Flights of Fancy at NYC Area Airports

Gone are the days when taking a flight consisted of being welcomed by human beings and a printed boarding pass, walking through breezy security lines onto a TWA or Continental flight, and then eating a full onboard meal compliments of the airline. These days, flights usually begin at a kiosk where a digital ticket is scanned followed by a barefoot walk through an X-ray machine and then maybe a tiny pack of pretzels onboard. Bummer. There are, however, lots of ways in which flight experiences have been upgraded. Not only do we now have TVs on each seat, but airports have mostly upgraded their design and offerings to make waiting for a flight much more enjoyable. In case you’re a frequent flier, you may want to know what’s happening at our area airports. 

What’s News at JFK?

JFK is home to 6 terminals and includes food options ranging from BKLYN Beer Garden to Shake Shack and shopping options from The Museum of Modern Art Store to Tumi. Noticeably behind the ball compared to other major international airports, JFK is about to undergo a huge renovation which will be headed by Architecture firm Grimshaw as part of a $10B, 30 year revitalization plan aimed at making NYC airports competitive with our global counterparts. JFK’s renovations will include revamps to the main terminal, aircraft parking, airfield capacity, and – lucky for frequent fliers – the airport gates.

Those of us who fly JetBlue would argue that Terminal 5 is the best one at JFK. JetBlue has made customer satisfaction such a priority that they use the terminal as their experiential marketing hub; they’ve sponsored live concerts with headliners including Boys II Men and they recently had the Brooklynettes hand out free Nets tickets to unsuspecting incoming passengers, just because! The JetBlue terminal sits where TWA used to be, and where a 505 room hotel is currently underway – finally – since JFK is one of the only major airports without an onsite hotel. The property will incorporate the iconic 1962 Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Terminal (image above courtesy of and will feature 40,000 square feet of meeting and event spaces and a 10,000 square foot observation deck for guests to enjoy views of the incoming and outgoing airplanes.

The airport has recently opened help desks for passengers arriving from Puerto Rico and The Virgin Islands whose homes were affected by Hurricane Maria. The personnel have been trained to assist with providing information about a wide range of services in NYC including health insurance, affordable housing, immunizations, and temporary assistance.

Also new at JFK, FAO Schwarz has opened its first airline store as a pop up in Terminal 4 through the end of this year, perfect for holiday shopping while heading to or home from your destination. Another first is the American Airline Flagship Dining area, a lounge where first class AA passengers traveling internationally can enjoy a locally sourced seasonal menu in an upscale dining setting.

If you’re wondering what the future of travel looks like, JFK Customs and Border Protection along with TSA are currently running a 30 day pilot of facial recognition technology. Terminal 7 has one international checkpoint using this biometric technology which compares the face in a traveler’s travel documents with the photo taken at the entry point kiosk. If all goes well with these and subsequent pilots, you will no longer need your travel ID or boarding pass to take a flight. Your face, iris, or fingerprints will suffice. Australian airports already plan to replace all documentation with biometric technology by 2020!

Renderings Courtesy of LaGuardia Airport

LGA Renderings Courtesy of LaGuardia Airport

What’s News at LGA?

The least loved of our three nearby airports is without a doubt LaGuardia. It’s been voted the 14th worst airport on earth and Google reviews complain of cockroaches on the walls, leaky ceilings, not enough English-speaking staff, and narrow, cramped passageways. Add to this traffic delays and public transport reroutes caused by seemingly endless construction, and a pre-travel nightmare is almost guaranteed. Luckily, the current $4B renovation project is slated for completion in five years and the new airport will be almost unrecognizable. In stark contrast to the dark and cramped current terminals and hallways, the new LGA will have 25′ ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, and live vegetation growing throughout. One centralized TSA area, LCD displays announcing security line wait times, and a 3,200 space short-term parking lot will alleviate much of what has been ailing LGA travelers for years. Add to that a collection of paintings by New York artists, nap pods, and – up for consideration – an Airtrain and in-airport hotel, and LGA may give JFK a run for its money!


What’s News at EWR?

You may have seen the recent ad campaign encouraging New Yorkers to choose Newark airport over JFK. Travel time to EWR is shorter, the ads proclaim, usually at least 30 minutes shorter. For New Yorkers whose every minute counts, traveling from EWR is something to consider.

The push to get more New Yorkers out of Newark Airport comes after United Airlines spent $120M on renovations unveiled last year, and at the same time that $2.4B worth of renovations are underway (this is in addition to the $347M renovations unveiled in 2014). Construction of the renovations to Terminal A, a parking area with 3,000 spaces, and improvements to the airport roadways started in June of this year and are expected to be complete by 2022.

Rockwell Group & OTG Management

Image courtesy of Rockwell Group & OTG Management

United Airlines’ $120M Terminal C renovations were conceptualized by David Rockwell whose work includes the redesign of JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK and stage sets for the Academy Awards. The terminal now boasts 55 restaurants, much more light which allows travelers to stay in touch with their circadian rhythms, and 6,000 iPads where passengers can check their flight status and pay for meals using points, among other things.

Fine dining is also now available at Newark Airport, but only for a select few who receive emailed invitations on the day before their flight. The invites are for the new exclusive restaurant called Classified which is accessible through a clandestine door in another restaurant, Saison. The covert location seats only 36 and has menu items such as chili lobster, foie gras, an oyster platter, craft cocktails, and an impressive dessert selection. United has kept mum about exactly how passengers are selected for an invitation, but they may be limited to members of United Premier 1K, those who fly at least 100K miles on United every year. Click here to take a behind the scenes tour.

The unique challenge our local airports face is that, regardless of how much money is poured into their renovations, the limited land on which they can expand ensures that the size of the airports won’t grow all that much. Whether or not these plans take off as expected, we can all be grateful for the incremental improvements we’re seeing that have been on the horizon for years.

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