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First flights takeoff from new Salt Lake City International Airport

The first phase of the new Salt Lake City International Airport opened Tuesday morning. A new study from the U.S. Department of Defense and United Airlines suggests the risk of COVID-19 transmission is "virtually nonexistent" when passengers are wearing face masks on planes. (PHOTO: Courtesy of KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — It’s a morning that many officials and passengers have been anticipating for years. After decades of planning, six years of construction and $4.1-billion-dollars, the first flights from the new Salt Lake City International Airport departed Tuesday morning.

Early birds catch the first flights

Some of the first passengers into the new airport were rushing through security to make it to their flights on time, while others showed up hours in advance to take it all in. 

“We have like four hours. We showed up early, deliberately, to walk through the airport,” said one traveler on his way to St. George, Utah. 

Airport officials are urging everyone who is flying out of the new airport for the first time to arrive early. They’re hoping to mitigate any potential confusion, even though signage is already in place to direct travelers.

“This day has been years in the making,” said Bill Wyatt, executive director. “To say we are excited to be here today is an understatement. After six years of construction and many more years of planning, we are proud to open the first new U.S. hub airport in the 21st Century.”

Some of the new features opening today include a new parking garage, gateway center and central terminal. The parking garage comes with 3,600 parking stalls and a camera-based sensor system that uses lights to indicate where open spots are located. The new parking garage also contains 56 stalls specifically to charge electric vehicles. 

Another component being highlighted is a new, expanded baggage system. Officials say the system travels 7 miles and includes ski-specific luggage handlers. 

Departing with Delta

Concourse A-West opens in the first phase, which has 25 Delta gates and six international gates.

A Delta flight bound for Atlanta was the new airport’s first departure.

In about six weeks, Concourse B-West will also open, which features 20 gates for Alaska, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United Airlines.

Salt Lake City is set to replace Denver’s International Airport, which opened in 1995, as the U.S.’s newest large hub airport built from scratch. The new Salt Lake Airport cost $4.1 billion to construct, although zero local tax dollars were spent.

In addition to the expansive baggage system, the new building features 32 moving walkways, 70 passenger gates and over 76,000 square feet of concession space.