible when the new terminal opened in November 2019, the airport immediately faced a potentially devastating challenge when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, dramatically curbing all air travel. But MSY was able to continue its critical operations as a transportation asset for the region. To keep things running safely and smoothly, the airport launched MSY Travel Ready in June 2020, a strategic and comprehensive plan to outline safety precautions which included promoting physical distancing through additional signage throughout the terminal, frequent sanitization, installation of plexiglass barriers, and requiring face coverings for everyone.
Dolliolle said that flight operations were significantly impacted, reaching its low in April 2020. But by the end of 2022, passenger activity was at 87% of 2019’s levels. By the end of 2023, MSY expects to meet 2019 levels of activity.
In recent years, international flights have increased at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. GNO Inc. has played an important role in securing those flights, something GNO Inc.’s president and CEO Michael Hecht is very proud of. British Airways reintroduced direct flights from New Orleans to London in 2017 after three years of GNO Inc. presenting data and developing relationships with the airline.
“We had to convince British Airways there was enough business and leisure demand,” Hecht said.
Hecht said a challenge in bringing international flights back to New Orleans was convincing the city was fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina. He said as recently as 2015 he heard people say they thought parts of New Orleans were still devastated from the 2005 levee failures during Katrina.
“The images and misconceptions about Katrina were pervasive and persistent,” Hecht said.
Having direct connections abroad means international travelers can shorten their travel days by not having to connect through busy airports like JFK, O’Hare, or Hartsfield. Other direct international flights from the airport include ones to Montreal and Cancun. The hope remains that even more international flights will be added to MSY’s repertoire in the near future. Hecht said they are currently lobbying for Air France to bring direct flights from New Orleans to Paris for 2024-25. A direct flight to and from Istanbul from Turkish Airways is also a goal for MSY.
“The airport is consistently working to analyze demand in the market for both domestic and international flights and make the case to airlines that can offer new service,” Dolliole said. “Having international service allows us to connect more and more people from around the world to everything New Orleans has to offer.”
It is not just international carriers that are attracted to the new terminal. Breeze Airways set up its operations in New Orleans. Breeze is a low-cost airline that provides direct routes to secondary airline markets like Raleigh, Little Rock, Providence, and Jacksonville. Hecht noted Breeze’s arrival brings well-paying maintenance and repair jobs to the Crescent City.
Hecht said GNO Inc. is also working to support efforts to redevelop the old terminal for commercial and airport-related uses (e.g. logistics, office space), such as the three new lounges (United, Delta, and The Club at MSY), which are used heavily by business travelers. They have also helped put up messaging in the airport alerting visitors to all the New Orleans area has to offer, including some less common sights like the space rocket assembly facility in Michoud.
Dolliole said the airport appreciates the contributions of GNO Inc.
“The key for our growth at MSY is collaboration and partnership, and GNO Inc. has been there with us every step of the way to ensure we are putting our best foot forward. They have been a valuable partner in ensuring that the New Orleans market remains innovative and competitive, which ultimately leads to increased demand for flights to and from MSY,” Dolliole said.
Looking at future developments, locals await the opening of the Interstate-10 flyover ramp to connect drivers to the new terminal. The Louisiana Department of Transportation Development expects the project to be partially complete by fall 2023 and fully complete by early 2024. When completed, westbound drivers on I-10 will be able to reach the airport via a flyover lane and another flyover lane will service drivers leaving the airport toward New Orleans. A diverging diamond interchange will be built below the flyover lanes at Loyola Avenue and Veterans Boulevard.
There are other exciting future developments for MSY as well. Airport officials are currently working on a master plan to outline the next 20 years of development for the facility.
“The priority for the plan is to provide a road map for efficiently meeting the airport’s aeronautical needs through the foreseeable future while preserving the flexibility necessary to respond to changing industry conditions,” Dolliole said.
There is also a passenger rail line connecting New Orleans and Baton Rouge under development. An important aspect of this service would be a stop at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. The airport’s InterCity Rail Connector Project will provide a connection for the last mile from the new rail stop at the south side of the airport to the existing passenger terminal on the north. There will also be an intermodal station and an automated people mover (APM) to transport the rail commuters back and forth. The APM will also connect to the south airport campus where economy parking, employee parking, and rental car facilities are located. The intermodal station will also serve as a bus transit hub, which will provide affordable travel options to MSY for disadvantaged communities who live near the airport and along the rail corridor.
“This project will provide improved connectivity for passengers, employees, and residents among other economic and environmental benefits,” Dolliole said, “and is a critical element of the next phase of MSY expansion.”