A look inside SFO's new Terminal 2 (photos)

A few days before its grand opening, CNET takes a walk through the revamped and Earth-friendly Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport.

Kent German
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
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Terminal 2

San Francisco International Airport (SF0) held a community open house today for its remodeled Terminal 2. Sitting at the center of the airport's main core just below the control tower, the 14-gate, 640,000-square foot facility will be home to Virgin America and American Airlines when it opens on April 14. SFO officials are quick to point out that Terminal 2 has achieved Gold Certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

First opened in 1954, Terminal 2 served as SFO's main terminal for many years. As the airport grew, it later became the international concourse until SFO opened its present International Terminal in December, 2000. The building was then closed until 2008 when SFO began a $383 million renovation that completely gutted the structure.

Pictured here is the terminal's departure level. Passengers can be dropped off right at the curb or access the terminal via a pedestrian bridge from the parking garage and airport train. The art installation above the entrance on the right side is composed of 120 pieces of laminated glass panels that change color depending on the light and the viewer's perspective. Designed by Seattle-based artist Norie Sato, "Air Over Under" shows an airplane wing flying above rolling clouds.

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Terminal's main entrance

Just inside is the terminal's main entrance hall. Plentiful natural light made for an inviting space that eased the transition from outside to in. Multiple monitors display flight information while the check-in desks line short halls on either side.

Artist Kendall Buster made the sculpture hanging above. Titled "Topograph," it could have multiple interpretations, from clouds to a topographic map.

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Virgin America check-in

Virgin America's check-in area sits on the right side of the entrance hall.
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Flat screens

Passengers also can use a separate bank of flat-screen monitors to locate their itinerary, check in for their flight, and print their boarding pass.
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American Airlines check-in

The check-in area for American Airlines sits across the entrance hall on the left side. If you keep walking, a passageway will take you to Terminal 3, American's old gates, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station. The lighting fixtures resemble airplane wings.
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'Reconnect' area

After security, you enter a bright and spacious "reconnect" area lined with shops and the American Airlines Admiral's Club. New York artist Janet Echelman designed the three sculptures that hang from domed skylights in the ceiling. Called "Every Beating Second," the fiber netting in the sculptures diffuse the light and sway with computer-controlled air currents. In turn, the polished terrazzo tiles reflect the colors from above.
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Next you pass through a long hallway to the gate area. The low ceilings made for a tunnel-like feel, but it was the only section of the terminal to produce such an affect. As you transit the space, you can visit more shops and restaurants and check out selections from SFO's extensive art collection.
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Central atrium

Fortunately, the central atrium of the gate area offers abundant light and higher ceilings. Nearby are most of the terminal's 12 restaurants and nine shops.
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Architects from the Gensler design firm incorporated a few interesting angles into the ceiling of the departure lounge. Terminal 2 will be able to accommodate 5.5 million passengers per year.
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As mentioned, SFO endeavored to make Terminal 2 as Green as possible. Among the eco-friendly initiatives are preferential parking for electrical and hybrid vehicles, a dual plumbing system that pipes reclaimed water to toilets, and energy efficient lighting. Through these measures, SFO is pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 1,667 tons per year.

The green theme continues right down to the passenger level as well. At two stations around the terminal, passengers are invited to refill existing water bottles rather than buying new ones.

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Recycling, of course, is a central part of Terminal 2's eco-friendly efforts. SFO is requiring all food vendors to use biodegradable tableware and separate all food service for recycling or compost. By 2020, SFO plans to recycle 90 percent of its waste.

The recycling efforts even started with Terminal 2's construction. By using an existing building, the airport said it was able to reduce 12,300 tons of carbon dioxide. Also, the project's contractors recycled 90 percent of construction and demolition debris.

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Serving aircraft

Pictured here is a typical American gate. While at the gate, aircraft can save jet fuel and the use of auxiliary power units by plugging into the building's electricity and air conditioning. Also, ground vehicles serving the planes will operate on electricity.
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Virgin America gates

Across the terminal are Virgin America's gates. For an airline that does its best to offer a unique image and passenger experience, its gates are a little more visually interesting. Seating options vary from traditional benches to individual chairs.
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Near Virgin America's gates, you could check out a model of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.
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Work stations

There are plenty of work stations and electrical outlets for powering your cell phone or laptop in the gate area. The terminal will have free Wi-Fi.
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Like SFO's other terminals, Terminal 2 highlights branches of Bay Area restaurants. You'll find outlets of Peet's Coffee, Burger Joint, Andale, Lark Creek Grill, and Plant Cafe. And don't worry, there's a Starbucks as well.

Napa Farms Market is one of the more appetizing food outlets in the Terminal. Inside is a rotisserie grill by chef Tyler Florence and a gourmet market featuring locally produced food and beverages.

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If you're flying economy class and don't care to pay for airline food, Napa Farms Market exhibits the "farm-to-flight" concept where you can pick up prepared meals and bring them onboard. Salads and sandwiches are the norm, but you also can buy cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. How you're supposed to keep it fresh on the plane ride home is another matter.

SFO is encouraging all food vendors to use sustainable seafood, cage-free and antibiotic eggs, organic produce and meats, non-hydrogenated oils, fair trade coffee, and milk free of rBST hormones. As you might expect, there's no Burger King here.

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Fans of the popular Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt will find the closest location to San Francisco yet.
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And it wouldn't be a Bay Area airport without a wine shop and wine bar next door.
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Interactive art

Some of Terminal 2's art is interactive. At "Butterfly Wall," passengers can use hand cranks to guide small metal butterflies up and down transparent wires. The installation should be a big hit with bored kids, but there's also a dedicated play area with a pint-sized (and loud) wooden xylophone. Parents, beware.
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Runway views

Unlike SFO other terminals, Terminal 2 offers a great view of SFO's runways. It's an ideal spot for an aviation enthusiast. Though its gates are designed mainly for narrow-body aircraft, the terminal can accommodate a Boeing 747-400.
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Gadgets to go

If you forget your iPod, a Best buy vending machine offers a decent selection of gadgets.
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In the news

The ubiquitous newsstand sells magazines and last-minute souvenirs. Parts of Terminal 2 did feel like a bit like a mall, but that's true for for most newer airports around the world.

Other shops include Compass Books, Kiehl's, Mango, a spa, and I-Tech X-Perience, where you can experience interactive gaming. More perplexing was the Mosaic Gallery, which sold large glass sculptures. We can't decide if it would be better to store them under your seat or in the overhead compartment.

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On the way out

As you exit down to the baggage claim, a map of San Francisco welcomes you to the city.
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Baggage claim

Except for ramps that let travelers glimpse bags as they descend from the ceiling (SFO calls them "kinetic art"), Terminal 2's baggage claim is pretty unremarkable.

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