LaGuardia airport, long detested by travelers, tries to reboot amid the coronavirus crisis

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LaGuardia — for decades considered one of the worst airports in America – has just undergone a massive renovation, prompted by criticism from then-Vice President Joe Biden.

Now, it faces the prospect of reopening its terminal during a historic crisis for the aviation industry amid a global pandemic.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Rick Cotton explained the challenges.

“New Yorkers love to criticize, and they love to hate. I think if you looked at any passenger survey, LaGuardia was always the worst,” Cotton said. “So, the challenge, first of all, was to take it from worst to first.”

Officials in New York gave LaGuardia’s restoration the green light in 2015.

“If I took you and blindfolded you and took you to the LaGuardia airport in New York, you must think I must be in some third world country,” Biden said beforehand.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo took Biden’s statement as a challenge, Cotton said.

“That was the impetus to create the advisory panel and the project was off and running,” Coton said.

LaGuardia’s reopening comes at a difficult time. Passenger numbers have plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic as states impose strict quarantines, and many countries shut their borders to international travelers.

“At the beginning of the crisis back in March, the passenger levels at this airport and all three of our airports dropped 98%,” Cotton said. “There was two percent of regular passengers using these airports. We are still down 75 to 80% in terms of travel through these airports.”

New York’s Port Authority is doing all it can to lure travelers back to its airports, even offering free COVID tests to arriving passengers at LaGuardia.

When they do return to LaGuardia, passengers will find an airport completely transformed.

“The airport should be inspiring, it shouldn’t just be functional,” Cotton said.

LaGuardia’s transformation is almost complete. The terminal won’t fully reopen until 2022. When it does, officials are hoping it will begin a new chapter for LaGuardia, the aviation industry and the passengers who travel here.

“LaGuardia has gone from the worst airport in the country, to what we think is best in class,” Cotton said. “It not only is best in class in terms of function, it is inspiring, it is appealing, it has works of art, and it speaks to where it is located, which is New York. And that is what we wanted to build.”

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