It's spacious, airy and as big as some regional airports. It can be accessed via three security entrances with multiple lines each. And when its dining and retail operations open later this winter, Miami International Airport's new South Terminal -- linking new Concourse J and renovated Concourse H -- will offer a Corona Cantina, Bongos, Nathan's Famous Hotdogs, L'Occitane, Navarro pharmacy and several sunglass shops.
What it won't have any time soon: Free laptop charging stations similar to those at Orlando's new airport terminal, free wireless, restaurants from celebrity chefs and benches suitable for sacking out when weather backs up flights across the country. More amenities will come in the future, said Max Fajado, assistant aviation director. But for the long-delayed, over-budget $1.1 billion terminal, he said, ''the priority was to get this open,'' so that construction on the new North Terminal could proceed toward it's 2011 completion schedule.
Officially opened last fall, the South Terminal continues the visual upgrade brought by the handsome -- but currently closed -- Concourse A that opened in the mid-1990s. Soaring spaces, wide corridors and floor-to-ceiling windows put the new terminal visually in the same league as those in Boston, New York and Hong Kong.
Shaped to resemble an aircraft wing, the South Terminal presents a smart, semi-industrial edge softened by abstract photographic murals of blades of grass -- part of Foreverglades, an art installation by Miami artist Barbara Neijna that includes text from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas' River of Grass embedded in the terazzo floors. Ghost Palms, by artist Norie Sato, consists of five artworks of irridescent glass combined with window architecture at five points along the concourse. And in the international greeting lobby, artist Brad Goldberg has created Coral Eden, a pair of 90-foot-high stone walls crafted in travertine to resemble brain coral patterns. In addition, rotating exhibition spaces are located on the third and fourth levels.
Until shops and dining facilities open in the next few months, it will be difficult to know just how well the new facilities work for customers. Currently in place:
Generous seating throughout Concourse J. Seats are separated by metal armrests, so you won't be taking any vertical naps in them.
A limited number of benches just beyond security so you can sit while you pull on your shoes. More are on the way.
Colorful benches in public areas outside security.
Two shrink-wrap stations in the check-in lobby.
Low ceilings in the baggage pick-up area (Shaq, beware.)
A bus station for cruise ships.
About 350 short-term parking spaces across from the terminal.
As for laptop charging stations, those are under consideration, says Fajardo. ''Trends are changing; we're just trying to keep up,'' he said, noting that the South Terminal was designed a decade ago.
Don't expect free wireless any time soon though, says airport Internet technology chief Maurice Jenkins. Building and maintaining the network comes at a price, and in MIA's tight times, charging $6.95 per hour for wireless was a business decision. While many airports offer the service for free, others -- including Atlanta and New York's JFK -- charge.
Some benefits of the new terminal -- increased efficiency, and the ability to handle more passengers -- won't kick in until the North Terminal opens in 2011, said Fajardo. At that point, more than 60 percent of passengers will be handled in the North Terminal, with 25 percent in the South Terminal and the remainder in the old, central buildings.
''So far, so good,'' said Fajardo. ``People are reacting positively to the building itself. We're just looking at improving it more and more every day.''