The $13 Billion JFK Airport Fix Might Make Connections Worthwhile

by Chris Dong

A visitor’s first and last impression of a city is usually its airport—and if you’re visiting New York City, that impression is pretty dreadful. Take your pick between any of the area’s three major airports: LaGuardia, Newark, and Kennedy. Both LaGuardia and Newark are undergoing multi-billion dollar renovations to bring them in-line with the 21st century (slowly but surely).

Finally, it’s JFK Airport’s time for a serious makeover. No more nip and tuck.

The New Master Plan

The Port Authority of NY & NJ and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled plans for a new $13 billion proposal (yes, that number is right) to transform JFK from laggard to leader. Will this be the next Singapore Changi Airport? (See: One of My Favorite Airports Announces Expansion…With Waterfalls) Doubtful. But Gov. Cuomo vowed to make JFK into “one of the finest airports in the world.”

JFK Rendering New Terminal 1

The revamp will create two shiny new international terminals, new roadway facilities, and improvements to the AirTrain that connect JFK to public transportation. The changes will also allow the airport to increase capacity by at least 15 million passengers to 80 million annually by 2035.

  • The first international terminal funded entirely by a group of four foreign airlines (Air France, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, and Lufthansa) at a cost of $7 billion.
  • The second international terminal funded entirely by JetBlue at a cost of $3 billion.
  • Interconnected passenger facilities and streamlined roadways around the terminals funded by “private companies” at a cost of $2 billion.
  • AirTrain capacity and infrastructure improvements funded by the Port Authority at a cost of $1 billion.

Don’t expect anything new anytime soon—the first new gates go live in 2023 with a project completion date set for 2025 (but with the Port Authority’s reputation, don’t bank on that date).

JFK Rendering New Signage

JFK Is Currently a Hot Mess

JFK is unique in that each of its 6 terminals operates like it’s own mini-airport. Each terminal even has its own management which has resulted in a mess of physically separated facilities—Terminal 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8. This has created major operational challenges and is a pain in the butt for customers that have connections.

Worse still, JFK’s terminals are just plain confusing. Some airports distinguish terminals by international and domestic. Others do it by airline alliance or partnerships. No such luck here—every time I travel to JFK by public transportation, I always see travelers on the AirTrain desperately searching for their airline’s terminal. It’s exacerbated by the fact that some airlines and codeshares even operate out of multiple terminals, like Delta in both Terminal 2 and Terminal 4 and the American Airlines-British Airways alliance, painfully split between terminals 8 and 7.

JFK terminals rendering overhead

How Things Will Shift

  • Terminal 1 and 2 will be replaced by the first official international terminal and will also be physically connected to Terminal 4.
  • Terminal 7 will be replaced by the second international terminal and will be connected  to Terminal 5.
  • Notably absent from the announcement is Terminal 8, owned by American Airlines.

While terminal numbering and naming will surely change, six terminals will become three complexes—a huge logistical and operational improvement. As a frequent Oneworld flyer, I’m also curious to see what American Airlines plans to do with Terminal 8 which currently seems to be a ghost town.

JFK Rendering High line and chelsea market

The announcement also included some Changi-type amenities that are in the works including a mini Central Park, Chelsea Market, and High Line. I’m excited to see how these iconic New York landmarks get executed in an airport setting.

New passenger facilities will feature significantly larger waiting areas with high ceilings, natural light and modern architecture coupled with interior green space, exhibits and art featuring iconic New York landmarks and local artists.

What About Delays?

The announcement didn’t include any mention or plan for an additional runway to help alleviate JFK’s airspace and runway congestion issues. On average, 25 percent of JFK’s flights are delayed. All of these passenger experience additions, while much needed, won’t fix that statistic.

However, last week, the Port Authority did announce a renovation of JFK’s busiest runway and a brand-new taxiway. That runway actually handles almost half of the airport’s arriving traffic and will be closing for repairs from April 2019 through at least the end of the year. Get ready for more delays. 😬

JFK Rendering Central Park

The Upshot

With the recent announcement, these improvements will make the grounds within JFK Airport more accessible and the waiting experience much more pleasant. If you take public transportation, don’t expect it to be any easier to get to and from the airport. However, highway improvements (the Van Wyck) are in the works for those who are willing to spend $50 each way for an Uber.

Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to finally get an international airport with facilities worthy of its home city, and to no longer have to feel bad for tourists who arrive to an unintentional geyser spewing from baggage claim.


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Scott October 6, 2018 - 6:07 pm

Looks amazing! Great article!

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