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Dingy LaGuardia Airport undergoing $3.6B makeover

Fixing LaGuardia

NEW YORK (AP) - Dark, dingy, cramped and sad. These are some of the ways travelers describe LaGuardia Airport, a bustling hub often ranked in customer satisfaction surveys as the worst in America.

"It does not represent what people think of when they think of New York and Broadway shows and glamour. It's not very pretty," said Layla House, a sales manager for a medical supply company who travels from her home in Bullard, Texas, to New York at least six times a year.

That's about to change.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced the state is taking control of an ambitious $3.6 billion construction project that envisions an entirely new central terminal at LaGuardia, with vast open spaces, restaurants, shopping plazas, new parking garages, free Wi-Fi and other amenities now common in other airports. Cuomo also wants to develop a plan to upgrade cargo operations at nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport.

"We are going to redevelop those airports the way they should have been redeveloped many, many years ago," Cuomo said in his annual State of the State address to the Legislature.

Cuomo, who is running for re-election and has been mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, said he had become frustrated that talk of such renovations has been going on since the 1990s with little progress.

He wants to jump-start construction just as he has done with a $3.9 billion project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, north of New York City, which also had been stalled for years.

LaGuardia, along the Flushing and Bowery bays in northern Queens, is the closest of the New York area's three major air hubs to midtown Manhattan, just 8 miles, and it handled a record 27 million passengers last year.

Often the first building they see is the sprawling, boomerang-shaped Central Terminal, which opened just in time to receive visitors to the 1964 World's Fair. Many passengers say it is like stepping back in time.

They immediately encounter low ceilings and dimly lit, narrow hallways. Check-in kiosks are arrayed haphazardly in rows just inside the entrances, where bright green neon lights blare "Welcome to LaGuardia Airport." On the west side of the terminal sits a modest food court featuring a hamburger counter, a pizzeria and a Dunkin' Donuts.

"It's probably the worst of all the terminals I go in and out of," said Thomas Smith, a frequent-flying energy company executive from Chicago who has seen buckets on the floor under leaky ceilings and other signs of decay. "There's no real food service other than small snack shops. The gate areas are old."

Most passengers have to drag their carry-on bags down a flight of stairs to get from their gates to baggage claim because only one concourse has an escalator. Others have complained that neither Kennedy nor LaGuardia provides free Wi-Fi, something that has been industry standard for years.

Built to accommodate 8 million passengers a year, the central terminal now handles 12.5 million. Cuomo envisions a new terminal that could handle as many as 17.5 million passengers by 2030. LaGuardia's three other terminals - which include the Art Deco-style Marine Air Terminal, where seaplanes landed in the 1940s - are not slated for renovation.

"When you see the difference between these airports and some of these other countries' (airports), it's shameful," said George Hobica, who runs the website Airfarewatchdog.com. He noted that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, airports had to install security equipment for luggage and passenger screening.

"The TSA equipment barely fits at LaGuardia," Hobica said. "LaGuardia is just functionally disjointed."

In 2012, Travel and Leisure magazine put LaGuardia at the bottom of its ranking of the nation's worst airports, saying it had the "dubious honor of ranking the worst for the check-in and security process, the worst for baggage handling, the worst when it comes to providing Wi-Fi, the worst at staff communication, and the worst design and cleanliness."

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, concedes the facility is in need of an overhaul and had already begun awarding contracts for preliminary work at LaGuardia. A spokesman said it welcomes the state's involvement to expedite the project.

Four companies have been asked to submit proposals for the Central Terminal Building project by April 15, and construction is expected to begin by the end of the year. The tricky part will come when construction is fully underway while the airport continues to serve millions.

"Everybody acknowledges that this is a complex undertaking but one that is absolutely necessary," said Stephen Sigmund, executive director of the Global Gateway Alliance, which has advocated for improvements at New York's airports.

"It's going to be a nightmare," added Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst. "This is going to be the equivalent of General Motors trying to change one of its models while the assembly line is still running. ... But this is the way airports get redeveloped. Every airline understands this."

Darius Douglass, a New York writer waiting for a flight at LaGuardia, said the workers throughout the airport try to be friendly and helpful. "But it's an old airport. It just needs to be refurbished. It was good in its heyday, but nothing has been done."

