People used to build things—tables, houses, the Pyramids—so they could survive anything man or nature threw at them. The new Chinese-built terminal at V.C. Bird International Airport (ANU), which I just toured, is designed that way, too, but with cutting-edge technology. Here are 10 things agents should know when booking clients to or through Antigua.
- “We can process travelers more efficiently than in the past,” said Colin C. James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, whom I visited Aug. 21. That’s a good thing, because as James explained, “V.C. Bird handled about 800,000 passengers in 2014, 550,000 of whom used our airport as a hub for visiting other islands.” These aren’t people who want to waste time standing in lines. Now they won’t.
- “VCBIA has a very sharp passenger peak between noon and 4 p.m., primarily on Saturdays,” said Airport Authority CEO Stanley Smith. This entire facility is designed to serve that peak.
- Everything is faster: Immigration processing in the old terminal took 2.5 minutes per passenger; simulation studies of the new terminal have that down to 20-30 seconds. How’d they do that? The terminal is twice as large as the old one and has more immigration desks, airbridges (four versus none), and self-check-in kiosks (15 versus none). The VIP Fast Track Service and Signature Antigua are also critical because Antigua and Barbuda is a “‘front end of the airplane cabin’ destination,” CEO James told me. (To that end, the new Executive Lounge is a beauty.)
- Thanks to four elevators and other features, the terminal is accessible to the physically challenged. (FYI, it also has four escalators.)
- The facility is pet-friendly, too: There’s a pet rest room.
- The baggage sorting and handling systems are the most advanced in the Caribbean. Probably beyond the Caribbean, too.
- Whereas the old terminal didn’t have any full-service restaurants, the new one does. It has informal food kiosks, too.
- Everything from check-in to the boarding areas is indoors and air-conditioned, which was not the case with the old terminal.
- The new tiered WiFi service reminds me of my one big complaint about the new building: It doesn’t have nearly enough outlets for mobile devices. An airport executive assured me that they will eventually add more, but I would advise clients to carry a portable charger.
- “If you build it, they will come,” declared Prime Minister Gaston Browne at the opening ceremonies. “They” can refer to airlines flying new routes to Antigua (e.g. on Nov. 5 JetBlue will initiate three weekly nonstops from JFK), passengers transiting to other islands, stay-over visitors, and new/expanded accommodations. “Antigua and Barbuda currently has 3,500 rooms, 2,700 of which are really sellable. Projects scheduled for the next 24 months will double our room stock,” said James. (One of the developers is actor Robert De Niro.)
My takeaway: VCBIA is suddenly so much more comfortable and efficient that, despite its already having been such a major airport, it will soon be even more important.