How the trek to SLC’s B gates compares to other airports
SALT LAKE CITY — You’ve probably heard the stories of how big and modern the new Salt Lake City International Airport is. But you’ve most likely also heard about the dreaded B gates. Not so much the gates themselves, but that big yellow sign indicating where your unofficial hike is about to begin.
“It’s a big walk,” Salt Lake City resident Danny Stevens said with a laugh.
“It is a long walk. It is a long walk,” said Bill Parkinson, who also lives in Salt Lake City.
“It’s a very long walk, especially with as old as I am and such,” said a woman traveling from Salt Lake to Nebraska.
Some call the mid-course tunnel between the A and B gates the “Pioneer Trek,” simulating the 1840s pioneers who crossed the plains to get to Utah.
There’s even artwork of wildlife along the way.
No matter what you call it, Bill Wyatt has heard them all.
“It’s a bigger place for sure,” he said.
Wyatt is the director of the Salt Lake City International Airport. He is proud of all the accolades and awards the new airport has received, but he also knows that walk is what people always talk about.
For example, this past October, the airport posted on its Facebook page about a new business opening, and the comments are mostly, “After the hike to terminal B you better offer oxygen.”
Or, on a post about some artwork on Nov. 7, the comments include things like, “We’re all too exhausted from pushing a wheelchair 47 miles to our gate.”
“People have strong opinions about airports, particularly home-towners, right? And so, I get that,” Wyatt said.
You've probably heard or read the "longest airport walk ever" comments about the new @slcairport. But is it really? How far is it? And how does it compare to other airports? I spent a few days finding out. Full report on @KSL5TV at 10. (hint: SLC isn't the longest) #ksltv pic.twitter.com/YtJUT6vLFe
— Alex Cabrero (@KSL_AlexCabrero) November 21, 2022
It may feel like 47 miles, but really, how long is it? We decided to do the trek and go over maps the Salt Lake airport provided.
It turns out, the walk to the furthest B-Gate is 3,350 feet, which is roughly 0.64 miles. The mid-course tunnel itself is about 1,200 feet, which measures about a quarter mile.
There is no doubt those distances can be difficult for the elderly and less mobile.
Salt Lake provides carts within the tunnel for those who need them. However, when compared with other airports, Salt Lake’s longest walk isn’t the longest in the country.
In Denver, walking from the curb to the furthest terminal gate, which is C67, is 8,040 feet. That’s nearly a mile and a half, but it includes the use of moving walkways, escalators and trains. The actual maximum walk is less than that, so distances on what airport is further depends on how you measure.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal did an extensive report on airports, measuring things such as Wi-Fi speeds, restaurant options, parking availability, etc. One metric that was measured was maximum walking distance.
At the time of the report, Minneapolis was No. 1 at 0.83 miles. Las Vegas was #2 on the list, followed by Vegas, Charlotte, Miami and JFK. And then, at No. 6, Salt Lake City at 0.64 miles.
Phoenix, our neighbors to the south, came in eighth place for maximum walking distance at 0.61 miles, but managers came up with an idea to help break up the walk for some passengers.
“The Sky Harbor Fitness Trail was part of the Fit Phoenix initiative,” said Heather Shelbrack, a spokesperson for Sky Harbor Airport.
The trail features several markers in a terminal where you read a sign and look at the window to see it, such as the Buttes at Papago Park, Piestewa Peak and even the Phoenix skyline.
“We want to highlight everything Phoenix has to offer, and this is just what Phoenix has to offer you can see from the airport terminal windows,” Shelbrack said.
Perhaps that’s something Salt Lake could do in the future to show off the Wasatch Mountains, the downtown skyline, or even the Kennecott Copper Mine. However, in two years, our long walk will be reduced to about a quarter mile once the central tunnel is built. It’ll take you straight to the B gates right after security.
“I think that will make a real substantial difference,” Wyatt said.
The central tunnel couldn’t be built first because it would’ve cut through the old airport’s D and E gates while they were still operating.
Constructing a new airport on the same site while operating the old airport has been tricky.
The central tunnel opens in 2024 and will have moving walkways.
Further into the future when the C concourse is built, plans are in place to have a train in the central tunnel.
“We’re a big city now,” Parkinson said.
Until then, we all must do the longer walk.
Recently, the airport put new signs in the current tunnel, saying things like, “Doctors recommend 10,000 steps a day. We’re just looking out for your health,” and, “Let’s call it cross-training for ski season.” It’s a way for airport managers to try and keep things light while knowing there is a lot of criticism.
“I don’t take it personally at all. I understand it,” Wyatt said. “The current configuration isn’t optimal, but it’s also not permanent.”
— Alex Cabrero (@KSL_AlexCabrero) November 21, 2022
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