This weekend marked LaGuardia Airport’s (LGA) 79th year in operation. With cramped passageways, low ceilings, and a dearth of amenities, it hasn’t seemed like much has changed since the airport opened in 1939. Joe Biden descried the airport as “third world,” a couple years back. Not many people disagreed.
The airport’s dowdy reputation is about to change with the opening of the first phase of a massive, long-overdue $8 billion redevelopment of the largely despised airport terminal.
What’s Changing at LaGuardia Airport?
LaGuardia is getting a complete redo, not some half-baked facelift. The tricky part is the airport still needs to be fully operational while facilities are built overtop of what currently stands. There’s essentially two main parts to the LGA project that are scheduled to be completed by 2021. Let’s break it down.
The First Half of LGA
Half of the $8 billion project is Terminal B, which partially opened this past weekend and is managed by LaGuardia Gateway Partners. This terminal serves American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Air Canada with 35 gates between two separate concourses. Each concourse will be connected via pedestrian bridges to a main terminal headhouse, which contains check-in counters, baggage claims, security, and some retail space.
The big news is that one of the two Terminal B concourses just opened. It contains a total of 18 gates, though only 11 of them are usable. The other seven gates in the concourse will begin operations this spring, when the old concourse A pier is demolished. Then, in 2020, the other 17 gates in the second concourse will open, along with the main headhouse, and pedestrian bridges. Confused yet? That’s just half the airport.
All of Southwest and Air Canada’s operations are now in this new concourse and United will join in 2019. American has three gates here, so there’s still a chance you’ll arrive or land in a beautiful new facility at LGA this year. Yes, beautiful and LGA are in the same sentence.
The Second Half of LGA
The current Terminal C and D are being consolidated into a second facility being managed and mostly funded by Delta Airlines. Besides Delta, this new terminal will house WestJet, Spirit Airlines, JetBlue, and Frontier Airlines. No new gates will open here until at least late 2019.
Unlike the presently disjointed array of terminals, the main terminal headhouse will connect all four concourses with 37 gates overall. Delta hasn’t released recent construction updates but expect to see the first gates in this other section of the airport online next year.
Both sides of the airport will be connected by a half mile-long pedestrian walkway and an AirTrain link to the 7 subway line at Willis Point-Citi Field (still awaiting FAA approval).
Open Now: The New Concourse At LaGuardia Terminal B
Comparing the new concourse to the soon-to-be-demolished ones is like trying to weigh the experience ordering at a fast food counter to the experience being served at an upscale restaurant. The fast food gets the job done, but you also just fought everyone in line and you’re slightly regretting not just staying at home. That’s soon to be the LaGuardia of old.
Let’s just get this out of the way—this new concourse is pleasant not just by LaGuardia standards, but by airport standards anywhere.
Biggest Pros (That Also Made It In The Press Release)
Wide walkways, floor-to-ceiling windows, and high ceilings are arguably the nicest features of this multi-billion dollar redo. These should be standard amenities for any new or renovated airport. The other Terminal B concourses just felt like a cave—that happened to have gates.
There’s also a solid selection of retail stores and restaurants, all with a New York connection. Highlights:
- Shake Shack (a NYC staple at this point)
- La Chula Bar and Taqueria (Harlem-based taco joint)
- Irving Farm Coffee Roasters (Gramercy-based cafe with several NYC locations)
- McNally Jackson (Soho-based booked independent bookstore)
- FAO Schwartz (Iconic NYC toy store)
There are park-like spaces with real plants and benches, a children’s play area with a 16-foot-tall interactive display, and 55-foot ceilings that create a sense of spaciousness that might prompt frequent LaGuardia passengers to gape in awe (I certainly did).
Biggest Pros (That You Can Only Experience To Know)
It seems like AvGeeks have a lot to say about restrooms—okay, mostly just about their shrinking size onboard the latest generation of planes.
The restrooms in this new concourse are nice. Like really nice. There are touch-less sensors everywhere. There’s enough space for a full-size roll-a-board to fit into the stall, door closed. The restrooms are basically a long hallway with entrances on each end. This was designed so that come cleaning time, only one entrance has to be closed.
With huge windows, both planespotting views and views of Manhattan’s skyline are fantastic. There are also several water refill stations and half of the concourse has a cool, slanted roof that isn’t just for aesthetics—it’s so that the air traffic control tower can have a full line of sight to the runway.
Finally, there are charging and power outlets at most seats throughout the terminal. LaGuardia has entered the 21st century (only 20 years late).
What Airlines Are Using This New LGA Concourse?
The entire concourse consists of gates 40-59 in the eastern most section of Terminal B. American Airlines took the honors as the first airline to depart from the new concourse.
An amazing milestone moment for our #AAteam and customers @LGAairport in this morning as @AmericanAir flight 4645 departs for @columbusairport American was the first airline to depart the @terminalBLGA new concourse. #PaxEx pic.twitter.com/DgjCFAMwFz
— Justin F. Franco (@justinffranco1) December 1, 2018
American, Southwest, and Air Canada will be splitting the use of 11 gates, which will be common use to increase operational efficiency. For now, there have been no announcements about any specific routes that will get these gates. United will also have flights in the new concourse in 2019 once the seven other gates open.
The new east concourse, just about two months behind schedule, is a much-needed improvement for an airport in dire need of updates. It’s a realistic preview of what’s to come over the next couple of years. In terms of design, the second Terminal B west concourse will be a near carbon copy of the one that just opened.
LaGuardia Gateway Partners is still spending $5 million in updates on the soon-to-be-demolished sections of Terminal B to make the passenger experience less miserable. These include a new Starbucks in Concourse D, new carpeting, private phone booth Jabberboxes, and more.
The headhouse arrival and departures terminal, coming in 2020, will be the crown jewel of this entire project, with the most restaurants and retail shops in a central commercial space. It gets my stamp of approval, but let’s be honest, anything would’ve been better than before.