No more narrow corridors and low ceilings. No more confusing signage. No more cramped toilet stalls that don’t fit your luggage.
You might say LaGuardia has begun to emigrate from the Third World.
Saturday marked opening day for the remodeled eastern concourse of LaGuardia’s Terminal B, a $4 billion construction project intended to help upgrade an airport that Joe Biden in 2014 (in)famously likened to being "in some Third World country."
Starting before sunrise, 11 of the terminal’s 18 gates began servicing passengers, with the remaining seven to open next year. The terminal is expected to be substantially done by 2022.
The project is part of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s $8 billion rehab of the airport, which will extend to other terminals as well. Eventually, the new buildings will span 2.7 million square feet, 72 new gates and six new concourses. On Saturday, 243,000 square feet opened.
“It was what Joe Biden suggested: It was very close to an airport that you might have seen in the Third World," said Stewart Steeves, the chief executive of LaGuardia Gateway Partners, the private entity operating and redeveloping the terminal. “And now, we’ve not only taken it to the First World. We’ve taken it to something that is going to be the best in the U.S. and North America.”
The rehabbed terminal’s 55-foot ceilings, new floor-to-ceiling windows, fig trees, porcelain-tiled floors with subliminal "wayfinding" and yuppie-friendly eateries are all but hidden until passengers pass through the routine airport security checkpoint to the eastern concourse, which serves Air Canada and American and Southwest airlines.
United will join in the middle of 2019, according to Gateway. The remodeled area for ticketing, check-in, security and baggage claim — known as the “headhouse” — is set to open in 2020, according to Gateway.
On Saturday afternoon, passengers scurried to imminent flights while others took in the amenities, such as a children’s play area with miniature airplanes, a control tower and a 16-foot-tall interactive computer game that invites kids to launch simulated flights over Manhattan’s skyline.
Seven-year-old Connor Oliver, a second-grader from Toronto, capped his family’s trip to the Big Apple — which included The Rockettes, the Statue of Liberty, and the Staten Island Ferry — by playing the computer game and naming the flights after his family.
Connor said he noticed the difference in the airport: when he flew into New York last week, his first New York City experience was old LaGuardia.
“It was dirty and everything,” Connor said. “Over here it’s way cleaner.”
His mom, Amanda Noud, shared her son’s enthusiasm for the change.
“It was a little bit dingy. A little bit rundown,” said Noud, 46, who works in human resources.
Embedded in the terminal floor is subliminal “wayfinding”: dark-shaded tile down the middle to guide passengers to a gate, with white accents emanating from the shops, Steeves said. Once a passenger reaches a gate, the subtly patterned tile gives way to a carpet with no pattern, he said.
Along the way are mostly upscale restaurants and stores, including outposts of Shake Shack; McNally Jackson, the Manhattan bookstore; La Chula Taquería, the Mexican-food eatery with roots in Harlem; Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, which was founded as a cafe near Gramercy Park; FAO Schwarz; MAC cosmetics; and private pods for massage, manicure/pedicures and treatments for acne and wrinkles.
The vending contract bars the vendors from charging more in the terminal than they do outside the airport, said Tracy Sandford, Gateway's developer’s marketing director.
Daniel Devin, 57, a private pilot, was flying home commercial Saturday afternoon to Pittsburgh, en route to Youngstown, Ohio.
“It’s nice. It’s beautiful. This is a vast improvement,” Devin said between chicken and pork tacos from La Chula. “It’s just a little hard to get to.”