Join the discussion

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dreamers57 January 20 2014 at 11:14 AM

theres nothing wrong with stepping back in time. i live 50 years in the past now in 1964. out side of the computer, i only watch 60s tv shows drive a 60s car and only listen to 1960s music. everything about 2014 sucks.the people were so much friendlier 50 years ago.

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2 replies
hktrav1@aol.com dreamers57 January 20 2014 at 11:16 AM

Students were better behaved. Families stuck together. Friends were real in the 60's.
A major tragedy is necessary to bring us back,

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1 reply
Mitchell Forman hktrav1@aol.com January 20 2014 at 12:35 PM

"A major tragedy"? Didn't we already HAVE that back in 2001?? Nothing will bring us back, I'm afraid, in this alienating age of techno-zombies who in their zeal to forever stay 'connected', are living only in cyber-space - which isn't really living at ALL!!!

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Mitchell Forman dreamers57 January 20 2014 at 12:29 PM

Hey 'dreamers57', do you still eat food that dates back to 1964? Do you insist on medical and dental treatment from 1964? Do you watch your '60s TV-shows on a snowy early-sixties tube set with 'rabbit-ears'? And how much do you pay for car repair-bills to keep your '60s car running indefinitely?? You know, I'D love to "go back" more than anyone, but time keeps going forward - and we have no choice but to go along with it.. l

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John January 20 2014 at 3:48 AM

THE LAST THING THAT I'M FOCUSED ON WHEN FLYING NOWADAYS IS THE DECOR IN THE TERMINALS. I ALWAYS FLY SOUTHWEST, AND ODDS ARE WE'LL LAND AT KENNEDY ANYWAY

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1 reply
littlestanley2 John January 20 2014 at 7:11 AM

Not any more John! Southwest just acquired a bunch of slots from the New American Airline at La Guardia , it was part of the deal that allowed UsAirways, and American to merge! So you will soon be flying into La Guardia!! or let's say.... the new, and revamped La Guardia!!

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icastfuturestars January 20 2014 at 3:09 AM

What is the point of upgrading the interior when the runways and air landing space is much too narrow and short. This iarport is downright dangerous. if there is no way to lengthen the runways they shouldnt sink nearly 4 billion..close it and open a new one.

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croshatch January 20 2014 at 1:34 AM

While they're at it, they should lengthen the runways.

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MICHELLE January 20 2014 at 6:57 AM

It's old. It's been around since JFK Airport was Idylewild. It's just long overdue for a makeover.

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weroutatime January 20 2014 at 1:08 AM

Never forget my First flight into LaGuardia this past April......if I didn't know better thought the plane dropped us off in the Basement........

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1 reply
James weroutatime January 20 2014 at 5:20 AM

Now there's a memory worth clinging to. Were you planning to spend the day there? It's an airport. You get off the plane and you leave. Don't you? Or are you Viktor Frickin' Navorski?

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Christian January 20 2014 at 12:51 AM

Airport is horrible and outdated....embarrassing. Cant wait for a bulldozer then a redo!

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trudymagarill January 20 2014 at 12:45 AM

It is all so true----but now that plans are being made, lots of people will have jobs for a long time----so from BAD does come GOOD----my Mom taught me that long ago! GOOD LUCK and THANK YOU!

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1 reply
d.carns trudymagarill January 20 2014 at 1:48 AM

We will need all the luck we can muster with Big Government and Obama involved.

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Nellie January 20 2014 at 12:42 AM

My parents would take me on Sunday afternoons in the 40's, to watch the planes takeoff and arrive. That was a wonderful thrill for me. I've seen the gradual changes of improvements through out the years. It definitely needs a complete restoration to keep up tourisms expectations for a thrilling and exciting entrance to the glamour of our city. Get the money to improve it and I'll keep flying in and out till in my 80's.

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harrymurrell2 January 19 2014 at 11:34 PM

It is a lot older than 1964. I was there in the mid 30's when it was built of ashes from Rickers prison. When it was built, it was called North Beach Airport. At the time F. La Guardia was the Mayor, and it was renamed for him. .I was there as a kid on opening day. I later worked there for United Airlines in 1946 when they were flying DC 3's and DC 4's. I took a trolley car to work. The Junction Ave. line.

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1 reply
straight2spam harrymurrell2 January 20 2014 at 1:36 AM

What are u a mummy? Or just craw out of ur grave?

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