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Newark Airport isn’t known as the most desirable departure point, but United’s plans to overhaul its Terminal C hub aims to dissolve this negative perception as restaurants by dozens of celebrity chefs and 6,000 iPads step onto the scene.
Led by airport technology and design vendor OTG, Newark’s redesigned Terminal C will feature two dozen celebrity chef restaurant concepts and have iPads at 75% of the terminal’s gates — two hallmarks of the $120 million project.
About 45 of the new restaurants and retail markets will open during the next seven weeks in a transition program, and the full experience is expected to be phased in over the next 18 months, with the first permanent restaurants debuting summer 2015.
The new eateries list includes Saison, a French bistro by Alain Ducasse, and Tesori Italian Steakhouse by Mario Carbone.
This is all part of the larger game plan to make passengers want to show up to an airport early rather than feeling like they have to by offering ample diversity, OTG’s CEO Rick Blatstein said.
The upward trajectory of airport food quality demonstrates the industry’s effort to transform airports into destinations, similar to what airports outside of the United States have already done.
“We don’t look at the inside of airports as any different than locations on the street,” said Blatstein. “We serve from the same farms as the chefs, and one of the comments I always get is people don’t feel like they’re at airports because of all the smells going on.”
Passengers can use the iPads spread throughout each restaurant to pay for their meals using their United rewards miles or credit cards. When completed, this will be the first time passengers can pay for food, beverages and amenities in an airport using MileagePlus award miles.
“Newark’s Terminal C will have the first vegetarian restaurant anywhere inside of an airport,” said Blatstein. “There are so many emotions that happen at airports, from celebrations to sad goodbyes to friends having a beer at a bar and we need to cater to all of those occasions.”
The redesign’s tech component represents some industry firsts, including the massive number of iPads (equipped with 20 languages) available at most gates. By scanning a boarding pass on the iPads, passengers can track all aspects of their flight and the technology in turn keeps tabs on passengers’ boarding time.
For example, if a passenger wants to order food and their flight boards in 20 minutes, the system will alert the user that they may not have enough time to enjoy their meal, even though the service promises to deliver orders to passengers’ seats within 15 minutes.
Nearly 60 gate areas will have custom seating and tables, and travelers can use iPads throughout the terminal to also order an array of items from neck pillows to ear buds.
The system can refresh up to 400 iPads an hour, and the initial rollout of 1,000 iPads happens during the next seven weeks. The full terminal rollout will be completed in mid 2016.
“Only Apple beats us for having a larger collection of iPads in one place, this is the single largest customer-facing deployment of iPads in the world,” said Blatstein. “Gate areas are an airport’s largest piece of real estate, and this kind of personalization will get people to show up sooner, since desire equals demand, demand equals opportunity.”
Passengers will also have access to 10,000 outlets and USB interfaces accompanying the redesigned seating, along with complimentary Wi-Fi browsing.
“Our studies have shown that Newark is making progress when it comes to amenities, but only the kind of overhaul announced today will mean a true twenty-first century airport experience for millions of passengers,” said Joe Sitt, chairman and founder of Global Gateway Alliance.
United’s terminal redesign is “being made with our current operations in mind,” said United spokesperson Mary Clark, and there are no immediate plans to increase the number of daily departures or destinations United makes from Newark.
Currently, the airline makes 500 daily departures from the three New York City airports to more than 150 destinations worldwide.
Local artists’ works will be on display in the gate areas, as well as the main atrium that welcomes travelers as they come through security.