☞ Newark? More Like “Booooowark.”
True story: back in 1934, Fiorello La Guardia, then mayor of New York City was on a flight back to New York. When his flight landed and he realized he was in Newark, New Jersey and not New York City, ‘Rello was pissed.
“The ticket says ‘New York’ and I’m in New Jersey. What up wit dat?” he said.
Apparently La Guardia didn’t realize New York City didn’t have an airport.
Apart from that being pretty common knowledge at the time, if nothing else, you would think that’s the sort of thing the previous mayor would have mentioned on his way out.
“Recycling is on Tuesdays, sometimes you have to jiggle the handle on the toilet in the men’s room, and the password for the wifi is “RedSoxSux.” Oh, and we don’t have an airport.”
You know, something like that.
Anyway, after suffering the indignity of landing in Newark, Mayor La Guardia made it his top priority to have an airport built within the five boroughs. And, lo and behold, LaGuardia Airport was born.
(Editor’s Note: the preceding true story may or may not be completely true. It’s in the ballpark, though.)
Flash-forward to today, New York City now has two airports… something I’m sure Mayor Bloomberg realizes. Hopefully. We have LaGuardia Airport in Queens and John F. Kennedy Airport, which is also in Queens. Because Queens loves airports.
Both airports have their merits. LaGuardia is mainly for domestic travel and is sort of a shithole. JFK is mainly for longer flights and international travel and seems to have been designed by a grade schooler who won some sort of “design an airport” contest.
LaGuardia Airport was completed in 1939. It wasn’t always a shithole. Built on the site of the old Steinway amusement park, at the time of its construction LaGuardia was on the cutting edge. It was one of the first airports with the “arrivals on top, departures on the bottom” configuration we all take for granted today. People came from all over the City to visit the observation deck for 10¢ a pop. It was quite the sight.
What was cutting edge in 1939 however, is decidedly less-so today, and I’m pretty sure the observation deck isn’t the tourist attraction it once was.
“Mommy mommy, can we go the observation deck at LaGuardia? I’m feeling really good about myself and need a nice put me down!”
(The one exception to LaGuardia’s shitholeness is its Maritime Terminal. Back in the day, when sea planes were still a thing, the Maritime Terminal at LaGuardia handled all the “flying boat” traffic. It’s the only active terminal dating back to the first generation of air travel in the United States. If you ever find yourself flying to Boston or DC out of New York, try to find a flight out of the Maritime Terminal. In an age of naked scanners and meal-less transcontinental flights, the Maritime Terminal harkens back to a simpler time… one when planes purposely landed on the water, passengers dressed up rather than down, and smoking inside a giant oxygen-rich metal tube at 35000 feet didn’t seem like an absolutely terrible idea.)
John F. Kennedy International Airport, or “JFK,” as it’s more commonly referred, opened in 1948. (Not to be confused with John F. Kennedy Memorial Airport in Wisconsin.) (Not that you would confuse the two.) At the time of its construction, JFK was known as “Idlewild Airport” named after the golf course it displaced. I found this out while watching an episode of The Twilight Zone. (For those of you playing at home, the episode is called “The Odyssey of Flight 33″, it’s the one where the airplane goes back in time, featuring an awful stop-motion brontosaurus… Ray Harryhausen would not be impressed.)
Anyway, no offense to JFK, but “Idlewild” is a way cooler name. I’m sure plenty of other airports had their sights on JFK and were gunning for the naming rights… New York should have stuck with what worked.
JFK has sprawled quite a bit since its construction.
It absolutely dwarfs LaGuardia at 4,930 acres, compared to LGA’s 680. It is now spread over seven separate terminals, all connected to each other via the semi-futuristic self-driving “AirTrain” which is the one part of JFK that doesn’t seem to have been designed by an eight year-old.
Mayor LaGuardia passed away shortly before Idlewild’s completion, but he would have been pleased his city had not one, but two airports to keep its citizens out of the clutches of New Jersey.
While only two airports remain today, between 1948 and 1971, New York actually had three active airports: LaGuardia, Idlewild, and the elusive and now defunct Floyd Bennett Field.
Floyd Bennett Field was technically New York City’s first airport. Before LaGuardia. It wasn’t a proper airport, though, really. That is to say it wasn’t planned as one. It started out as a dirt runway on (the aptly named) “Barren Island” way out in Jamaica Bay on the ass end of Brooklyn. The runway was mostly used for joyrides… because even in 1928 rich dudes were joyriding airplanes, apparently.
Over the years, Barren Island eventually gained concrete runways and lights and, uh, paying passengers instead of eccentric white dudes. Despite its semi-legitimateness, Newark Airport remained New York City’s defacto airport until LaGuardia showed up due to its proximity to Manhattan. As they say in New York: Location location location. As they also say: Fucking Newark.
Air travel in New York City has come a long way since Barren Island. From the dirt runways of Floyd Bennett Field, to the amusement park midway of LaGuardia, to the golf course past of JFK, we’ve made quite a bit of progress. Floyd Bennett Field is now a park, LaGuardia is now a shithole, and JFK is a nightmare. And if that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.
Well, a non-shithole non-nightmare airport would also be progress. But let’s not get crazy here.