JFK Airport Terminal 3, a Building Stuck in Time

Any way you look at it, JFK Airport in New York is probably one of the most important gateways on earth.  It almost boggles the mind how many millions of people, aircraft, cars, trucks, buses, and subway trains have come and gone successfully from this one point over its long and storied history.  When you think about the scope of this operation it is hard to imagine how it all works so well day after day. 

Over the course of years and with the evolution of Newark Airport I haven’t had much call to fly in and out of JFK as I have had in the past.  The increase in numbers of people traveling, as well as a geographic spread has forced us develop other facilities, but JFK’s importance hasn’t diminished, it has remained the centerpiece of air travel for the entire New York City region.  That is one of the reasons I was so excited recently to take a flight out of JFK, albeit not as convenient as what I am used to traveling from Newark. (Since I live 10 minutes from that airport)  I have fond memories of JFK since my very first international flight originated from this point.  Of course, if I could skip the Verrazano Bridge and Belt Parkway traffic, that would have been best but you can’t have everything.

So much has changed since my days of traveling in and out of JFK.  The Air Train makes this very convenient for travelers going in and out of Manhattan, and also for those, like me, utilizing the long term parking lots.  It simply works really well.  Many of the terminals are shiny and new and bare little to no resemblance of the terminals of the past.  My old stomping grounds T1 or the Eastern Airlines Terminal has been transformed to a modern, quasi-European building that is beautiful and functional.  Of course Eastern is a thing of the past and many of the newer airlines, like Jet Blue have staked a very large claim on this airport territory.  It is healthy, I suppose to change with the times and overall JFK has done a really good job of doing just that.

That brings me to the bad part, the part stuck in a past which was once glorious but now seems in desperate need of a bulldozer.  Pan Am was the airline that put international travel within reach of most Americans.  It’s incredible history of pioneering aviation is widely known and doesn’t require my restatement.  Along the way, however, Pan Am made more than its share of mistakes some financial, some operational and yet others in how it designed its facilities.  JFK terminal 3 is a shining example of how NOT to design an airport terminal.  I was sure that it would have been torn apart by now under the guidance of its new tenant, Delta Airlines.  Its upstairs, downstairs, around stairs gate situation caused miles of needless walking over its long tenure.  With a stupidly designed uphill entrance ramp, and no walkway you need to slink around the side to avoid breaking a sweat just getting into the place.  The checking counters are basically outside with wild birds flying every which way as you stand amazed waiting in line.  Even the professionalism and pleasant nature of the Delta staff is overshadowed by the refurbished conditions they work in.  Once clearing security I was struck by how they have tried to shoe horn in new retail venues into the same old infrastructure which hasn’t handled the years very well.  It is ugly, badly maintained and dirty overall.  It still has its famous long narrow hallways that simple don’t work in today’s carryon world.  Instead of feeling like a visit to an old friend it was like visiting your old school that you hated then, and you hate even more going back to. 

I would gladly use JFK again but please tear down this last mistake that Juan Tripp left behind as a legacy.  Even this titan of aviation is entitled to one mistake, right?


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