By Jacob Trasen / New Mexico News Port
The City of Albuquerque plans to renovate the Sunport in 2023, expanding the food court in order to accommodate passengers who are spending more time in the airport before their flights.
The project for New Mexico’s largest commercial airport has three goals, Sunport marketing coordinator Cassandra Scott told the News Port.
First, the airport will relocate the security checkpoint north toward the escalators and Tia Juanita’s restaurant.
That will allow Sunport to add 24% more space for shopping and dining post-security, “where passengers need it most,” Scott said.
People are now spending an average of 55 minutes in the airport after passing through TSA screening, significantly more time than they spent in the airport before 9/11, Scott said.
But Katya Crawford and Stephen Mora, professors at the University of New Mexico School of Architecture, said there are other ways to envision an airport renovation.
In a perfect world airports would include more natural light and outdoor spaces and make traveling easier, Crawford said. She proposed the notion of a “puppy therapy” location in the terminal.
The amount of space in an airport that is accessible after security screening, and off-limits to people who aren’t flying that day, has been growing steadily since 9/11, they said.
Now, Crawford and Mora said that they don’t even get out of their cars when a loved one arrives. There just isn’t enough space in the airport anymore that someone can go without entering security.
“Could we be the first airport to start to reduce that size?” Mora asked.
Mora also suggested that the best part of Sunport is its relatively small size and convenience.
“Food and all of these things are great amenities but, so far, the greatest amenity is just the ease of showing up and traveling when you’re ready,” Mora said.
The third element of the renovation will replace the lights with low-energy LED fixtures and modernize the heating, cooling and mechanical systems.
Even with all the changes, the feel of the airport should stay the same, Scott said.
“It’s been a main point, throughout the planning process, to maintain the same, consistent Southwest flair that the Sunport is known for.”
EllaKathryn Craig, a UNM student from Portland, flies through the Sunport about 20 times a year. Her initial reaction to the news about the renovation was concern about construction slowing things down.
“I can’t imagine them not closing stuff down during this major of a renovation,” Craig said.
The city plans to break the project into three stages over time. Although the project timeline is indefinite, there will be no interruption to service for passengers, Scott said.
Craig said she likes the unique New Mexican art that is displayed around the airport and is excited that they’re going to bring in local restaurants and retailers to keep that state feel.
The project has been in the planning phase for several years and the city is now accepting bids for construction services to begin next year, Scott said.
Jacob Trasen is a reporter for New Mexico News Port and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.