Much like the city it serves, LaGuardia (LGA) airport can never fully be reviewed at one time so this will be a first installment in order for us to start understanding the complexity and vastness of this property and everything it represents. At first glance LGA looks like a couple of abandoned warehouses connected to a 1950s era mall with an air control tower situated right in the middle. Add in a few dozen parking lots, roads and freeways going every direction and (at the time of this post) everything within sight being currently under construction and you can start to get a visual of how this airport is laid out on the south bank of the East River. LGA is part vintage mixed with modern styles which changes every ten feet or less depending on which direction your heading. Some of its innards are up-to-date, clean and a charm to visit while other parts are worn out, dirty and make you think you flown into a third world county. It’s safe to say that with all that’s going on at LGA…the facility, the people, the good, bad and the outright icky…I’m confident that this airport is an exact representation of New York City which is why it’s one of my favorite places to visit when taking to the skies!
First opened in 1939, LGA was built on a site of the former Gala Amusement Park in Queens, New York, approximately eight miles east of midtown Manhattan. Formerly known as both the Glenn H. Curtiss and the North Beach Airport, LGA’s name was officially changed in 1947 to honor then New York City Mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, who was in office at the time of its construction. He was also instrumental in persuading his fellow New Yorkers to support a new airport since he refused to recognize Newark as an official landing spot for the city. He worked with airlines like TWA and American to utilize the new airport and within a year of its inaugural flight, LGA became the busiest airport in the world.
Like many American airports, LGA was used as a military depot during WWII which gave way for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to take over operations in 1947. The 1960s brought major renovations to LGA as it quickly outgrew the main terminal on Grand Central Parkway. A new terminal was constructed along with the signature 150-foot air control tower which was in operation until 2006. LGA now hosts four terminal buildings with 72 gates and sits on approximately 680 acres across northern Queens. In 2015, over 28 million passengers flew in and out of LGA making it the 20th busiest airport in the U.S.
The interior of LGA changes by terminal and in some cases even from one side to the other. Most of it consists of thin hallways with taupe colored walls or gray paneling with low, drop ceilings and tiled floors. The gates are relatively roomy with a good amount of seating depending again on which part of the airport you happen to be in. There is no lack of food or retail options in all of the terminals but room inside of their facilities can sometimes be a challenge. Of course, it wouldn’t be a real review without a least mentioning the restrooms. Like most of the older era U.S. airport, the entrances are too narrow and your chances of getting a stall with an unbroken coat hanger if fairly low. They have updated some of the restrooms but they are hit or miss. Specifically, for the men’s rooms, dividers at the urinals are a luxury so it’s time for me to start memorizing which one’s have them for my own comfort.
One of the more baffling things about LGA is the lack of a direct mass transit system from Manhattan to the airport. There are a plethora of cabs, buses, shared service rides, (apparently even fake Ubers) but no subway line. This is in contrast to both JKF and Newark who have rail services that serve passengers from NYC to the terminals. Although a real New Yorker or a savvy traveler can figure out how to use a combination of the subway and other means to get to and from LGA, the majority of visitors are left to rely on either slow or expensive transportation has the only options available. From what I understand, this is now being addressed through the expansion efforts currently underway. I imagine easing the congestion around the airport and remaining competitive with the other airports is the reason why this project has finally taken off.
LGA is not just an airport, it’s a part of the New York culture and a gateway for those who want to be a part of it. Millions of people from around the world have experienced one of the greatest cities on Earth because LGA with millions more to come. Yeah it may have its share of problems and visually it is about as appealing as a closed steel mill, but it’s still an amazing place with great things on the way. If you plan on heading to NYC and have a choice…well I would recommend the cheapest flight to whatever airport…but don’t count out LGA. You’ll won’t be sorry because…come on, you’re in New York…and that’s as good as it gets!
To be continued…