The Delta Terminal at Phoenix Sky Harbor just got better – MUCH better

(Last Updated On: September 4, 2020)

Are you flying out of the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport on Delta airlines? If so, you’re in for a treat because you will be using the new Terminal 3 concourses. This recently-opened terminal is well-designed, spacious, and comfortable.

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Expect a great experience in the new Sky Harbor Terminal 3

Those of you who follow me on social media may recall a December rant about the conditions when I flew out of the Phoenix airport in December 2018. As it turned out, I happened to be there at what must have been the lowest point in several years of construction projects. Everything was a confusing, inefficient, over-crowded mess.

All that is over now. Not only for Delta passengers, but for everyone flying out of the completely reconstructed Terminal 3.

Flying Delta through Sky Harbor is now about as good as an airport experience can get.

Terminal 3 was designed with passengers in mind

When I flew out of the new South Concourse at Sky Harbor’s Terminal 3 (now named for the late Senator John McCain), I discovered an airport that understood what passengers really need.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is owned by the city of Phoenix, not an independent airport authority. That means the airport needs to serve the goals of the city as a whole, not just generate as much money as possible through the Sky Harbor terminals.

Sure, they want the airport to generate lots of cash, but they also want to draw events, conventions, and repeat visitors who will spend money on lodging, food, and activities throughout the Phoenix area. And they seem to understand that a positive experience in Phoenix often begins and ends at the airport.

At least, that’s how it seems to me. But, whatever the reason, Sky Harbor Terminal 3 was clearly designed with the needs of travelers – not just airlines – in mind.

From the perspective of a regular traveler, the new Terminal 3 concourse (even the security area and lobbies that precede it) generally gets it right.

Wide, unobstructed corridors

For starters, wide, unobstructed corridors make it easy to move around the terminal.  Even with arrivals streaming out of the space and departing passengers crowding the gates, there is a lot of room to move around.

corridor with people

Seating options

Add to that ample, comfortable (padded) seating throughout the concourse. (And gates that are mostly well-separated from each other.)

A mix of seating in the gate area

There are even giant ottomans suitable for a quick nap.

Ample charging options

Electronics can be charged from many gate area seats (come on, PHX, go all the way and get every seat wired!) and at long table-height counters (with normal padded chairs) between gates.

No trying to locate the one or two charging stations in the gate area seating, perching on the airport equivalent of a bar stool, or maneuvering around a stationary electronic menu just to work on your computer!

seats, including orange ottomans, in front of large windows

The digital age has arrived at Sky Harbor.

Functional restrooms

Then there are the restrooms.

Bathrooms are plentiful in Terminal 3. They are also conveniently located across from the gates, spacious, and filled with reasonably-sized stalls and lots of sinks.

Bathroom sinks and mirrors with stall doors on the other side

And yes, ladies, there is room for you AND your roller bag in each stall, not just in the handicapped stall! There’s even a dry spot above each sink for your purse.

Relax while you eat

A variety of attractive sit-down restaurants and grab-and-go grocery and take-out options provide something for everyone across from the gates, but without blocking gate access. So, if you’d like something better than an in-flight snack box, at Sky Harbor Terminal 3 you can keep an eye on your gate while enjoying a drink and/or meal in comfort.

restaurant with diners

(I haven’t eaten at the Tavern, but it looked good. And lunch at San Tan was excellent.)

Natural light

Best of all, giant windows provide natural light, a view of the mountains, and an opportunity to watch aircraft operations in action.

seating in the foreground with a Southwest Jet on a runway and mountains in the distance

No claustrophobia here!

It’s not really the Delta terminal

I’ve been referring to this as the Delta terminal. And, with a big new Delta Sky Club located above the concourse, it’s easy to think of Terminal 3 that way.

However, unlike my home airport, gates in Phoenix are not permanently assigned to any one airline. (The concourse was remodeled by the airport, not by Delta or any of the other airlines.) That’s part of the reason Delta’s gates at Sky Harbor are so different from ones (remodeled by Delta) in Minneapolis.

Besides shifting the focus from the airline to the passenger, it also shifts the focus to overall airport operations. For example, since no particular airline controls any particular gate, gate assignments can easily change to facilitate jet-way use and minimize crowding during busy periods. That should benefit both passengers and the airport.

As of February 2020, Delta shares Terminal 3 with Air Canada, Alaska, Boutique Air, Contour, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Spirit, Sun Country, and United.

Now that this phase is complete, all airlines from Terminal 2 are located in Terminal 3.

Terminal 2 is slated for demolition.

Navigating the new Terminal 3 at Sky Harbor

As of February 2020, both the North and South concourses are open and Sky Harbor’s Terminal 3 Modernization Project is complete.

