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McCarran’s T3 Departures & Arrivals: What to look for

DEPARTURES:

The important features visitors and locals will see as they depart from Las Vegas.

1. Until now, McCarran has always has always split its roadways, with departure traffic on the right side and arrivals to the left at several locations, depending on the type of vehicle. With Terminal 3, McCarran joins numerous large airports that have double-deck, or stacked, terminal roadways. Departures will take the top deck, called Level 2, and arrivals will begin their Las Vegas adventure from the ground level, or Level 0. Because airlines won’t have fixed gate assignments within the terminal, departing travelers will need to pay attention to the digital signs that mark their carrier’s location. No airlines will have gates in both T3 and T1, however.

2. Following widespread international practice, check-in counters will be shared by all airlines, with operations shifting as needed. Digital signs will show the current user.

3. Some travelers will be able to weigh their own bags and attach a bar code sticker. If the bag is overweight, the passenger can pay the extra fee on the spot with a credit or debit card. So far, only Canada’s WestJet and another, as-yet undisclosed, airline have signed up for this option, which includes boarding pass printouts.

Despite industry concern about errors by customers, McCarran officials say the system has worked well at other airports. After all, passengers have an interest in getting their bags to the right destination. McCarran officials note that airlines are often slow to adopt new technology. In 2005 McCarran started using baggage tags with radio-frequency identity tags, small computer chips that emit a signal, but few other airport have done so.

4. Only an airline employee can put bags on the conveyor belt, regardless of who applies the tag. That’s a Transportation Security Administration rule.

5. Security checkpoints will largely look and feel the same as in any other airport. Security will open with seven lanes, expanding to 14 by the end of the year, compared with 33 in three Terminal 1 locations. A PreCheck line, allowing passengers to skip some of the security procedures such as removing their shoes, in return for giving information about personal background and travel habits, will open in November. Alaska Airlines is the sole T3 carrier participating in McCarran’s PreCheck now, according to the TSA, but others could join.

6. After clearing security, passengers will turn left for international flights and right for most domestic travel. Read the digital signs: Airlines may shift locations.

Passengers on United or Hawaiian check in at T3 but go downstairs to catch a shuttle tram to gates on Concourse D.

7. T3 comes with a self-boarding system, allowing passengers to place bar-coded boarding passes on a reader and enter the jetway when the automatic gate opens. This would bypass the typical step of handing a boarding pass to a human gate agent. However, only one airline is expected to begin using the automatic gates later this year. "The carriers, particularly domestic, area bit slow on the tech side. But they will get there," Clark County Department of Aviation Director Randall Walker said.

McCarran tested self-boarding with Delta last year.

ARRIVALS:

The important features travelers may see as they arrive in Las Vegas.

1. Passengers might never notice it unless they have window seats, but the people on the ground waving orange sticks to guide a jet to the gate will be scarce. A laser-guided auto docking system will replace the crews, with all international carriers using it from opening day. Several of the domestic carriers are expected to opt in.

2. Domestic travelers go straight out the jetway and downstairs to claim baggage and exit the terminal.

3. International travelers will have to turn into a corridor, ride down an escalator and walk some distance to a new Customs and Boarder Protection facility on the east end of the ground level. All of T3’s international gates operate at once.

4. The passport check will be bigger, with 28 stations for officers instead of the 16 at Terminal 2. A Customs spokesman declined to disclose how many officers work at McCarran, but doubted the number would increase.

While standing in line, visitors can watch a video produced by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. In it, 15 people recite variations of "Welcome to my home, Las Vegas," in different languages.

5. Baggage claim, with carousels much the same as airports anywhere.

6. Vans, limos, or taxis will be available at curbside on the ground level, called Level 0. Traffic will flow to the east, between the terminal and parking garage, before making a U-turn for the Strip.

7. Escalators and elevators to Level 1, where three pedestrian bridges link to the eight-story, 5,954-space parking garage. Drivers can enter the garage at the bridge level, pick up a passenger and drive. No charge unless they park for more than 15 minutes in the short-term lot.

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