The Port Authority’s executive director is ‘ecstatic’ with the new LaGuardia Airport and has a message for Joe Biden after comparing LGA to a ‘third-world country’

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  • LaGuardia Airport recently celebrated a milestone with the opening of its new Terminal B Arrivals and Departures Hall.
  • The new facility is the centrepiece of the $US5.1 billion overhaul for New York City’s smallest passenger airport and the result of four years of construction.
  • We spoke to Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to see what he thinks of the finished product and how he now responds to Joe Biden’s likening of LaGuardia to “some third-world country.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Like most New Yorkers, Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton did not expect LaGuardia Airport to be the crown jewel of the Port Authority’s airport system when the monumental project to overhaul the airport began.

“I think the answer would easily be no,” Cotton said in an interview with Business Insider when asked if he thought LaGuardia would ever be the flagship airport of his organisation.

LaGuardia Airport New Terminal

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey manages five New York area airports including LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, Teterboro, and Stewart International. Kennedy Airport in Queens is arguably the flagship due to its size, new facilities, and prestige among travellers.

“But as I saw the plans and the renderings, the magnitude of the change and the extraordinary ambition of the project began to sink in,” Cotton said.

When construction began on the new Terminal B, slated to be the centrepiece as the largest and most ambitious of the $US5.1 billion project, LaGuardia was the airport to avoid in New York City. Its main terminal was known for its crumbling infrastructure, aircraft congestion, and flight delays. Years of construction only worsened LaGuardia’s perception in the eyes of the travelling public as roadway congestion and traffic jams became commonplace throughout the renovation, forcing some to navigate the airport on foot.

“At the beginning of the construction project, we the Port Authority had projected that passenger volume would fall,” Cotton said. “But the astonishing development was that the passenger traffic never fell off; in fact, it only increased.”

Four years following its groundbreaking, the headache is paying off: the new LaGuardia nearly unrecognizable, a completely transformed transit hub. Terminal B is now 80% complete with developers celebrating a milestone by recently opening the Arrivals and Departures Hall, known as the headhouse, that will welcome its passengers.

LaGuardia Airport New Terminal

Cotton had access to all the architectural plans, drawings, and rendering, and even got a glimpse of the new LaGuardia as the new Eastern Concourse opened in 2018. But it wasn’t until he saw the finished product of the headhouse that he realised the potential of the project in reshaping the airport.

“When I finally walked into the finished product, it was just astonishing,” Cotton said. “I would have to say, honestly, I never imagined that it could turn out as striking and as magnificent as it has.”

The 850,000-square-foot hall alone is unlike any other New York area airport. Instead of cramped and frantic confines of LGA’s old Central Terminal Building, the new Arrivals and Departures Hall has a massive check-in area, a luxury retail and dining space, and more tarmac to give aircraft room to manoeuvre around each other.

LaGuardia Airport New Terminal

“I am ecstatic about the finished product,” said Cotton. “I think the design with 80-foot floor to ceiling windows – which is what greets you in the departures hall – with really extraordinary public art installations forming both the centrepiece and the surround of the mosaic wall, just gives you an extraordinary first impression.”

The airport has clearly come a long way since 2014 when then-Vice President Joe Biden famously criticised the airport, calling it better indicative of an airport in “some third-world country,” but the negative perception of LaGuardia still lingers. Cotton is confident that the problem will be quickly remedied by word-of-mouth promotion and wouldn’t give any insight to specific marketing plans the Port Authority has for its new facility.

LaGuardia Airport New Terminal

“I don’t think anyone who goes through the new facilities will think of LaGuardia anymore as a second or third cousin and a down-in-the-mouth substandard facility,” Cotton said.

And to now-presidential candidate Joe Biden, Cotton says: “You were right then, but this is now and LaGuardia has left the third world behind and is not only first world, but world-class.”