America’s ‘worst airport’ to get long overdue makeover

Some day, LaGuardia Airport will be quite a bit less awful.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took a small but critical step this weekend towards relieving travellers of the New York airport as they know it. After years of bureaucratic to-and-fro, the Port Authority, which operates LaGuardia, selected a group to manage a nearly US$4 billion overhaul of LaGuardia’s central terminal building.

The finished result will offer flyers a three- rather than two-level terminal, with 35 gates spread across 1.3 million square feet, up from 835,000 sq ft. It will accommodate 17.5 million of the 34 million passengers LaGuardia expects annually by 2030. The group is led by the Swedish construction company Skanska and a Canadian airport operator.


LaGuardia was conceived in the 1930s, when airplanes were far smaller and few imagined the pace of airline traffic growth to come. Now, “with respect to commercial airline service, the terminal is functionally obsolete,” the Port Authority said late last year in a report. The airport, which was last overhauled in 1964, was designed for only 8 million people a year and already exceeds that by about 5 million. LaGuardia draws persistent scorn on social media, with business travellers often tweeting their dismay at the state of the airport compared to other international hubs.

Two-thirds of the project’s tab will come from the construction consortium, which will collect fees from the airport over time, in the type of public-private partnership that has become common in many large infrastructure projects.

LaGuardia, in the borough of Queens, is consistently ranked among the worst in the United States in cleanliness, design and delays. The historic hub was once a more glamorous hopping-off point for Europe-bound travellers, but today is used predominantly for domestic operations.

In 2012, Travel & Leisure labelled LaGuardia the worst for cleanliness, design, baggage handling and check-in and security processes. Last year the New York governor Andrew Cuomo called LaGuardia’s ranking a “disgrace” and vowed to redevelop it and John F Kennedy International.

Q&A

Martin Braun reveals more about the new plans for New York’s LaGuardia Airport:

How long did it take the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to reach a decision?

The Port Authority operates the three major New York City-area airports. It made the selection almost two years after soliciting bids. Stockholm-based Skanska, the Vancouver airport operator Vantage Airport Group and Meridiam, a French infrastructure investment firm, are among 12 members of a consortium that will rebuild the central terminal known as Terminal B. Tenants include United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

What will the new terminal offer travellers?

The plans for LaGuardia, likened by the US vice president Joe Biden to a facility in a third-world country, call for a new 35-gate terminal with more restaurants and lounges, stores, bigger gate areas and improved passenger and baggage screening.

What did Biden say exactly?

In February last year, while in Philadelphia, Mr Biden said that if he blindfolded someone and took them to the airport in Hong Kong, they’d think they were in the US. “If I blindfolded them and took them to LaGuardia Airport in New York, he would be like, ‘I must be in some third- world country.’ I’m not joking.”

When will work begin on the project?

Construction is projected to start in the first quarter of next year and proceed in stages.

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