On Wednesday, JetBlue passengers will get their first glimpse of the carrier’s new international arrivals concourse at New York’s JFK airport.
The space, which will offer JetBlue’s international passengers the convenience of clearing customs and making connections within the same terminal for the first time, is a milestone of sorts for the airline. But it is also the most recent example of how New York airports are starting to get badly needed makeovers, with airlines beginning to offer the sleek terminals and modern amenities critics say have been glaringly absent from one of the most important air travel markets in the world.
“New York is the most competitive and most prestigious airline market in the country, and perhaps, the world,” says Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group. “The growing volume of long-haul international flights at other U.S. gateways increases the competitive pressure on New York to make sure its airports can deliver efficient, pleasant experiences or the region risks losing those passengers.”
In October, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there would be design competitions to develop master plans for how to modernize both JFK and LaGuardia airports. That announcement followed an earlier pledge by Cuomo to have the state oversee building projects at those airports to hasten their revitalization.
“Our airport modernization plan not only enhances how our individual airports look and act in the 21st century, but addresses how they must fundamentally work together to strategically grow New York’s economy,” the governor said in a press release announcing the design contests.
Major airport upgrades are already happening. Delta unveiled its new $1.4 billion international terminal at New York’s JFK airport last May. It features a 24,000 square-foot Sky Club with its own rooftop deck, among other amenities.
United will start a $120 million revamping of Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport this month. When it’s completed, fliers will be able to use roughly 6,000 iPads at no cost to monitor their flight’s progress, order food, and buy products that will be delivered to them while they sit in the gate area.
And JetBlue spent $200 million on its expansion of JFK’s Terminal 5 to include an international arrivals area. In addition to its own U.S. Customs facility that can handle up to 1,400 travelers per hour, the terminal will have restaurants and shops that offer distinctly New York products. Later this year, a children’s play area will open that focuses on interactive science, math and technology-based activities. And next spring, travelers will be able to enjoy an outdoor park as well as a dog walk that peers out at the Manhattan skyline.
“T5i will definitely help us solidify our position as New York’s hometown airline,” JetBlue President Robin Hayes said at a ribbon cutting last week, where invited guests were given a preview of the newly expanded terminal.
Joe Sitt, chairman and founder of the Global Gateway Alliance, a group dedicated to the modernization and improvement of New York City airports, praised JetBlue’s terminal. But he says much more work needs to be done for all the city’s air portals to be considered truly world class.
“JetBlue’s Terminal at JFK is state of the art, and its international expansion only improves it,” Sitt says. “That’s the kind of 21st century experience, and leadership, that all 112 million passengers at New York area airports deserve, and the kind that’s been lacking for too long. But we cannot forget that there are other critical fixes, like the long overdue overhaul of LaGuardia’s Central Terminal and the modernization of Terminal A at Newark, that must be completed for our airports to truly see a renaissance.”
The upgrades already made, or currently underway, by airlines such as JetBlue, Delta and United are setting a standard that could spur even more airport improvements, Harteveldt says.
“No single airline dominates New York,” he says. “So if one airline upgrades its terminal, others must follow or risk losing passengers and revenue.”