Eating options highlight Phila. airport's revamped Terminal F

Posted: November 04, 2013

Airport dining fare used to be rubbery hot dogs, stale sandwiches, and greasy fast food. No longer.

With the opening of 20 new shops and restaurants in Philadelphia International Airport's busy Terminal F, travelers can now get a shower, a haircut, fancy eye cream and lotions, and they can dine on burritos, gourmet burgers, sushi and noodles, roast Brussels sprouts, duck-fat fries, and grilled salmon.

One in six of the airport's 31 million annual passengers starts or ends his or her trip at one of Terminal F's 38 gates.

At the Local tavern, where celebrity chef Jose Garces consulted on the menu and helped train the staff, patrons can order food, 60 brands of beer, and 30 wines from iPads - in 20 languages - at every seat.

They can surf the Web, check e-mail and their flights, and play games. Noa Lindsey, 7, from Brooklyn, was playing Hangman on an iPad last week.

"I like it!" said the third grader, looking around the 60,000 square feet of retail offerings, including a food court with seating for 200, that opened to the public Thursday.

"When we walked in, I thought it was really cool because I saw all these iPad screens," said her mother, Bridgett Lindsey, 43. "For an airport, the food court is really great. It's light and airy, not like a normal airport food court. It's a nice experience when you have to be in an airport for a long period of time."

Kate Shannon and Michael Geddes, from New Brunswick, Canada, used an iPad to book a hotel in Bangor, Maine.

"It was more convenient than using my phone," said Kate Shannon, 32. "We walked around and checked out a few stores. There's actually a lot of stuff in here."

The $127 million redesign of Terminal F, which caters to commuter jets and 275 US Airways Express flights a day, will open in stages.

Still to be fixed are problems some Terminal F travelers find most vexing. They still have to go through security to walk to another terminal. There is no Terminal F taxi stand. And the terminal's baggage-claim area is adjacent to the airport road for departing flights (a source of confusion for drivers on the hunt to meet arriving passengers).

The next phase of construction - slated for completion in 2016 - will include a new bag-claim building on the arrivals road, with a taxi stand, extra security screening lanes, and a corridor linking Terminal F to the rest of the airport behind security.

Pairing celebrity chefs with food and drink in airports has been the brainchild of Philadelphia's OTG Management, which joined forces with Garces, who modeled the airport eatery after his Village Whiskey restaurant at 20th and Sansom Streets.

'Ingredients first'

"We thought an American menu would translate well across many different boundaries," said Garces, whose Garces Group operates 15 restaurants in Philadelphia and elsewhere. It is his first involvement in an airport.

"We held a job fair in Philly with OTG to help get the right personnel there who can translate our product to the airport," Garces said. "The ingredients first; that was the inspiration for Local."

OTG has paired big-name chefs in passenger terminals for JetBlue Airways and Delta at New York's JFK and La Guardia airports, and airports in Toronto and Minneapolis.

Gary Lustgarten, traveling with his wife, Jean, from Portland, Maine, to St. Michaels on the Chesapeake, said the iPads and food made for "a very novel, very exciting restaurant, and a lot of fun."

What did they eat? "Philly cheesesteaks! We're in Philly," said Jean Lustgarten. "I love also that you can charge your electronics here while you are having lunch."

Local and national

The retail offerings in F are a mix of Philadelphia and national brands, including Re:vive bar and restaurant, Philly Pretzel Factory, XpresSpa, Far East sushi, noodles and rice, Solstice sunglass company, Fire & Ice jeweler, Sound Balance electronics, as well as Chipotle, LeBus Bakery, and La Colombe coffee, Smashburger, Tony Luke's, Sbarro, Red Mango yogurt and smoothies, Au Bon Pain, and Kiehl's apothecary, said James Tyrrell, the city's deputy aviation director of property and business development.

A larger shuttle bus stop at F Terminal has a covered vestibule so passengers do not have to step into rain or snow when connecting by bus to other terminals.

On the mezzanine level, a refurbished US Airways Club for frequent fliers has opened, along with new flight crew, customer service, and ramp agent break rooms and lounges.

The food court, similar to offerings in Terminals B and C, faces a two-story glass wall to the airfield. On the glass is a map of the Delaware River and the airport.

"It feels like a much bigger terminal now," said Rhett Workman, US Airways managing director of corporate real estate. "All the temporary space we took for various support services has been turned back to the public."

The last phase of the F redesign - which is unrelated to a longer-term $5.2 billion airport expansion - will be to push out the end of Concourses 2 and 3 and rejigger gates to accommodate larger jets that seat 70 to 100 passengers.

That step is on hold until the outcome of the proposed US Airways-American Airlines merger, Workman said. "Trying to anticipate our future fleet requirements is a little challenging with the merger going on."

Terminal F was designed in the late 1990s for smaller 30- and 50-seat regional jets. With higher fuel prices, airlines are shedding 50-seat jets in favor of bigger airplanes.

"A lot of our Express jet contracts are up for renewal in 2015," Workman said. "At some point, we are going to need to change the aircraft gauge [size] capability at F Terminal. I see the project gathering steam once the merger closes in January."


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