Why Miami International Airport Should Build A Grand Departure Hall On Underutilized Land

Here’s our idea on how Miami International Airport can solve multiple issues it faces in a single shot, helping to improve the passenger experience.

We love MIA for its convenient location and incredible lineup of flights to North America, South America and Europe. That said, the facility leaves much to be desired. Many of these issues stem for poor planning and design. They include:

  • The check in areas in both the North Terminal and the Central Terminal are relatively small, overcrowded, with low ceilings and the ambience of a bus terminal.
  • Domestic baggage claim areas in all terminals are even worse, with ceilings so low that anyone of average height can reach up and touch them. Those same low ceilings and cramped quarters are also found at two of the international arrivals areas.
  • TSA checkpoints in the North Terminal are flawed in design and are regularly backed up.
  • Long walks from the Miami Intermodal Center – millions of MIA passengers who rent cars or use rail or bus connections are forced to walk as much as a mile (no exaggeration) to and from their gate. Part of the problem stems from a cost-cutting decision last decade to shorten the route of the MIA Mover train that arrives from the MIC, which adds a long walk through sweltering walkways without air conditioning.
  • Car traffic on both the arrival and departure levels is regularly backed up and chaotic due to poor design and overcapacity.
  • Lack of retail and restaurant space – especially in the check in areas and throughout the Central Terminal, is still a problem.
  • Customer service – whether from TSA, airline employees, or CBP, is a serious problem (although there are many workers at the airport who do provide excellent service). It is especially embarrassing since it is the first thing many tourists experience when they land in Miami. Working conditions might be partially to blame, since customer service generally seems to be worse here than almost anywhere else in the city.
  • Poor Maintenance – leaky roofs, broken elevators and escalators, air conditioners that are too cold or too hot, clocks showing the wrong time, and departure boards too small to display flights more than an hour or two out are the norm.
  • Overcrowded premium lounges – most of the premium lounges are overcrowded, including both North and South Terminals (some are now being expanded).
  • The only in-terminal hotel looks like a prison.

How to solve these problems: Aviation officials are now considering developing a 400-room hotel in three possible locations on airport grounds, either through a public-private partnership or by issuing bonds.

Instead, the airport should consider building a grand Hong Kong-style check-in, baggage claim, and retail hall, on underutilized land in front of the Central Terminal currently occupied by short term parking. The new building should also include both the hotel and enough retail space that a private developer could partially or completely fund construction of the entire space.

The new facility would help shorten and break up long walks with baggage from the MIC, since check in and baggage claim would be right at the entrance to the MIA Mover train station. Car traffic could also be redesigned and better engineered for drop off at the new building.

New retail, terminal, and lounge space could be built in the area freed up from the existing check in area. TSA checkpoints could be redesigned properly within the new building or in existing space. And of course, the new hotel could get built too.

A modern new facility might also result in cheerier airport workers and better maintenance.

Unknown is whether the retail and hotel expansion would be enough for a private developer to entirely fund the new facility, but even if not it could be a worthy project.

Miami has as bright a future as any city in America, and deserves an airport to match. Regardless of what happens with this development, lets stop the haphazard piecemeal planning at MIA and start thinking big for the future – including real expansion of terminal space.

 

The check in hall at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport:

 

The long walkways currently used by passengers using the Miami Intermodal center, with the hotel in background. The airport should consider building a new departure hall with retail, hotel and check in areas to replace the 1-story short term parking lot below:

MIA’s international arrival and baggage claim on the ground floor, featuring low ceilings:

The crowded North Terminal check-in area is relatively new but still cramped, poorly designed, and lacking retail: