Visting the unopened Berlin Brandenburg Airport

Visitors on the BER tour can stand on the unused runway.

The highlight of my late June visit to the unopened and much-delayed Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport was racing down a runway as a passenger in a tour bus going more than 60 miles per hour.

It was also one of the saddest parts of the tour.

That’s because due to technical glitches, cost overruns, corruption and project mismanagement, tour buses – not airplanes – are likely the only vehicles that will be barreling down the BER runways for quite some time.


Under construction since 2006, Berlin’s much-needed new airport was designed to serve 27 million passengers, with an initial opening target date of late 2011. That date was pushed back to June 3, 2012, and, despite trial runs during which the airport authority did tests of the baggage carousels, check-in desks and security checkpoints, and simulated what it termed “all imaginable scenarios,” a problem with the airport’s fire safety and suppression system was discovered.

With just four weeks’ notice, opening day was called off.

Since then multiple target dates for a new opening day – six or seven, it’s hard to keep count – have come and gone. Now all the company managing the project will say is that “an opening date is expected to be announced at the end of the year.”

BER Airport is waiting to open

2016 has been bandied about as the next possible opening date, but additional problems and embarrassing operational revelations keep cropping up.

In May, there was an announcement of a suspected corruption case involving bribes for the awarding of contracts.

In early June, there was out-of court settlement between the airport management company and airberlin, the major tenant at Berlin’s outdated Tegel Airport, over claims the airline felt it was due because of delays in the switchover. And at the end of June it was revealed that the engineer responsible for designing the new airport’s fire safety system was in fact just a draftsman, not a real engineer, and had been fired.

Despite – perhaps because of – the delays and the unfolding issues, there is a steady stream of people eager to pay 10 euros – about $13.60 – to go on the “BER Experience” bus tour, which is offered four days a week, in German only. (A two-hour bike tour of the airport grounds – about $20, including a box lunch – is offered on weekends as well.)

Besides showing off any progress, one reason the airport authority offers BER tours “is because it’s important that people don’t only read about the airport in the newspaper and see the reports on TV,” said Lars Wagner, Berlin Brandenburg Airport spokesman.

Viewing Tower for visitors at Berlin Brandburg Airport.

Tour buses stop first at a 105-foot-tall observation tower offering a bird’s-eye view of the unopened airport terminal, the unused runways, empty parking lots and assorted other facilities-in-waiting. At the bottom of the tower is an airport information center, with a scale model of the airport and a glass cabinet of souvenirs emblazoned with the BER logo.


The staff on duty the day I visited said they don’t sell many of these souvenirs to tourists and they seemed amused when I wanted to purchasing some BER T-shirts, baseball caps, tote bags, inflatable beach balls and plastic lunch boxes.

Our tour bus then drove slowly past quiet office, cargo and airport security facilities and by the railway station, where empty trains run each day to make sure systems remain working. Photo ops of the front of the main terminal building were only offered from inside the bus, but the terminal’s glass façade offered a glimpse of “The Magic Carpet,” by Pae White. The large, red work of art, one of several pieces specially-commissioned for the airport, hovers over the check-in lobby.

Datumsangabe unsicher. EXIF-Daten entfernt.

Out back, the bus pulled up at BER’s one A380-compatible gate, which has a jet bridge draped with Olaf Nicolai’s “Gadget,” a piece of art that looks like a string of giant pop beads and is designed to change colors to match those of the livery of the airplane at the gate.

Gadget, by Olaf Nicolai, is one of the artpieces comissioned for the BER airport.  (1)

Tour goers were allowed off the bus here and invited up a set of not-quite-finished stairs for a look at a gate area where seats were installed, but still wrapped in plastic, and ceiling panels gaped open.

“It’s not unusual for big projects like this to be over budget,” said Johann Bammann, a retired architect whose tour ticket was a gift from a friend. But delays are dragging on too long, he said, and “it’s time for the city to have a new front door.”

After a stop near the control tower, the bus made that dash down the runway, stopping to let passengers out to run around and pose for photos.

“It’s just unbelievable. I can’t understand why it’s taking such a long time to open this airport,” said Barbel Liedtke, a former Berlin-based Pan Am Airlines employee taking the tour with a friend.

“But I’m sure there are a lot people to blame.”

