LONDON (AP) — The rundown, overcrowded Terminal 2 at London's sprawling Heathrow Airport is long gone, about to be replaced by a spacious new building built to handle 20 million passengers each year.
The new facility was hailed as a cornerstone of Heathrow's revitalization when shown to reporters Wednesday ahead of the June 4 opening.
Lead architect Luis Vidal said its extensive use of natural light and high quality acoustics should make it a calm space for travelers accustomed to high anxiety at dark, noisy airports.
"If you make it intuitive, pleasant, joyful, you can take away a completely different memory of the terminal," he told The Associated Press. "You can never completely erase your memory of the former Terminal 2, because it was a dreadful experience. This will be completely the opposite. This will be a destination. People will want to come here."
Part of the rebranding strategy calls for the new Terminal 2 to be known as "The Queen's Terminal." The plan has Queen Elizabeth's blessing — and she plans to officially open the facility, just as she did when the original Terminal 2 opened in 1955.
The 2.5 billion pound ($4.2 billion) building, in conjunction with the relatively new Terminal 5 that opened in 2008, gives Heathrow two modern terminals. The major construction is part of an 11 billion pound refurbishment designed to keep Heathrow competitive with other major European hubs including Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris.
It will host 26 airlines, including United, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines and others that are part of the global Star Alliance, and offer flights to 51 destinations.
Planners chastened by the rocky opening of Terminal 5 — when the luggage handling system broke down badly, leaving thousands of passengers without their bags — are planning a "soft" opening of Terminal 2.
Only one flight is planned the first day, so that even if things go awry, the number of people affected will be small. It will take six months for the facility to reach full capacity.
Heathrow officials say they are still pushing to build a controversial third runway, which is opposed by London Mayor Boris Johnson and influential environmental groups.
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow's development director, said the completion of the new terminal shows Heathrow has complied with the last Labour government's directive that Heathrow should improve without growing.
"Our challenge now is to make the case to expand," he said, admitting that getting permission would be "politically complex."
Holland-Kaye said private money is available to pay for a third runway, which would greatly add to Heathrow's capacity.
He also claimed the new Terminal 2 would reduce the "stacking" problem over Heathrow that often causes delays as planes await permission to land.
There will be no shortage of restaurants and pricey shops. Officials say Terminal 2 will be the first in the world to offer a "complimentary personal shopping lounge where trained stylists will present a curated range of products for each client."