San Francisco Airport Debuts Stylish Terminal Renovation, With Celebrity Star Power

SAN FRANCISCO -- The reopening of Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is 14 years and $380 million dollars in the making, and marks a big departure from typical airport terminals. It's more like walking into the lobby of your favorite hip hotel, and indeed you may hope your flight is delayed so as to enjoy the spa, boutiques, and restaurants that go to great lengths to promote the region.

“Everyone deserves a first class meal,” says celebrity chef Tyler Florence, who’s opening Rotisserie & Wine just behind Gate 51, his fourth Bay Area restaurant in less than a year. As a dozen chicken’s roasted behind him, Florence said travelers to San Francisco have come to expect great cuisine. “There’s a lot of generic experiences out there, and when you have 45 minutes to wait, you can come here and have a really great dinner that showcases the world class flavors of Northern California for about the same price as a bad plate of nachos somewhere else.”

T2, built in 1954, is today one of the most modern in the world, with 640,000 square feet of eco-friendly engineering, stylish furniture, upscale dining, hydration stations to refill water bottles, and even a stress-free relaxation lounge just past security. Airport and airline officials hope these amenities will transform the flying experience, which many people have come to dread, and encourage people to fly more -- at least on American Airlines, or Virgin America, as this is their terminal. If you have a ticket to fly on another airline, you cannot get into T2.

The terminal doesn't open to the public for another week, but today's media preview included a press conference with Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, and Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson. These aviation rock stars don't normally appear at terminal openings, but Virgin America is headquartered at SFO and had a hand in the design of the terminal, which explains why it has the feel of a Virgin jet, complete with sleek furnishing and signature mood lighting.

"If you've got a beautiful terminal, and the airline you're getting onto is equally as nice, then you've got a completely seamless travel experience, then I think people will change airlines more and make an effort (to fly on American or Virgin America Airlines)," Branson says.

Today's media event celebrated the evolution of flight when Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnight-2 made its first landing at an international airport. It's a double-hulled aircraft with a rocket that drops down from the middle, and is touted as the world's first commercial space vehicle. Branson says it should be passenger ready in about 18 months, carrying those who can afford it into sub-orbital space, to experience five minutes of weightlessness and a rare view of the earth.

For most people who've come to dread the idea of having to fly anywhere, airport officials hope this stylish terminal will change their mind. Similar remodels are also in the works at other U.S. airports, including Los Angeles and Philadelphia.