The $1B airport terminal: Sacramento's sparkling upgrade

— -- On October 6, seven airlines began serving passengers from a new $1 billion terminal at Sacramento International Airport. The new Central Terminal B, which replaces a worn, 44 year-old terminal slated for demolition, is actually two buildings: a soaring, glass-and-steel landside terminal with floor to ceiling windows, and an impressive, T-shaped, airside concourse with 19 gates.

The airlines operating in Central Terminal B are Aeromexico, Alaska/Horizon, American, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Southwest. Delta, United/Continental and US Airways now operate out of Terminal A.

If your travels take you to the new terminal at Sacramento International Airport, here's what you'll find:

A sleek people-mover, with departures every two minutes, whisks passengers back and forth between the two buildings in just 45 seconds.

In addition to free Wi-Fi throughout the new terminal, the airside terminal offers pod-seating with plenty of built-in electrical outlets and USB plugs. The concourse is also dotted with banks of seats equipped with built-in cup holders.

Outside, just beyond the south end of the landside terminal, there's a nine-acre park with walking paths planted with native, drought-tolerant plants and trees designed to evoke the farmland, rivers and fields of the surrounding landscape. It's a great spot to get some fresh air, a bit of exercise and a good look at the new building.

Inside the terminal, passengers will find a large ticket lobby with common-use kiosks and - if they look up - a ceiling that incorporates strips of redwood reclaimed from a bridge that once stood in Sacramento County. Impossible to miss from pretty much anywhere in the pre-security part of the terminal is a giant, 56-foot-long, aluminum red rabbit suspended from the ceiling. Created by Lawrence Argent, the artist who did the 40-foot blue bear that appears to be peering into the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, the big red bunny in "Leap" is frozen in mid-jump on a trajectory leading right into a giant suitcase below. The suitcase has a vortex-like hole in it that is, apparently, the entrance-point for the rabbit, but visitors have already begun filling the vortex with coins, as if it were a wishing well.

In addition to a landside branch of the local and much-loved Old Soul Company bakery and coffee shop, the landside terminal offers several other dining and retail options, plus some additional treats. There's a small, tucked-away "Quiet Room" with a single, wavy bench facing a softly-lit blue wall. There's also a giant artwork by Christain Moeller that includes two 75-by-12-foot wood panels depicting the real faces of a half-dozen baggage handlers working at the airport. Elsewhere, there are colorful mosaics in the floor and, on the outside of the elevator shafts, animated scenery. And more than a dozen teak rocking chairs offer a comfortable place to wait for the meeters and greeters waiting on the transfer level for passengers arriving via the people-mover.

Travelers heading out to the concourse will be met by Mildred Howard's 17-foot-tall, house-shaped, walk-through glass sculpture and, just beyond the security checkpoint, a crystal-encrusted chandelier by Donald Lipski in the shape of a Valley Oak tree. An 8-foot tall, French horn-shaped sculpture in the food court doubles as an interactive sound installation by Living Lenses (Louise Bertelsen and Po Shu Wang). Words typed into a computer keyboard embedded in the sculpture will be transformed into sounds.

There will eventually be 14 public art pieces in the new terminal. $6 million was budgeted for art inside the new terminal, with $2 million of that set aside for maintenance and conservation of the artworks, including two which have not yet been installed.

Post-security retail outlets include branches of Brighton, Brookstone, InMotion and Lacoste, with Visions of Eden (gifts and accessories) and Good Day Sacramento (news, sundries) offering a bit of local flavor. The Massage Bar, which currently has an outlet in Terminal A, will provide seated- and foot-massage services, including its popular discounted "Happy Hour," in the new Central Terminal B as well.

Dining options in the new terminal range from national chains such as Vino Volo and Famous Famiglia to local branches of Jack's Urban Eats, Dos Coyotes Border Grill, Burgers and Brews and Cafeteria 15L. Downtown Sacramento's popular Esquire Grill will be the one fine-dining restaurant with table service at the airport.

In addition to offering a shiny new front door to the city, the new terminal at Sacramento International Airport is also providing some new jobs. A few days before opening, the newly-hired team of the airport's branch of Famous Famiglia Pizzeria was being put through their paces. Company co-founder John Kolaj had flown in to help with training and the employees were practicing making pizzas, garlic knots and strombolis and serving them - for free - to workers putting the finishing touches on the terminal.

I asked the two young men cutting up pizzas if they were experienced at that task. 19 year-old Brandon Avelar said he was learning the skill for the first time. "Not only that," he said proudly, "This is my first job!"

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Harriet Baskas writes about travel etiquette for and is the author of the airport guidebook Stuck at the Airport and a blog of the same name.