Terminal Condition: How New York’s Airports Crashed and Burned—Can They Soar Again?

picture 12 Terminal Condition: How New Yorks Airports Crashed and Burned—Can They Soar Again?

A little perspective. (Regional Plan Association)

Cue the Sinatra, bring up the lights on a shiny, glorious Terminal 3. A young boy looks out through massive windows at the planes encircling the terminal, his mother’s hand resting on his shoulder. A captain smiles, tips his hat to him, and the full terminal comes into view, glowing warmly in the afternoon sun.

The opening to ABC’s Pan Am is of course fake, but the facsimile is meant to be as close to reality as with all these midcentury dramas. It could not be further from the truth then or now. “Our nostalgia is misplaced,” Mr. Lindsay said. “I don’t know that I would want to eat a meal on one of those Pan Am flights, and I certainly couldn’t afford one. Flying is just not the same, for better or worse.” It has gone from luxury to commodity, from moving the 1 percent to moving everybody else.

Things are not quite as bad as Frommer’s would have us believe, though. In December, the Port Authority released a request for expressions of interest to find a private partner to create a new central terminal at LaGuardia, and Port officials have told The Observer a similar one will be released some time this year for Newark’s Terminal A. Along with Delta’s plans at JFK, three of the worst terminals in the world will be banished from the city in a matter of years.

“We’ve got to make sure we are investing the kind of money into the airports that is necessary,” Port Authority executive director Pat Foye said in an interview. “There are a number of challenges, but we will get there.

By then there should be a hotel at Terminal 5, if a labor dispute at the neighboring Radison does not hold it up. And The Observer has also learned that last October the Port began a sweeping look at its airports, like that of the RPA’s, to figure exactly what to do with them, how to expand the runways, address the infrastructure, improve air freight—a whole other story that one high ranking City Hall official called “the real tragedy of our airports”—basically to figure out what to do to save all those jobs and billions of dollars at stake.

Our airports may be an embarrassment, but the skies seem to be clearing. At least for the next 20 years. Even then, should things go bad again, remember the sage advice of Louis CK, whose optimism every airline should replace those annoying safety videos with: You’re flying! It’s amazing! Everyone on every flight should be going OH MY GOD! You’re sitting…in a chair…in the sky!

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC

Comments

  1. Seth Miller says:

    Not that it really matters or changes the fact that the terminal is a dump, but those regional jets you mention are actually horribly inefficient when it comes to fuel consumption. Their only value to the airlines is that the staffing costs are so low because the crew is paid on a much lower scale.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely nothing about the real problem with flying into New York, which is that all the airports are inconvenient to and/or expensively distant from the city.

    Build a one-seat-ride express train to every airport in the NY region connecting to Midtown and Lower Manhattan — it’s something almost every world class city BUT New York has.

  3. J.C. Seehusen says:

    Did anyone else think that this article didn’t deserve its headline, let alone publication? It does little to explain how New York’s airports “crashed and burned,” nor does it try very hard to answer the question of whether the airports can “soar again.”

    The first section, describing the disrepair of JFK’s terminal 3, would have been useful if it were bringing attention to a problem that both public officials and Delta were stubbornly refusing to address. But, as the author notes belatedly, Delta plans to destroy the terminal and replace it with a new one. So wait, then, is the new terminal not arriving quickly enough?

    Apparently not, as in the next section, the author implies that he actually has a soft spot for the appearance of terminal 3, and will lament its destruction. (“An entire generation of revolutionary architecture gone.”) So wait, then, is the author suggesting that terminal 3 should be repaired, rather than destroyed?

    That’s anyone’s guess, as we progress into the third section, a mishmash of fact and opinion that suffers from a severe lack of focus, owing to the squishy nature of the term “worst.” What does it mean that Newark is “a mess” and is “obsolete”? No explanation is given.

    Then, bizarrely, the author indicates that “political potholes at home” are preventing the construction of new terminals at Newark and LaGuardia, but barely a few paragraphs later, admits that there are in fact plans to replace those very two terminals. “Along with Delta’s plans at JFK, three of the worst terminals in the world will be banished from the city in a matter of years.”

    Exactly. So I ask: what is the point of this article?

    But wait! The author notes that the Port Authority recently “began a sweeping look at its airports, like that of the RPA’s, to figure exactly what to do with them, how to expand the runways, address the infrastructure, improve air freight.” Now THAT’s news – I’d like to hear how these three new terminals will fit into the grand scheme of how New York’s airports will be run. Details!

    Sorry. That’s a “whole other story.”

    In sum, I usually don’t bother to comment on subpar news articles, but this story was one of the most confusing and frustrating pieces I’ve ever read.