Aviation News

August 5, 2010

New Digs for Delta at JFK

The famed concrete canopy that has been hanging over Delta aircraft for a half century sits on death row. (Photo by Brian Futterman)

Hot on the heels of receiving a new runway, New York – John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) will soon be going under the knife again when Delta Airlines begins construction on a new $1.2 billion terminal approved by the Port Authority earlier Thursday.

Under the plan, Delta will shift its international operation from Terminal 3 next door to Terminal 4, which itself will expand to add nine new passenger gates on (what would seem to be) a third concourse.  Of the 25 gates that will then exist at T4, 16 will be occupied by the Atlanta-based airline.  Construction is expected to last three years once ground is broken in the spring of 2011.  Following a successful transition to the new facilities, Terminal 3 will be deconstructed and replaced with open ramp space over the next two years for a final completion date in the ballpark of 2015.

Terminal 4 was the first airport facility to be privatized in New York City, which raises interesting questions about operational jurisdiction once the new gates are added for Delta.  In 2001, the Schiphol Group partnered with the Port Authority to build and manage T4 through its subsidiary, JFK International Air Terminal.  Under the latest agreements, JFK IAT will maintain responsibility for day-to-day operations, allowing Delta to focus on running an airline and housekeeping at their domestic base in Terminal 2, which will remain untouched for the time being.

Kennedy Airport has undergone a kind of facelift over the past decade with two significant terminal overhauls.  In 1999, American Airlines started an 8-year project to completely rebuild its Terminals 8 and 9 as the largest passenger terminals at the airport, and in 2008, jetBlue moved into a revitalized TWA Flight Center– the famed Terminal 5 – after three years of construction. American and jetBlue together represented over 40% of the passenger traffic in 2009 and rounded out the top three airlines along with Delta, so their decision to modernize at JFK certainly played no small role in Delta’s decision to do the same. Poor customer reviews and inconsistent amenities across its network also necessitated the overhaul that will now strengthen their position as an airline committed to serving New York – that, of course, and the 30-year contract entered into by the airline for the gates at T4.

But behind the brute force of the business deal, the announcement also pulls at the heartstrings of local enthusiasts since the terminal being replaced is one of the last remaining jet-age relics still standing in the area.  Terminal 3, also known as the PanAm Worldport, was built in 1960 – before noise abatement, before regional jets, and before moving jetways.  The structure itself was actually designed to protect passengers getting on and off their blue and white Boeing 707s, flush with caviar, spirits, and the novelty of air travel.  Delta moved in under the “flying saucer” after PanAm went bankrupt in 1991.

The biggest uncertainty, it seems, is whether the Port Authority realizes how consolidating T3 and T4 will royally screws up the numbering scheme at the airport.

Have a horror story from the Delta’s T2 or T3?  Ever see any pigeons flying inside?  Tell us about it with a comment below!

(View a map of the current JFK terminal layout here.)

About the Author

Brian Futterman



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  • Craig

    I work for TSA in T3, and that's the worst terminal I ever been in in all my years with TSA. Birds flying inside the terminal is nothing new, cell phone signal is practically nonexistent. I'm glad to know they're tear this terminal down.

  • Craig

    I work for TSA in T3, and that's the worst terminal I ever been in in all my years with TSA. Birds flying inside the terminal is nothing new, cell phone signal is practically nonexistent. I'm glad to know they're tear this terminal down.

  • Graham Wood

    Yes, I saw a pigeon inside on Tue when I arrived from LA! Being an animal rights activist, I was concerned. Do they ever escape?!?! I spoke to one guy from Delta who said he has been there ten years and always saw pigeons.