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A look into the new concourse at Memphis International Airport

Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 5:23 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Mid-South flyers who use the Memphis International Airport will soon experience what’s taken over 3 years to accomplish, a brand-new concourse.

Action News 5 was given an inside look at the soon-to-open passenger area, formerly Concourse B, and if you’ve flown with MEM you’re likely to agree this is a major upgrade.

“The old airport, built decades ago, we had low ceilings; it was kind of dark. You can see all of that is remedied here,” said Glen Thomas, MEM’s Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications.

The project highlights include more space to move: higher ceilings, larger gate areas and wider corridors -- almost double the width of the old B Concourse -- and moving walkways.

There’s increased natural lighting, with smart glass that raises tint with a rising level of sunlight.

Every chair has a charging station for electronics.

The ambiance is one centered around Memphis culture, with a stage for live music in the rotunda and some local restaurants and marketplaces staking a claim in the concourse’s retail/restaurant property.

There are 61 different artworks representing 62 artists, all of which are from or connected to Memphis.

There’s even a special lounge area for St. Jude families.

All told, the project is $245 million, none of it from local tax dollars, and Thomas feels it’s an investment that will pay for itself, as the airport eyes to take in new airlines and an increase in passengers.

“Operational efficiency is something that attracts, you know, helps attract the airlines,” Thomas said. “Of course, by and large, passenger demand is going to be the overriding factor, but we also want the airline, one, to have it be affordable for them to operate here and also for it to be efficient.”

According to Thomas, travel at MEM is 90% of what is was in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, but business travel hasn’t fully rebounded.

When that happens, the airport could be in store for record travel numbers, and Thomas hopes the concourse will be ready to open.

The Y-shaped concourse will start with 23 gates, using the stem and southeast leg,

This will be able to accommodate around 6 million passengers, 50% more air traffic than MEM’s pre-pandemic levels, Thomas says.

Supply chain and COVID-19 issues have hindered the concourse’s opening, though.

Thomas says some of the restaurants don’t have things like water heaters, and the operation areas underneath the main concourse area, used by airline staff, are having trouble getting doors and door frames of all things.

Through all of that, even though the airport will not confirm an open date at this time, Thomas is hoping for an early 2022 opening to the public.

“To see it being realized, I think, is very gratifying for our employees,” Thomas said.

Once the concourse is opened, it will simply become “the” concourse for MEM, as Concourses A and C will be closed but will be retained for possible reuse.

Thomas said the end of C Concourse will be removed to help with traffic efficiency to and from the new concourse.

The other leg of the new concourse, the southwest leg, will be used for customs and international arrived flights, but Thomas says long-term there could be 15 more gates added, which would increase MEM’s capacity to 11 million annual passengers.

Ticketing and check-in will still take place in the A, B and C Terminals at the main entrance.

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