Salt Lake’s airport strives to be accessible for all flyers

Jul 27, 2023, 12:00 PM

The people behind the Salt Lake airport's new design always wanted it to be accessible....

The new Salt Lake airport was built to be more accessible to people of all abilities. (Michael Camit/KSL NewsRadio)

(Michael Camit/KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY — Airport renovation is a decades-long process. However, planners bringing the Salt Lake City International Airport into the 21st century have never forgotten Utah’s disabled fliers — striving to make it accessible for all. 

Playing the long game

I’m in the beehive that is the TSA checkpoint of the new Salt Lake airport. Agents pat down my wheelchair, and soon enough I re-join my hosts underneath the flowing Narrows-like decor of the main plaza.

“We have been planning this new airport since the 1990s,” said Nancy Volmer. “It was part of our master plan.”

Volmer is the airport’s Director of Communication and Marketing. The ‘masterplan’ to rebuild the entire airport survived 9/11’s fallout, the great recession and a worldwide pandemic. Joining Volmer is Mark Cheminant, the airport’s main Americans with Disabilities coordinator.

Their vision is a beautiful airport giving travelers a taste of Utah while accommodating disabled flyers.

Intentional thought to make Salt Lake’s airport accessible

Flying in a wheelchair is hard. There are long distances between gates, limited handicap facilities and arduous boarding processes. Airlines are primarily responsible for the third point, but Volmer and Cheminant have worked hard to address the first two.

“The terminal’s designed to be very wide open,” Cheminant explains. “You’re experiencing the flat, smooth floors versus carpets, ramps, step-downs, things like that.”

The wide and clutter-free Delta check-in counters at Salt Lake City International Airport (Michael Camit, KSL NewsRadio)

I never needed to push my wheelchair up a single ramp the whole way.

“A lot of intentional thought went into the accessible design,” Cheminant continues.

I can see how they built around that. I don’t have to roll a marathon to make it to a handicapped restroom from any gate. You can even request adult changing stations if you need them.

Other features to make the Salt Lake airport accessible are on the way. The hike to Concourse B will pass faster when a new central tunnel opens in October 2024. That route will be even more accommodating when a train is added to reach Concourse C. There are also services for sensory disabilities and plans to add special rooms for people with neurodivergence.

Being a part of the adventure

As the airport’s expanded, handicap accommodations have grown in request. Cheminant tells me meeting those needs makes for a fulfilling career.

“Once we’re in the new facility,” Cheminant says, “I think it’ll be a whole different and much more user-friendly experience for everybody, able-bodied or not.”

“Family members are coming together,” Volmer adds, “And we’re making that happen.”

For them, a completed airport is a gathering place for a community.

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Salt Lake’s airport strives to be accessible for all flyers