I’ve read what feels like a ton of posts, articles, and tweets about Governor Cuomo’s approach to LaGuardia, and I can’t take it anymore!
Perhaps the best article (and I’ll call it an article, because it was via Travel and Leisure), was Seth Miller’s on how $4 Billion Later, New York’s LaGuardia Airport is Still Not Going to be Good Enough. The fact is, before you even read what I have to write, the answer is – Seth’s right.
Why bother adding to the mix?
Because, I grew up in New York, I flew from LaGuardia, until my parents had the good sense to either have us fly from JFK (when we were flying internationally, because it was a non-stop), or fly from Long Island Islip’s MacArthur Airport, when we’d have to connect anyway. Despite all that, I still flew from LaGuardia in my adulthood, in fact, most recently on a trip for my wife’s birthday a few years ago to Seoul.
All that said, my only tie to it, really is the history of it. From Wikipedia:
The initiative to develop the airport for commercial flights began with an outburst by New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia (in office from 1934 to 1945) upon the arrival of his TWA flight at Newark Airport – the only commercial airport serving the New York City region at the time – as his ticket said “New York”. He demanded to be taken to New York, and ordered the plane to be flown to Brooklyn‘s Floyd Bennett Field, giving an impromptu press conference to reporters along the way. He urged New Yorkers to support a new airport within their city.
Now, I can totally see the point of pride, of having a commercial airport serving your city from your city. And in fact now, there are two airports within the confines of New York City, perhaps separated by the largest short term parking lot of any airport (I joke).
Is there a better way?
That’s the real question, isn’t it? Most clean-sheet (and I’m not even sure if that’s a technical term) airports are designed outside of major cities, like Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, or on reclaimed islands, such as Hong Kong International Airport. Somehow I doubt there’s really room for a reclaimed island in the Long Island Sound, or on the south shore, so really, the best they can do is refurbish, rebuild, revitalize. But is the $4 billion dollar plan the right option? $4 billion is a lot of money. I can’t even fathom that much being spent while adding so little. As Seth highlights, that $4 billion will make improve passenger flow by connecting all gates inside security.
The reason I’m shaking my head
Perhaps the most perplexing part for me though, is the fact that this plan doesn’t truly “fix” the transportation problem. New York, much like London, Hong Kong, Chicago, and other major cities, has a great (ok, pretty decent?) mass transit system. The plan doesn’t really seem connect the airports to the existing transit system. Yes, there’s an AirTrain. And by the way, AirTrain seems to be the approach for all New York area Airports. In London, they have the Heathrow Express, however the Piccadilly Line also links Heathrow to central London, so you have a choice. In Hong Kong, there is the Airport Express, a single train for the bulk of passengers, stopping at residential areas, as well as Central (on Hong Kong Island) and Kowloon side. Yes, you board a bus afterwards to get to your hotel, but the transfer is seldom stressful.
Now, New York is not alone in things that make you scratch (or shake) your head. Denver International Airport doesn’t have a rail connection to downtown Denver–in fact it is under environmental review. Don’t even get me started with the Dulles Rail project going to one of my local Washington, DC airports.
It still boggles my mind, that big thinkers are building great airports, but never really think about what passengers will do once they exit the airport. I mean, airports aren’t the destination, cities, are often the destination.
Really all this comes down to is, New York’s Governor wants to spend money to put another bandaid on what is more likely metaphorically equivalent to tendonitis. The problem is not just LaGuardia, it impacts the entire New York region. Will $4 billion fix it? No. Really, it comes down to what an former boss of mine liked to say: “you can put lipstick on a pig, but, at the end of the day, it is still a pig.“