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First Look: The new LaGuardia AirportFirst Look: The new LaGuardia Airport

Renovation is ‘long overdue’

For decades, LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in Queens, New York, was voted the worst commercial airport in the United States, a title it deserved.
Pilot Briefing September 2020
A public art fund created the opportunity for artists to contribute to the decor of the new terminal at LaGuardia. Sarah Size designed the matrix of metal rods called "Shorter Than the Day," which floats over baggage claim.
Photography by John Taggart/the New York Times/Redux

The four terminals were dilapidated and dirty; check-in, security, and baggage services were painfully slow; and it ranked among the worst for on-time performance. In 2014, Vice President Joe Biden said that if he took someone to LaGuardia, the person would think “I must be in some third-world country.” Even the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, admitted LaGuardia was an embarrassment. Biden’s remarks goaded Cuomo into ordering a complete renovation of the 81-year-old airport.

“We are transforming LaGuardia into a globally renowned, twenty-first-century airport that is worthy of the city and state of New York,” Cuomo said of the project in 2015.

In June 2020, New York City completed a major phase toward building that “twenty-first century airport” when operations at LaGuardia’s decrepit 56-year-old Central Terminal ceased and the modern, light- and art-filled $4 billion Terminal B opened. The new terminal, which serves Air Canada, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines, is just part of a complete $8 billion renovation of the airport.

The new terminal is 50 percent larger and offers 50 shops and restaurants, outdoor dining with Manhattan views, and four contemporary art installations. Using 625,000 ceramic tiles, artist Laura Owens covered 25,000 square feet of the terminal walls—almost half the size of a football field—to create a mosaic skyscape of white clouds in a blue sky with iconic images of New York City, including a hot dog, ice cream truck (right), pizza slice, MetroCard, subway signs, and a Boeing Clipper. Another art piece is a globe made of metal rods that is suspended from the departure-level ceiling and reaches through an opening in the floor to the baggage claim level below.

The historic Terminal A—Marine Air Terminal—which was built in 1939 and served PanAm’s flying boats in the 1940s, is the general aviation terminal at LaGuardia. It has a rich history and features Flight, a 12-foot-by-237-foot Art Deco mural depicting man’s history with flying that was painted as part of the Works Progress Administration. Terminal A currently is noted for serving corporate jets.

The LaGuardia overhaul of Terminal B and the continuing renovation of the entire airport “should have been done decades and decades and decades ago,” Cuomo said, “it’s long overdue.”

Dennis K. Johnson

Dennis K. Johnson is an aviation writer and pilot living in New York City.

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