PortTik – LaGuardia (LGA) Part 1

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!

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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.

laguardia-field-1939-2-mcnyLike 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. 2017-02-10-12-54-21The 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. fake-uberThis 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!

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To be continued…

PortTik – Reykjavik-Keflavik International (KEF)

Now that the economy seems to be back on track and more people are once again taking their annual vacations, odds are somebody you know has visited Iceland over the last few years. Dig past the almost never ending political rants on Facebook and you’ll probably find several posts from people who have taken the Arctic plunge and visited this small, volcanic island in the middle of the north Atlantic. Of course, for this blog, I will not bore you with our Icelandic adventures but instead turn my focus to the point of contact for most of the world who want to explore this mysteriously European gem for themselves: Keflavik International Airport (KEF).keflavik-international-airport

KEF, which is also goes by Reykjavik-Keflavik Airport, is the largest airport in Iceland and the country’s main hub for international transportation. Its claim to Reykjavik must be for name recognition only since the airport itself is nearly 45 minutes away from the capital city. This distance does not pose a problem for visitors as the country has made sure that there are an abundance of transportation options available to and from Reykjavik or any of the surrounding areas. Even the famous Blue Lagoon has shuttle options available almost around the clock so that the maximum amount of tourist can take advantage of the country’s most famous landmark. Rental cars are also readily available for those who wish to skip the public options and go out on their own. Speaking from personal experience, driving in Iceland is a very pleasurable experience; although unless you have extraordinary language abilities, opt for the pre-programmed GPS unit to help quickly access the best Iceland has to offer.

kef-wwiiWith its beginnings as a U.S. military base during WWII, KEF sits on about 10 square miles, with four runways in total (although they usually only operate on two). KEF has one two-storied passenger terminal named after Leifur Eiriksson the country’s symbolic founder (that’s Leif Erikson for you American readers). It consists of 35 gates with plans to expand extensively over the next several years. In 2015, almost 5 million passengers traveled through KEF which has been growing steadily since Iceland started emphasizing tourism as a major industry following the global financial collapse. KEF is almost exclusively used for international flights with the closet domestic airport located on the southern end of Reykjavik.fullsizerender

One of the most impressive aspects of KEF is the modernization found throughout the airport both from the building’s architectural design to its many services upon your initial entrance. For example, Icelandair’s flight check-in procedures are fully automated. By using self-directed kiosks, you can print out your boarding pass, retrieve you checked luggage tags and even weigh and send your luggage on its way all without ever needing to talk with an actual human. Once you print your luggage tags, you place them on the handles and move them to a conveyor belt that whisks it away to its designated flight. Because of Iceland’s international reach, all of these machines accommodate every language imaginable so even non-English or non-Icelandic speaking passengers can easily make it through the process (Icelanders are very well versed in English due to their proximity to the United Kingdom).

The modern design extends throughout the terminal with tall ceilings consisting of tilted glass panels in the main hub. hallwayThe wide corridors are fashioned with dark, metal-paneled walls that meet light hardwood floors creating an interesting contrast with an almost industrial like feel. The seating was limited around the actual gate areas but plenty could be found just down the hall. Brightly colored signs greet both arriving and departing passengers and are conveniently located enough to where you always seem to know which direction to head. Power stations are located everywhere and accommodate many different international plug-in types. This along with the airports free WIFI makes it a very tech-rich place which was very convenient for first-time international traveler like us. There was even a children’s play area which may be more attractive to families instead of their kids just hanging around watching an iPad.

It’s a hard call on whether or not I’m going to give KEF my seal of approval in regards to the restrooms (or water closets as they are referred to in Iceland). First and foremost, no dividers between the urinals. wc1Of course, this is usually my unforgivable sin but the restrooms did include a plentiful amount of fully stocked stalls meaning they had ceiling to floor doors, toilets and sinks all in one impressively sized room. The main sinks included the Dyson double-duty water dispenser/hand-dryer which I usually don’t care for but in this setting it was nice (Dyson, by the way, has a lock on all of Europe’s restrooms). The restrooms were clean and well-lit and could accommodate many travelers at once. We only found one set after we made it through security which we found quite odd. It was located away from many of the gates and down a flight of stairs. I’m sure there were more somewhere but we didn’t have time to explore around.

Of course, not everything about KEF was to be desired. Consider yourself lucky if your flight lands at a gate with an actual jet bridge. I imagine that I’ve been spoiled by American airports but it’s still a big enough deal for me to mention. This is especially relevant on a cold, rainy afternoon when getting wet before a six-hour flight is not exactly my preferred way to start a journey. Take the frustration of waiting on someone to cram their plus-sized carryon into the overhead bin and times that by 1,000 when you’re doing it in the freezing rain. This will turn you into a disgruntled passenger really quick.terminal

Also, the KEF staff did not seem to be very interested in keeping things organized. On both of our flights, instead of boarding by row or group like we usually experience, just calling out that the flight was preparing to board sent everyone into a free-for-all. Of course, everyone stayed civil (at least by my standards) but that seemed to completely lengthen the amount of time it took to fill up the plane. I would think that the organizational methods used by the same airline at other airports (in our case, O’Hare and Gatwick) would translate to KEF but I was wrong. You got in line regardless of where you were sitting and hoped for the best.

