Miami International Airport 1959-1980

The first two decades of MIA's 20th Street Terminal.

An Eastern Airlines Douglas DC-4 at the 36th Street Terminal.

  During the early 1950s Miami International Airport experienced spectacular growth in air traffic.  The 36th Street Terminal (dating back to 1928) and the neighboring Eastern Airlines facility were saturated with passengers.  In order to accommodate the growing traffic officials at the Dade County Port Authority began making plans for a replacement terminal complex.  An early proposal called for an Art-Deco facility with four piers capable of handling 20 large piston-engine airliners.  Plans were revised and updated as passenger traffic soared and the number of airlines serving MIA increased.

A mid-1950s illustration of the proposed 20th Street Terminal.  A fifth concourse was later added to accommodate more carriers.  

  Ultimately the architectural firm of Steward Skinner and Associates drafted a Centralized Terminal design sporting a MiMo (Miami Modern) architectural style.  Construction began in 1957 on a midfield site encircled by all of the airfield’s runways.

  Argentine president Arturo Frondizi dedicated the brand new 20th Street Terminal on February 1, 1959 amid much fanfare.  Present during the dedication ceremonies were Arthur Godfrey, one hundred and twenty dignitaries and some 3000 invited guests.  Weeklong festivities and an air show for the public (at Master Field) preceded the event.     

  At the time the high-capacity terminal complex was the largest passenger facility in the world.  The terminal was comprised of a horseshoe-shaped central core, an administration building, a two-level roadway, five concourses and a post office.


Left/Center: A brand new 20th Street Terminal.  Right: The Eastern Airlines ticket counter in 1960.

  The central core had two-passenger levels.  Baggage claim, customs/immigration and space for four rental car firms were housed within the Arrival (lower) Level.  The baggage claim area featured luggage carousels, which were then a new feature at airports.  The U.S. Customs and Immigration Center was equipped with the latest supermarket-type inspection counters and could process a total of 350-passengers per hour.  A very long succession of ticket counters, shops and restaurants were found within the Departure (upper) Level.  

  Terminal services at the time included three newsstands, two drug stores, four cocktail lounges, two women's apparel shops, a fruit shipping center, a health bar, a package store, two men's wear firms, a camera shop, a children's apparel shop, a toy store and a tobacco shop.  A banking establishment, a real estate development office, a barber shop, two coffee shops, two restaurants and two duty free shops were also featured at the terminal.  

  A seven-story office tower for the Dade County Port Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration was situated atop the central section of the terminal.  An ATC-Tower (the airport's eighth) was positioned on the roof of the office block.


Left: Eastern Airlines Lockheed L-188 Electra Prop-Jets at Concourse D.  Center: A TWA Lockheed Constellation at Concourse F.  Right: A National Airlines Douglas DC-7 at Concourse G.  Note the rooftop observation deck.  

  During this period all aircraft boarding was done via airstairs and the gates were situated on the ramp level.  A total of 60 Douglas DC-7 airliners could be handled by the terminal's five concourses (Concourses C-G).  Rooftop observation decks for aviation enthusiasts and meeters/greeters were provided at four of the two-level concourses.

  Major domestic airlines serving Miami International Airport at the time included Braniff International, Capital, Delta, Eastern, National, Northeast, Northwest and Trans World Airlines.  International carriers included Aerolineas Argentinas, British West Indian Airways (BWIA), LAN Chile, Mexicana, Pan American, Pan American Grace Airways (Panagra) and VARIG Airlines.  Eastern was by far the busiest carrier followed by National, Pan American and Northeast Airlines.

  Eastern Airlines occupied Concourses C and D, which encompassed a quarter of the 20th Street Terminal.  Braniff International was found at Concourse D and was assigned a gate at the far end of the pier.  Pan American and its Latin American affiliates shared Concourse E where the U.S. Customs and Immigration Center was located.  National and Northeast Airlines equally shared Concourse F.  Capital, Delta, Northwest and Trans World Airlines were situated at Concourse G.

A 1960 aerial view of Concourse D and the 20th Street Terminal.  Note the Eastern propliners and the construction of the MIA Hotel, Concourse H and the Delta Airlines Hangar.

  Four-million passengers passed through the 20th Street Terminal during its first year in operation.  Most of these travelers were transported on piston-powered propeller-driven airliners like the Douglas DC-6, DC-7 and Lockheed Constellation.  A smaller number of these lucky travelers were conveyed on the turbine-powered Boeing 707, Lockheed L-188 Electra and Vickers Viscount all of which were introduced during the winter of 1958/59.


