Are NYC Airports Getting A Much-Needed Overhaul?

Andrew Cuomo announced a competition that will start in 30 days for the public to submit new designs for LaGuardia and JFK airports.  Seated beside him was Vice President Joe Biden, an intelligent politician in his own right, who frequently manages to stick his foot in his mouth.  It was earlier this year when he said the following at a speech about improving the transportation infrastructure in the US:

“But if I blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you must think, ‘I must be in some third world country.’ I’m not joking,” he added as the audience broke out in laughter.

It may have been a brash comment, but it certainly wasn’t a foot in the mouth the way LaGuardia is a rotting toenail on an otherwise healthy foot, a foot that anchors the air traffic system in the US.  When things go wrong at the NYC airports, it causes a ripple across the US.

The timing of the announcement coincides with me flying in and out of LaGuardia Monday and Tuesday of this week.  The age of mainline jet service out of LaGuardia has mostly come and gone, with airlines servicing many destinations along the East coast with smaller regional jets.  On my outbound flight last night, there were approximately 30 jets lined up waiting to take off.  That lead to a delay of about 40 minutes on the ground.  The airlines have “solved” this issue by blocking 90 minutes for the flight from LGA to my home airport IAD, a flight that normally takes no more than 45 minutes.  There are just too many flights scheduled, and any small problem causes major disruptions.

The terminals themselves are not great, though probably not the worst in the US.  I’d likely give my personal award for worst airport to LGA’s neighbor, Newark.  But, LaGuardia does need renovations badly.  I don’t actually think JFK is all that bad.  There are certainly some parts that could use improving, but the American Airlines terminal is in pretty decent shape.  There are two major issues I see that need addressing, but I don’t envision either getting resolved in the foreseeable future:

Public Transportation:

LGA is the airport closer to Manhattan, my normal destination when I fly to NYC.  But, it’s not connected to the subway system.  So, when there’s traffic (which is often), the buses don’t really help.  Cuomo mentioned in his announcement that he envisions ferry service to LGA.  It’s a smart idea.  I’m guessing the reason it doesn’t exist now is because of an unknown complication.  Ferry service actually works fairly well in Boston from Logan airport to various parts of downtown.

JFK does have a subway connection but is further away, thus less convenient to dash to and from for flights.  Chicago is a great example of a city that has rail connections to both major airports, making trips to and from very predictable.


There were probably 10 more planes sitting on the runway at LGA than there was room for.  The routing pattern for planes on the ground gets a bit nuts in the afternoons at LGA, especially when there’s even a little bit of delays elsewhere for weather or otherwise.  With only two runways, LGA has more flights than it can handle without a better solution for air traffic control.  Unless they plan to fill in more of the bay, there’s no more runways in the future.  This isn’t the most number of plane movements LGA has ever had, but it’s close.  Either something gives, or flights in and out of LGA will continue to be subject to hidden delays on a regular basis.

Bottom Line It For Me, Ed

On those occasions where I need to get to Manhattan, I wish I lived a bit closer to DC so I could take Amtrak.  Or, I had more time and could fly to JFK and take the train for a more reliable transit time.  But, LGA usually ends up being the best choice, despite it’s faults.



  1. Slightly confused now. PANYNJ was supposed to announce the partnership that won the redesign project for Laguardia CTB with construction beginning in the new month. Is that now on hold (and/or thrown out the window)?

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