Aiports, Transportation, La Guardia, New York, Renovation, Expansion, Architecture, Construction, Project Opening
Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
By the time New Yorkers return to traveling on planes, they may forget they ever hated La Guardia Airport.
The airport famously derided as ‚Äúthird-world‚ÄĚ by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will take a big leap forward on Saturday when its cramped, 56-year-old Central Terminal is jettisoned for an airy, art-filled $4 billion replacement.
It will be a notable milestone for an airport long maligned as dingy and decrepit.
But there will not be many travelers around to enjoy the new arrivals and departures hall in Terminal B because the coronavirus pandemic has brought air traffic to a near standstill.
The number of passengers using La Guardia and the other airports that serve New York City has dropped by about 95 percent since the virus swept through the region. Airlines have slashed their schedules, tourist attractions have been shuttered and businesses have grounded their employees.
The drastic decline in movement made for a muted celebration in the gleaming new terminal on Wednesday.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has made rebuilding New York City‚Äôs airports one of his main missions, announced the opening and cut a ceremonial ribbon with a small retinue of invited guests, all of whom wore masks.
Absent were the throngs of elected officials and hangers-on who have shown up for the various groundbreakings and unveilings at La Guardia since Mr. Cuomo announced five years ago that the airport would be completely rebuilt.
Still, Mr. Cuomo was clearly pleased, calling the new terminal ‚Äúreally breathtaking‚ÄĚ and saying it was the type of large-scale development project that could energize the reopening of the state's economy after months of lockdown.
‚ÄúWe needed this today,‚ÄĚ Mr. Cuomo said. ‚ÄúWe needed to see New York stand up and shine.‚ÄĚ
The pandemic did not significantly affect the completion of the main terminal, he said. But the drop in traffic has allowed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates La Guardia, to accelerate construction of the roadways at the airport, he said.
With the opening of the 840,000-square-foot building, the overhaul of La Guardia will be more than halfway complete. At the east end of the airport, Delta Air Lines is building a replacement for another terminal that is scheduled to open by the end of next year.
When everything is finished, it will amount to the first wholly new big-city airport in the country. The last major airport to open was Denver International Airport 25 years ago, Mr. Cuomo said.
The replacement of the old Central Terminal, which opened in 1964, has been planned for a decade. But it was Mr. Biden‚Äôs mocking several years ago that changed everything.
Mr. Cuomo took offense and ordered the Port Authority to think bigger and create a truly 21st-century airport. La Guardia was an ‚Äúembarrassment‚ÄĚ to the city and the state, he said.
It also was widely reviled by travelers. A survey last year by J.D. Power ranked La Guardia as the worst large airport in the country.
‚ÄúI just want it to be fixed,‚ÄĚ said Julian Shiff, a resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who had just arrived from Denver Wednesday. ‚ÄúNone of the New York airports are good.‚ÄĚ
Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority, said that New York‚Äôs airports have been ‚Äúsubstandard‚ÄĚ and that La Guardia had become a laughingstock in skits on ‚ÄúSaturday Night Live.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe experience at La Guardia was disgraceful,‚ÄĚ Mr. Cotton said after leading a tour of the new terminal. He pointed with pride to the newest security screening technology, the contactless system for ordering food and the much larger restrooms.
He said he hoped that the new building, filled with shops and restaurants that evoke New York, would help spur a resurgence in air travel.
‚ÄúProviding travelers with a first-class airport experience is a today issue,‚ÄĚ Mr. Cotton said. ‚ÄúAir traffic will come back. There will be a vaccine and people will lose their fear of getting on planes.‚ÄĚ
Before the pandemic, La Guardia was busier than it had ever been, despite all of the construction that made getting in and out aggravating. Its short runways were overburdened, and delays were among the worst of any American airport.
The rebuilt airport will sit on the same, small piece of land, wedged between the Gra