Two evocative views of a brand new Miami International Airport Hotel.

  The unique 270-room Miami International Airport Hotel opened in 1960.  This soundproofed hotel was the largest of its kind to be located within an airport terminal.  The facility, which was then operated by Sky Host Hotels, offered a fine sky lounge and a rooftop restaurant that enabled patrons to wine and dine while overlooking the entire airfield as well as the Miami skyline.  The hotel was an instant hit with resting travelers and occupancy rates often reached 100%.

  Eastern and National Airlines began Douglas DC-8 turbojet operations during 1960.  Their jetliners were placed into scheduled service on the lucrative Miami-New York run supplementing a growing fleet of Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprops.

An illustration depicting the jet-age Delta Airlines Concourse H and the 20th Street Terminal.

  In 1961 Delta Airlines moved into a new addition on the south side of the 20th Street Terminal.  The addition boasted an 880 foot-long concourse (Concourse H) that could handle twelve Douglas DC-8 jetliners.  Each of its upper-level departure lounges were equipped with a fixed suspended-type jetway and a ramp-level gate to serve propeller-driven airliners.  The terminal expansion increased the length of available ticket counter space to 1,500 feet.


Three views from the 1960s depicting the hotel and second level parking deck.

  A second-level parking deck was completed that same year, which increased the number of public parking spaces to 3,600.  Most of the spaces were within 500 feet from the terminal and 600 of these were under cover.

  United Airlines commenced scheduled service on July 1, 1961 after the acquisition of Capital Airlines.  As a result of the Capital/United Airlines merger the later gained nonstop routes to Cleveland and Pittsburgh, which were operated with Boeing 720 jetliners.


Three 1960s views depicting a jetway equipped 20th Street Terminal.

  Between 1961 and 1965 the five original concourses were completely refurbished.  Each structure was air conditioned and equipped with jetways.  Eastern opted for the telescoping-type loader, while National, Northeast, Northwest, Pan American and United Airlines chose the fixed suspended type.  When the renovations were complete, the 20th Street Terminal could simultaneously handle over 74 Boeing 727 jetliners.  By this time the terminal complex had grown to cover 80 acres and its value was estimated to be over $26-million.

  On February 1, 1964 Eastern Airlines operated the world's first scheduled Boeing 727 flight between Philadelphia, Washington DC and Miami.  Later that year National Airlines became the nation's first all turbine-powered airline when it replaced its last aging piston-powered airliners with the venerable Boeing.

A 1969 bird's-eye view of the 20th Street Terminal.  Note the National and Northeast Airlines jets parked at Concourse F.

  Northeast Airlines achieved a significant milestone on December 14, 1967 when the carrier introduced the stretched Boeing 727-200 on the Miami-New York route.  Miami International Airport got a preview of the coming Jumbo Jets that very same year when Delta and Eastern Airlines began operating the Douglas DC-8-61.

A 1971 aerial view of the 20th Street Terminal.  Note the construction in the background.

  In the late 1960s an ambitious expansion project (Program 70s) was initiated by the Dade County Aviation Department then under the leadership of Aviation Director Richard Judy.  The objective of the project was to accommodate the anticipated traffic growth and the new wide-body airliners.  The construction projects on the drawing board included four parking garages, a terminal for Eastern Airlines, expanded customs/immigration facilities and an International Satellite Terminal.

  Wide-body operations started in 1970 when Eastern and National Airlines began operating the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet on the Miami-New York run.  The behemoths were later deemed too large for both carriers' routes and were eventually replaced with smaller wide-body tri-jets.

   National Airlines commenced operating the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 on the Miami-New York route on December 15, 1971.  Eastern followed National Airlines' lead on April 26, 1972 when it placed the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar into service on the same route.  By 1973 Eastern Airlines was operating the TriStar on flights to Atlanta, Chicago and San Juan.  

  On August 1, 1972 Northeast Yellowbird was merged into Delta Airlines.  As a result of the merger Delta became Miami International Airport's third busiest carrier (after Eastern and National Airlines) and inherited routes to Boston and New York.  All of the Northeast Yellowbird operations were relocated from Concourse F to the Delta Airlines Concourse H.  National took control of the vacated Northeast Airlines gates and became the only tenant at the pier.

An evocative mid-1970s dusk view of the Miami International Airport Hotel.