The project was designed primarily to help passengers move through the terminal more easily and efficiently long into the future. The $600 million dollar project also included projects in lobbies and the security area to make air travel more comfortable and efficient for travelers. This include the updated and expanded security area, additional lobby areas, and comfortable seating throughout the airport with plenty of places to plug in electronic devices of all types. Sustainability also figures into the renovation through the use of natural light and other energy-saving improvements.

From a traveler’s perspective, the project succeeded in its goals. It’s a little longer walk between TSA and the gates (or from the gates to baggage claim), but the new concourses are easy to navigate, with plenty of space and well-located services.

Tips for flying in or out of Phoenix Sky Harbor

Sky Harbor, the Phoenix international airport, is located just a few miles east and slightly south of downtown Phoenix. This puts it pretty much in the center of the metro area. However, it can seem like a long way from anywhere due to the size of the Phoenix metropolitan area, heavy traffic volumes on the highway system, and convoluted traffic patterns within the airport.

This is especially true for those renting a car “at the airport,” as the shuttle seems to cover half the city before arriving at the rental car center.

Those using public transit will likely also find the Sky Train/Valley Metro Light Rail connection seems longer than it really is.

Just be patient, allow plenty of time, and you’ll get to where you are going.

Getting around Sky Harbor

Open spaces in terminal with text "New and Improved: Phoenix Sky Harbor Terminal 3"

With the end of the Terminal 3 construction project, the whole airport seems easier to navigate.

Of course, it helped that both our most recent taxis and Lyfts dropped us off at a spot that lead directly to Delta’s check-in gate. (Previously we had a taxi that couldn’t figure out where to drop us off.) That, combined with empty security lines and lots of TSA agents, make Sky Harbor one of the easiest, quickest, and most pleasant airport experiences I’ve had anywhere.

Having said that, traffic around the Phoenix airport is intense and routes are convoluted. Even if it’s now easy to get around inside the airport, you still have to get there. Give yourself plenty of time to both get to the airport and find the right terminal.

Speaking of terminal, Phoenix Sky Harbor now has only two terminals:

  • Terminal 3, the John McCain Terminal, was completely reconstructed and is now fully operational.
  • Terminal 4, the Barry Goldwater Terminal, is the largest and busiest terminal, serving both domestic and international flights. American, British Airways, Condor, Southwest, Volaris, and WestJet fly out of Terminal 4.

There is no Terminal 1. It was demolished in 1991 and never replaced.

Airport map

While it would be nice to have a good Phoenix airport map that clearly shows each terminal and how they connect, the best I could find are the maps on the Sky Harbor website.

None are particularly good at showing how the pieces fit together, but they are up-to-date. And they do a great job of showing every restaurant, shop, service, and restroom in each terminal. Be sure to check the maps for your terminal if you know you want to eat or do some shopping once you get to the airport.

Transportation to and from Sky Harbor

Phoenix is almost as notorious as Los Angeles when it comes to traffic. While it’s difficult (or maybe impossible) to get around the larger region without a car, there are a variety of options for getting to and from the airport.

Mesa Gateway Airport

Note that several regional airlines fly out of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. This is a much smaller airport located about 40 miles southeast of the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport.

Mesa Gateway seems particularly popular with Midwestern snowbirds headed for the eastern side of Phoenix. They like it for its smaller size, airlines that serve smaller regional airports close to home (mostly in the mid-west and west), and proximity to communities east of Phoenix.

Gateway is used by Allegiant Airlines, California Pacific, Flair Air, Swoop, and WestJet. And no, I’ve never heard of some of those airlines either. But my mom loves her Allegiant connection between Mesa and central Minnesota.

It’s an option worth considering if you are traveling to the east side of the Phoenix area from an area served by one of these small airlines.

cactus and mountain with text "Explore Phoenix Arizona and the Valley of the Sun

Leave Sky Harbor airport to save a bundle on your rental car

Save money with the Phoenix Sky Train and Light Rail

seating area with text "new and improved: Phoenix Sky Harbor Terminal 3"

Seating with text "New and Improved: Phoenix Sky Harbor Terminal 3"

Open spaces in terminal with text "New and Improved: Phoenix Sky Harbor Terminal 3"

restroom with text "New and Improved: Phoenix Sky Harbor Terminal 3"

2 thoughts on “The Delta Terminal at Phoenix Sky Harbor just got better – MUCH better”

  1. I’ve never had to pay more than $7 for my local contact to park to pick me up at Terminal 3 with his vehicle parked in the ramp – and it’s usually $4 if he waits for less than an hour or less. You could do a LOT worse (DFW & MSP, I’m looking at you).

    1. It’s been years since I’ve had anyone meet me at the airport, but you are correct – cheap short-term parking for pick-up and drop-off make a huge difference in airport user-friendliness!

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