Terminal 2's final flight: Sky Harbor Airport passengers, employees mark the end of an era
The airline names on the signs for Terminal 2 have changed over the 58 years the building has served Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
TWA, Bonanza, Hughes AirWest and Western airlines were part of the dawn of the jet age yet are distant memories today.
Now, Terminal 2 takes its place with them in Phoenix history.
Its final flight, Alaska Airlines Flight 654, arrived 14 minutes early at 7:06 p.m. Tuesday.
Though passengers' heartfelt greetings and tearful goodbyes have stayed the same over the years, the terminal can't keep up with the changing demands of modern aviation. So, Terminal 2 will be torn down and on Tuesday night, the city held a celebration in the lobby to give employees and residents a chance to say goodbye.
Among the crowd on hand was skycap Lou Davis. The longest currently serving employee at Sky Harbor, Davis started work in 1962, the year Terminal 2 opened to the public.
"I hate to see it. I seen Number One shut down," said Davis, choking back a couple of tears as he stood with his family taking in the scene of the lobby bustling with people one last time. Sky Harbor Terminal 1 was torn down in 1991.
Davis moved to Terminal 3 this week and has no plans to retire even as he described the change as "hectic."
Alison Colvin-Prosnier came to say goodbye dressed in the spirit of 1960s air travel, wearing a vintage teal Jackie Kennedy-inspired two-piece suit. Her hair was pulled back into a cream pillbox hat with birdcage veil.
"It was always so convenient," she said. "The parking was convenient. The coziness of the lobby. It felt very right. It wasn't cold. So many other airports feel cold and this one felt welcoming and warm."
When Terminal 2 was cutting edge
Terminal 2 opened in 1962 as the East Terminal. It was designed with the emerging jet age in mind and was one of the most modern terminals of its era. The 330,000-square-foot midcentury modern building initially had 10 gates and an open-air patio with a reflecting pool and fountains.
Reflecting the contemporary decor of the era, Sputnik-style chandeliers hung in a lobby designed to hold 140 people. There were 30 payphones.
"Today, it boasts 19 gates and a whole lot of cellphones," Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego joked to the crowd during Tuesday's send-off celebration.
The year Terminal 2 opened, Sky Harbor set a record with 1 million passengers traveling through the airport.
Now, Phoenix's smallest terminal can't keep up with the needs of an airport that served 46 million passengers in 2019 and expects that number to grow by an additional 45 million in the next 20 years.
Airlines need to accommodate hundreds of passengers in the gate areas. They need to queue passengers waiting to board. They need gates that can adjust to handle the demands of a variety of large aircraft.
Passengers need to get through security smoothly, and they want places to eat, shop, sit and relax before a flight.
Sky Harbor addressed those needs when it remodeled Terminal 3 and added a new concourse. With the remaining Terminal 2 airlines moving to Terminal 3, the old terminal will close as Sky Harbor prepares to demolish the building as part of its 20-year plan.
Phoenix says goodbye to Terminal 2
When Terminal 2 was built, the airport predicted it would last until 2000. By that measure, the terminal is 20 years overdue for departure.
And consider that the City Council member who represents the district encompassing Sky Harbor is 20 years younger than Terminal 2.
"Most of our memories of the airport are welcoming family members, having members head out, watching families welcome home service men and women. We always have those warm feelings," Councilman Carlos Garcia said.
In late spring or summer, the airport will start tearing down the terminal but not before relocating the Paul Coze mural that hangs in the lobby. Made up of 52 elements plastered in large panels to the wall, the mural will be carefully dismantled and moved to the Rental Car Center for the public to enjoy.
Colvin-Prosnier wishes they could have preserved the terminal as well.
"I wish it had gone the way of the TWA terminal at JFK and restored and maybe turned into a hotel like they did with that one," Colvin-Prosnier said.
"But they didn't ask me," she joked.
Gallego wasn't surprised at the place Terminal 2 has in the hearts of travelers. She said that for many people Terminal 2 is where they first fell in love with Phoenix.
"People often use the word 'folksy' to describe Terminal 2, where you sort of feel like a small town family environment. Now we've transitioned to this modern global airport with international connections and it really symbolizes how much we've grown as a city," Gallego said.
Terminal 2's final flight
The final flight, Alaska Airlines Flight 654, arrived 14 minutes early. A crowd in the lobby high-fived and cheered each passenger who walked out of security, most unaware of the significance of the moment.
Karen Roberts was one of the many people with confused looks as she walked through the welcome. The Maricopa resident was returning from witnessing another monumental moment: the birth of her 10th grandchild.
She asked someone in the crowd what was going on.
"I made history," she exclaimed before becoming one of the last people to walk out Terminal 2's doors.
Facts about Terminal 2
- It opened in 1962 and cost $2.7 million to build.
- Originally called the East Terminal, it had 10 gates and 330,000 square feet of space. It later expanded to 19 gates. (Terminal 4 has 3.9 million square feet of space and 86 gates.)
- A 2007 renovation included a new security checkpoint, restaurants and shops.
- Artist Paul Coze was paid $10,000 for the mural "The Phoenix." The multimedia artwork would cost more than $1 million to construct today.
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