(My story about visiting the unopened Berlin Brandenburg Airport first appeared on USA Today)

Countdown to opening of Heathrow T2

London’s Heathrow Airport is putting finishing touches on T2 – The Queen’s Terminal – which is set for a soft opening on June 4th with the arrival of the first United Airlines flight.

Her Majesty the Queen will be on hand to cut the ribbon and officially open the terminal on June 23rd and by November all 23 of the Star Alliance airlines, as well as Aer Lingus,Virgin Atlantic Little Red and Germanwings carriers, will be operating out of this building.

Heathrow Terminal

As you might imagine, Star Alliance officials are tickled about the project and on Wednesday they led a group of journalists through the terminal. And, as a treat, building architect Luis Vidal, who suggests the building be considered a “destination” rather than a “terminal,” was on hand to share some of his thinking behind the design focused on an improved passenger experience and point out some of his favorite features.

“The building and the roof guide you towards the plane and encompass three defined spaces, the last of which is the idea of the plaza,” said Vidal. There, “the roof seems to vanish as you look up and see what the weather is outside and you are free to rest, read, shop, dine, work – whatever you want to do.”

Luis vida

The last time I passed through the building, just about a month ago, the spaces for the shops, restaurants and amenities were empty. But now inventory is being put on store shelves, severs are being put through their paces in the restaurants and amenities, such as banks of terminals offering free internet, are being installed.

cath kitson


yo sushi

please respect

Opening day: San Diego Int’l Airport expanded Terminal 2

The expanded Terminal 2 at San Diego International Airport (SAN) becomes operational today – August 13, 2013 – offering travelers a faster, smoother and far more amenity-rich trip from the curb to their flights.

San Diego lobby photo T2

Dubbed “The Green Build” in reference to it’s focus on the environment, the transformed Terminal 2 is opening on schedule and, at $907 million, $45 million under budget with all the latest in sustainable features, including solar panels, reflective roofs and parking spaces with chargers for up to 40 electric vehicles.

“We’ve added a lot of new features that business travelers, especially, will appreciate” said airport spokeswoman Katie Jones, “including separate arrival and departure roadways and 27 curbside self-service check-in kiosks under a canopy out front.”

SAN does not yet participate in the TSA’s PreCheck program offering expedited passage through security, but with a possible 12 lanes (up from 6) at the checkpoint, “there will be shorter lines everywhere,” she said.

Inside the terminal, travelers will find 10 new gates, $6 million worth of fresh art and at least 800 new seats equipped with cup holders, power outlets and USB ports.

San Diego Airport new seats

Club lounges for United and Delta Air Lines, each with a view of the airfield, are a floor above Sunset Cove, the greatly expanded concessions area. For those traveling with their pets, there’s also an indoor pet-relief area with faux grass and a red hydrant by Gate 46.

Dining options include Saffron, Bubbles Seafood & Wine Bar, Seaside Stack Shack, Stone Brewing Co., Phil’s BBQ and the first Jack in the Box to open in an airport. New service and retail outlets include branches of the Be Relax Spa and Warwick’s of La Jolla, a locally-owned bookstore.

United Airlines, which was operating out of Terminal 1, has moved its operations over to Terminal 2, but unfortunately, passengers flying on airlines that currently use the Commuter Terminal or Terminal 1 (Alaska Airlines/Horizon Airlines and Southwest) won’t have access to the new Terminal 2 amenities.

“But those terminals will be getting some upgrades and new concessions as well,” said Jones.

Now Boarding: exhibit about airports at Denver Art Museum

If you find yourself with some time to spend in Denver, then head over to the Denver Art Museum to see Now Boarding: Fentress Architects + the Architecture of Flight, a multi-media exhibition about the past, present and future of airport design on view through through October 7, 2012.

Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado, 1991–95. Photograph of curtainwall (interior). Photograph by Timothy Hursley ©.

Six airports designed by Denver-based Fentress Architects are featured: Denver International Airport, Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport; Norman Mineta San José International Airport, Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina and Los Angeles International Airport.

“Throughout Now Boarding, visitors will see how airport design has been shaped by world events, from the “heroic” era of the early 20th century to the “democratic” era of the ‘70s and ’80s. The final leg of the journey acquaints visitors with the airport of the future.”