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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. 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.
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. 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."
"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."
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.