I should mention that even in the most chaotic areas of an airport (the ticketing area, security, right at the gate) the employees at KEF were amazingly calm and collected. Although I’m sure it’s frowned upon by the umbrella organization that makes up the Icelandic border control, the agent at customs could have cared less about who was wandering into their country. They did the normal checks of our passports but that was about it. I guess this could be looked at as a con (from a national security standpoint), but as a passenger, I was good to go.

All being said, KEF is a great facility and an embodiment of the direction Iceland is heading in the future. I can only imagine that every time I fly through this airport, the differences will be dramatic as they continue to become a first-rate international tourist destination. For those of you who want a truly unique experience, give Iceland a try and I doubt you will be disappointed.kef_overhead

PortTik – Indianapolis International (IND)

Before the days of online maps and travel apps (I guess blogs fit in there as well), many went to the local AAA office for a “TripTik” when planning a vacation. You could get hotel reservations, maps, tickets to attractions and much more as a perk of your membership. Like much of the travel industry, TripTiks took a backseat to the online world of travel planning leaving this once great travel tool left behind amongst a sea of dead travel agencies and planners. AAA still offer TripTiks today through a virtual environment so it hasn’t completely gone away.

Anyway, in a way to honor the glory days of paper travel, I’m going to start my own version of the TripTiks but of course, focusing my efforts on the world’s airports. Since my job gives me the opportunity to do a good amount of travel, plus the travel my wife and I do on our own, I’m in a lot of airports and along with people watching, I like to explore the environments making note of the good, the bad, and the absolutely stupid. So I don’t infringe on AAA’s copyright, I’ve decided to call version “PortTiks” where I will do my best to give a review of airports I encounter along with some tips that I may learn along the way.

indy-airport-light02To begin this journey, I will start at my home base at the Indianapolis International Airport (IND) located in the “Crossroads of America,” beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. This is the starting point for most of my journeys so it only makes sense to start with the one in my own back yard. The first thing to point out about IND compared to many of the other airports I will review, is that even with a few years under its belt, it is brand, spanking new. IND was one of the first airports to be fully reconstructed after September 11, 2001 which along with its visual appeal, is considering one of the safest airports in the United States. Although it is hard to consider IND a “major airport” given the low frequency of flights in and out daily and sine it is not a major airline hub, IND offers many of the perks of the larger facilities amplified to a new and modern level.

According the IND website, the airport consist of approximately 1.2 million square feet, with two concourses and 20 gates. Only two gates throughout the complex are designated for international departures but I guess that’s enough for them to say they are global. One of the first things you notice about IND both from inside and out, is the was built to incorporate as much natural light as possible. ind-lightThe terminal, concourses, and even the baggage claim area is made up of almost constant windows, many of which reach twenty or more feet in the air. During the day this adds a nice outside feel to the facility but at night it is equally as impressive especially driving up from I-70. I can only imagine that the pilots can see IND from miles away because of the amount of light that radiates out in the evening hours. I’m not an expert, but surely that is a plus.

If you follow me long enough, you’re going to notice that restrooms are very important to me. The one thing that will always be a determining factor between a good versus bad restroom is the presence or absence of dividers between each urinal. I’m happy to announce that IND passes theurinalsstagefright test and has nice, metal dividers comfortably situated between each urinal to keep me from having to view the business of the traveler next to me. The restrooms also have nice hangers on the backs of the stall doors; at least most of them have yet to be ripped off by some jerk-off who thinks it’s a good idea to hang up his 40lb garment bag. You can also get a handful of hand sanitizer on the way out which is another plus on their part.

IND has its perks but there are plenty of drawbacks as well. For one, some of the best restaurants are actually located before the security checkpoints. I wonder if this was intentional or a design flaw that wasn’t realized until it was too late. Of course with IND not being a major hub, there are few travelersindy-airport-inside-restaurants who arrive on a layover so that may have factored into this decision. However, since IND is mostly a come and go airport, you either have to decide to eat at one of these establishments before going into security or after you reach your destination. I guess one could go out of security waiting on a delay but who really wants to invite the additional screenings you get for making that decision. There are plenty of other eating or grab-and-go establishments in each concourse so dining options is not a problem. I just had to get this little annoyance off my chest.

As I’ve stated a few times, IND is not a major airport so whether you are traveling to here or heading out, most layoverlikely you’re going to layover at either Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas or Chicago (to name a few). I’ll review those at a later time and you can determine yourself how much of an inconvenience that can cause. IND has done a pretty good job of announcing new direct flights fairly often but for the most part, you’re on a leg when flying IND so get used to it. Maybe someday, as the city grows and more flights start pouring through this airport, they will get to the point where point A to B is the norm instead of the exception.

Overall, IND is a great airport which has been recognized by publications like Conde Nast, TripAdvisor and Airports Council International. It’s visual appeal, wide corridors and overall traveler friendly design make it worthy of all the allocates it has received. It’s relatively small size and low flight frequency are some negative attributes; however, IND fits into the direction of its host city as a growing, modern and clean facility that is ready to bust out into bigger and better things.