Terminal Condition: How New York’s 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

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