Orange Coast Magazine - John Wayne Airport

Flying Higher

A third terminal, international flights and customs, streamlined boarding, smarter parking--and Zov's. The two-year, $540 million upgrade to John Wayne Airport gives travelers more great reasons to avoid the mess at LAX.

By Scott Christian / Illustration by John Ritter

In his movies, the Duke is larger than life. Bold. Heroic. The genuine article. So it’s understandable that when the new-and-improved John Wayne Airport premieres this month, travelers may be excused if they swagger. It’s better. And bigger.

The 282,000-square-foot expansion—that’s Terminal C, the largest of the three—brings the size of the Thomas F. Riley Terminal to 730,500 square feet, or about half the size of Fashion Island.

Given the increasing demand for air travel into and out of John Wayne, the extra space was needed. More passengers are served per gate here than at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport. The county’s current agreement with Newport Beach to balance growth with the impact on the community and the environment allows 10.3 million passengers to pass through John Wayne this year, nearly 2 million more than the pact that expired in 2005.

Because of the airport’s limited 500-acre site, planning and executing the ambitious two-year, $540 million project was a tight squeeze. “It was more about rearranging than anything,” says airport director Alan L. Murphy.

From the moment you arrive, you’ll see the difference.

All three parking structures have been outfitted with PARCS—that’s the Parking Access and Revenue Control System—which tells you how many spaces are available and where they are. An additional 2,200 spaces also should reduce the number of car-stalking drivers wanting to claim your spot. And at the new garage, the one adjacent to Terminal C, look for a pay-on-foot machine so you can pay before you return to your car, then make a clean getaway.

Once inside the terminal, get your boarding pass at any of the self-serve kiosks. Formerly run by individual airlines, they’re now universal, which means you can go directly to your gate and skip the pit stop at your carrier’s counter.

Arrive early? Enjoy a glass of wine at Vino Volo, lunch at O.C. fave Zov’s, a frank with the works at Jerry’s Wood-Fired Dogs, or some light reading from the all-new CNBC News Express. And when it’s time to check your flight schedule, no more squinting at those flickering 1970s monitors—they’ve all been replaced with high-def flat screens. Boarding is done across new jet bridges.

With the addition of Terminal C and a customs area, Gates 12 and 13 will now serve as international gates. Because of its short runway—the airport can handle no passenger planes larger than a 757—John Wayne will never be a full international facility, but WestJet already has begun daily service to Calgary and Vancouver, and Alaska Airlines flights to Mexico may be on the way. Plus, Terminal C’s baggage carousel can be used for domestic arrivals when schedules allow.

Now with three terminals instead of two, and 26 commercial gates instead of 17, three new commuter gates, an expanded roster of first-class food choices, streamlined boarding, and more and “smarter” parking at John Wayne, why would anyone want to use LAX?

This feature story also includes:

A terminal map

Recommended holiday vacations

A list of direct flights

Best bets for airport food

Airport art galleries

Movies filmed at the airport

and more!

To read the full story, order a print or digital copy of the November issue here.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Orange Coast magazine.

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