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Can JetBlue make customs less painful? It hopes so

JetBlue's T5i arrivals terminalJetBlue's T5i arrivals terminal
JetBlue's T5i arrivals terminalCourtesy of JetBlue

One of the least exciting parts of any international trip is arriving and going through customs. JetBlue (JBLU) wants to add some panache to arriving flights from the Caribbean and South America when it opens the doors to a new international arrivals terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on Wednesday.

The project, known as T5i, was two years in the making and cost $200 million. Previously, JetBlue’s international customers arrived at Terminal 4, missing out on the ambience of the airline’s T5, which opened to much fanfare in 2008 and is known not only for arrivals and departures, but for shopping, concerts (Taylor Swift and CeeLo Green are among the artists who have performed there), and connectivity. Think of it as an upscale mall with planes.

Want a surreal experience? Go to a U.S. Customs and Borders Protection arrival area when it’s completely devoid of passengers. The airline says that its inspections point will be able to accommodate up to 1,200 customers an hour. Touring the new facility last week, the arrivals terminal appeared sleek and modern, in sync with the other parts of T5. Light welcomes passengers in the concourse and jetways, and the terminal is airy and bright—even on a grey, dreary day like the one when I visited.

At the unveiling of T5i, JetBlue President Robin Hayes said that the new arrivals area will greet flights from 39 international destinations, and the airline plans to add three more by the end of next year. Additional plans for the facility include an outdoor park and dog walking area passengers will be able to access without going through security for a second time. “We love [our customers’] dogs,” he said. “It will give our dogs a much better experience.”

Officials at the event emphasized the economic boost JetBlue’s investment meant to the New York City area. “There are literally hundreds of thousands of jobs that are dependent on a continued investment at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark,” said Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Kyle Kimball, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, recalled a few years back when he took a tour of the city with JetBlue executives and city officials to find a new neighborhood for the company’s headquarters (it moved from Forest Hills, Queens, to Long Island City in the same borough). “It’s really amazing to be here for the second chapter of JetBlue growing in the city,” he said. “The brand of New York is important for the brand of JetBlue.”

The first scheduled arrival to the new space came from Santiago in the Dominican Republic, at 8:48 a.m. on Wednesday. It’s unclear how excited the passengers will be to go through customs, but they definitely get bragging rights of being first.