How the Phoenix airport is getting ready for Super Bowl crowds – The Arizona Republic

When the Super Bowl last came to Arizona in 2015, people who flew to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport had to ride a shuttle bus to get to the Rental Car Center.
That’s still true today, but airport staff are working to change that before the big game comes back in 2023.
When the Super Bowl was last played in metro Phoenix — at what was then called University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale — Sky Harbor’s traffic the day after the game was about 175,000 passengers. Airport staff expect 180,000 passengers on Feb. 13, the day after Super Bowl 2023 at the renamed State Farm Stadium.
As part of their preparations, Sky Harbor staff are working to finish projects that will  enhance infrastructure and amenities — most notably, connecting terminals 3 and 4 with the Rental Car Center via the PHX Sky Train — and hiring more employees to manage the expected traffic surge.
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These projects were needed with or without the big game.
Airports Council International named Sky Harbor the No. 11 busiest airport in the world and No. 9 busiest in the U.S. for passenger traffic in 2021, something airport staff attribute to a faster pandemic recovery compared to other airports.
“We are busy,” airport spokeswoman Heather Shelbrack said. “We want to ensure that we are providing our customers with a world-class experience each and every day. To do that, we need to make sure that we have the facilities to meet our customers’ demands.”
Here’s what airport staff plans to accomplish before the 2023 Super Bowl.
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The Rental Car Center is about 3 miles away from the terminals. It can take seven minutes — or longer during peak traffic periods — for a shuttle bus to transport passengers each way.
When completed, the long-awaited PHX Sky Train extension will offer a more convenient and direct way to travel between the terminals and the Rental Car Center. And phasing out the shuttles will reduce road congestion and carbon emissions.
Currently, the Sky Train connects the terminals with the east economy parking lot and the Valley Metro light rail station at 44th and Washington streets.
Staff expects the Rental Car Center’s connection to the Sky Train to finish this year. Right now, the route is undergoing safety and reliability tests.
“(Testing) is the most complex and time-consuming part of the project as there are over 300 test procedures that must be conducted to satisfy over 20,000 requirements in order to ensure that the system is safe and reliable,” airport spokesman Eric Everts said.
There’s no specific date for completion of the $745 million project, funded through rental car customer and airline passenger facility charges. The goal is to have the route fully operational before the Super Bowl.
This connection will be critical as a surge in rental car activity is expected. The day after the 2015 Super Bowl, the Rental Car Center handled 12,116 car returns, according to Sky Harbor staff.
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In June, Sky Harbor opened a new eight-gate concourse for Southwest Airlines in Terminal 4. But amenities including restaurants, shops and a lounge are not yet open.
The new restaurants, including regional favorite Eegee’s, a burger restaurant from celebrity chef Bobby Flay and Arizona’s first airport Chick-fil-A location, will be part of a food hall concept called The Crystals at Sky Harbor.
A shop called Uptown Phoenix that will feature items from local retailers, plus a Chase Sapphire Lounge by The Club, will also open soon.
Three dining and shopping kiosks are available now in the new concourse while the permanent storefronts remain in development. Shelbrack expects the restaurants and shops will open before the Super Bowl.
Only the Chase Sapphire Lounge will not be ready, she said.
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The 2015 Super Bowl set a record for taxi trips from Sky Harbor, which airport staff estimated at 5,000 to 6,000.
Today, the airport expects a “significant increase” in rideshare and taxi activity leading up to the Super Bowl.
Taxi, Uber and Lyft users currently have three designated areas for pickups and drop-offs: 
To support the expected growth in rideshare and taxi activity, as well as charters and courtesy vehicles during the Super Bowl, airport staff is working on creating staging areas and a curb management plan.
Shelbrack said the NFL and Super Bowl Host Committee are working with the airport to determine how to address these needs.
Reach the reporter at Follow him on Twitter @salerno_phx.
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