Sarah McKeon, Port Authority New Jersey airports general manager explains the newest feature at Newark Airport’s terminal A, a 1,000 square foot sensory lounge for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders. It provides a calming oasis from the noise and visual stimulation of the airport.
A year ago, Port Authority officials opened Newark Airport’s new $2.7 billion Terminal A to travelers, which had been pushed back from a planned December opening
Now, the 1 million-square-foot terminal marked its first anniversary with some smashed records.
On Friday, the Port Authority announced record-breaking passenger volumes both at the terminal and Newark Airport in general last year. Yes, there was also a birthday cake in the shape of a large letter A, created by Newark baker Tonnie’s Minis.
Despite not having all its gates open a year ago, Terminal A had 15 million passengers use it in its first year of operation, 5 million more than the 50-year-old terminal it replaced, which was 10% higher than officials projected, said Kevin O’Toole, the Port Authority Board of Commissioners chairman, at a Friday morning ceremony.
A birthday cake for Newark Airport’s Terminal A opened one year ago on Jan.12 was commemorated with announcement that a record number of passengers used it in 2023.
“It’s handled an amazing amount of passengers and cargo,” O’Toole said.
The east and south wings of the main terminal building, consisting of 21 gates, opened to the public on Jan. 12, 2023, followed by the remaining 12 gates and the south wing in August.
This year’s prediction: The terminal could easily handle 20 million passengers, said Rick Cotton, Port Authority executive director.
Officials hinted at what’s to come, with a Newark Airport vision plan expected later this year.
“Terminal B is on the way, the vision plan is on the way, a new Air Train is on the way, it’s coming together, O’Toole said.
Since the opening a year ago, the terminal has added United Airlines 15,000-square-foot United Club in Terminal A that opened on June 28 and Delta’s 7,000-square-foot Sky Club and American Airlines Admiral’s Club.
The terminal’s newest feature is a 1,000-square-foot sensory lounge opened last month for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders that provides an oasis from the noise and visual stimulation of the airport.
Located near TSA security checkpoints, the sensory lounge was built by Port Authority maintenance workers after design firm PGAL’s design was certified by the Anderson Center for Autism. The authority working on a second complementary sensory room in the same terminal on the other side of security checkpoints.
“It’s intended to be a quiet place that’s separate from the rest of departures level. It’s a place where people with sensory challenges including autism, can come and regroup,” said Sarah McKeon, general manager of the authority’s New Jersey Airports.
The room offers an escape from the bright lights, crowds and noise of the rest of the airport, with subdued lighting, nise baffling, and other calming features.
“This can be an overwhelming experience for anybody,” McKeon said of pre-travel check -n and security screening.
The sensory room features two large fish tanks “with multiple saltwater fish for people to look at and enjoy,” she said. “There are water tubes that bubble and make a pleasant background noise. There is a Himalayan salt wall like what you’d see in a spa.”
Similar to the rest of the terminal’s New Jersey themes, the sensory room also uses carpeting that evokes the color of a river, a sandy beach, and a grassy knoll, McKeon said.
Seating ranges from cushions that look like pebbles smoothed by a river or the ocean, in varying sizes to hard benches
“There are multiple places to sit soft surfaces, hard surfaces for people who might need to feel a bit grounded,” v said.
Through the TSA Cares program, travelers who make reservations through that program at least 72 hours before traveling for an expedited security process from the pre-security sensory room with a TSA officer who has received training. That program limits time spent in the public security screening checkpoints, which can be overwhelming.
Plans call for that process to end in the second sensory room to be located after checkpoints. In addition to similar calming features, this room features a mockup of aircraft seating to allow travelers with challenges to get familiar with the space they’ll be traveling in before boarding aircraft.
Still to come is the opening of the terminals biggest and poshest lounge, the American Express 17,000 square feet Centurion Lounge, which is scheduled to open in 2026.
O’Toole praised cotton for “calling an audible” to revise the terminal’s design to make it more accessible to travelers, with a parking garage a walk way via a pedestrian bridge in addition to bus access and video signs at arrival and departure levels to make navigation easier.
“The vision was world class,” Cotton said.That has been backed up by awards the new terminal has won. In December, Terminal A was awarded a 2023 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Prix Versailles Special Prize for the terminal’s exterior, reflecting the building’s distinctive architecture.O’Toole recalled
Terminal A also was named as one of three finalists for “Best New Terminal in the World” as part of Skytrax’s World Airport Awards, it received LEED gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, considered an international symbol of environmental responsibility. Terminal A was also named the 2023 Project of the Year by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in New Jersey.
The new 1-million-square-foot Terminal A was ceremonially opened on Nov. 15 at a ribbon cutting ceremony with Gov. Phil Murphy and other dignitaries. Besides being larger than the old terminal by 400,000-square-feet, the new building featured local Jersey centric art, interior themes and decor that stressed that the airport is in New Jersey, not New York.