  Air Florida started operations the following month with a single Boeing 707.  By August 1974 three secondhand Lockheed L-188 Electra airliners had replaced the gas-guzzling jetliner.  The popular propjets were operated on routes to Jacksonville, Orlando, Tallahassee and Tampa competing against Eastern and National Airlines' turbojet airliners.

Two 1974 views of the 20th Street Terminal.  Note the Avianca Boeing 727 at Concourse E.

  Southern Airlines initiated scheduled service in 1974 when it was awarded routes to Orlando and Grand Cayman.  The carrier's blue and white DC-9s were flown on a shuttle service to Orlando International Airport in competition with Air Florida, Eastern and National Airlines.


Two mid-1970s views of the 20th Street Terminal after the completion of the parking garages.

  By the mid 1970s most of the Program 70s construction projects had been completed.  Three new parking garages replaced the former parking lot located east of the 20th Street Terminal.  Eastern Airlines moved into its own addition on the north side of the 20th Street Terminal.  The new addition had a concourse (Concourse B) custom designed to handle the carrier's Lockheed L-1011 TriStar as well as the Boeing 727 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9.  The upper-level roadway was widened and lush landscaping was added all around the landside-area grounds.

  The 20th Street Terminal was also modernized as part of Program 70s.  The complex's exterior two-tone green was replaced with a white/gray paint job.  The Departure Level curbside canopy was completely renovated and a ventilation system was installed to clear automobile exhaust from the Arrival Level roadway.  Within the building, the lovely sand-colored terrazzo floor was covered with carpeting and the glazed light-green/gray ceramic-veneer tiles were removed and replaced with contemporary surfaces.  New ceiling panels and improved lighting were also installed.  The airlines got new ticket counters equipped with electronic scales and the old-fashioned luggage carousels were replaced with belt-type baggage dispensers.


Left: A 1976 bird's eye-view of the uncompleted International Satellite Terminal.  Center/Right: A British Airways Boeing 747 and British Aerospace Concorde parked at the International Satellite Terminal.

  The most significant improvement made as a result of Program 70s was the International Satellite Terminal.  This much needed airside facility opened in 1977 and was designed to handle arriving international flights.  A total of 15 Boeing 747 Jumbo Jets could be handled at the midfield airside terminal.  Initially county buses were employed to shuttle passengers between the airside and main terminal building.  

  In April 1980 an automated Westinghouse People Mover System replaced the buses and began transporting passengers.  The people mover system employed six 100-passenger Westinghouse C-100 shuttle cars that traveled at 25 mph on two elevated roadways.  In addition an expanded U.S. Customs and Immigration Center at the 20th Street Terminal became operational that very same year.

  Continental and Western Airlines were awarded routes to Miami International Airport during the mid 1970s.  Continental was granted nonstop authority to Denver and Houston, while Western Airlines got a transcontinental route to Los Angeles.  During the late 1970s (after Airline Deregulation came into effect) American, North Central, Ozark and Piedmont Airlines were also awarded routes to the magic city.

A Pan Am Boeing 747 at the International Satellite Terminal.

  We conclude this chapter in the history of MIA's 20th Street Terminal with the 1980 merger of National Airlines and Pan American.  During the merger Pan American relocated its check-in/ticketing operation to the former National Airlines ticket counter between Concourses E and F.  Pan American continued to operate its old gates at Concourse E and took over the National Airlines facilities at Concourse F.  As an outcome of the merger Pan American became the second busiest carrier at Miami International Airport. 

A 1964 Ford Galaxy cruises past the Eastern Airlines curbside.


The 20th Street Terminal in the early 1960s.


An early 1960s dusk view of the Miami International Airport Hotel (Left) and an aerial view of the MiMo 20th Street Terminal (Right).  Note the Eastern Douglas DC-7s and the National Airlines Lockheed L-188 Electra.


Left: Miami International Airport Hotel in 1961.  Right: Mid-1960s bird's-eye view of 20th Street Terminal.

An evocative 1964 view of the Miami International Airport Hotel.


Left: An Avianca Lockheed Constellation at Concourse E.  Right: A Pan Am Boeing 707 approaches Concourse E.


Left: A 1968 Mercury Montego on display in the Departure Level.  Center: National Airlines Boeing 727s and Douglas DC-8s at Concourse F during a 1970 strike.  Right: A Braniff International Douglas DC-8 taxies away from Concourse D.

A 1980 view of the lovely MiMo Miami International Airport Hotel.

View more images at the MIA 20th Street Terminal Gallery.