Delta's new LaGuardia terminal is a major upgrade — see for yourself
New York City’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) has gone from worst to first in just a few years.
The airport, once famously described by now-President Joe Biden as a “Third World country,” has been undergoing a years-long modernization project, designed to bring the airport into the 21st century.
The first big redevelopment project opened in June 2020, just months into the pandemic. Terminal B, formerly known as the Central Terminal, has now been operational for nearly two years, and it continues to impress flyers with its modern finishes, upgraded amenities and local artwork.
Terminal B travelers — those flying with Air Canada, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and United Airlines — have been enjoying the upgrades. However, those flying with the airport's biggest carrier, Delta Air Lines, have been suffering through (what feels like) years of construction on the airline's terminals C and D.
The end is in sight, though. Delta — along with New York Governor Kathy Hochul and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which oversees the airport) — took the wraps off of the new $4 billion Terminal C departures and arrivals hall on Wednesday.
The new headhouse will become the centralized area for check-in, security and baggage claim for all Delta travelers, meaning that you'll no longer need to verify which terminal you depart from before arriving at the airport.
Delta's new LGA arrivals and departures hall will have you questioning whether you've arrived at the right airport. Get excited because you can see it for yourself when it opens to the public on June 4.
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The festivities began on June 1 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The reception was held just outside the new centralized security checkpoint, and there were roughly 600 guests in attendance.
The ceremony began with a video about LaGuardia's history, followed by remarks from Hochul. She praised Port Authority Chief Rick Cotton for getting the project done early. “He makes magic happen,” Hochul told a packed crowd of airline employees, construction workers, politicians and media representatives.
“To everyone involved in this project, this is your legacy," she added.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian noted that, as a native New Yorker, he's proud of how Delta has been able to expand in the city. To the 10,000 Delta employees in the region, he said “this is a homecoming for you, too.”
Cotton said the new terminal is a testament to what can happen when government and private companies partner on a project. “Airports are a gateway to the region. They are the first thing people are. They send a powerful message to visitors," he mentioned.
“If this isn’t world-class, I don’t know what is," Cotton concluded.
New centralized check-in
Historically, Delta flyers passing through LaGuardia have had to check in at either Terminal C or D, depending on which gate their flight left from.
However, thanks to the new central arrivals and departures hall, those days are done. All Delta flyers will be dropped off and picked up at the new headhouse that's formally called the Delta Sky Way at LGA.
There are two curb areas: One is closest to the check-in area and the other is a satellite structure connected directly to security by a bridge (primarily for those passengers traveling without checked luggage).
Delta believes the two curb areas will help solve some of the traffic woes that have plagued LaGuardia's roadways in recent years.
You'll find plenty of check-in kiosks and bag drop areas regardless of where you're dropped off.
The main area — located on the second floor of the new headhouse — is perhaps the most eye-catching. With a 238-foot digital back wall in the check-in lobby, you'll have no trouble finding your way.
Delta first debuted this digital wall in the Sky Way at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and the airline is now bringing it to its LaGuardia hub. You'll find live security wait times and even Sky Club capacity indicators on this signage.
The check-in area will have queues for all different categories of passengers: those checking bags, those requiring agent assistance, those looking to print a boarding pass and more.
Delta will even debut its hands-free bag drop, self-serve check-in and Digital ID screening capabilities that TPG first experienced in Atlanta.
There's a dedicated Sky Priority check-in lobby, similar to the one found just across Queens at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). Unfortunately, this area was closed to media because it was used as a staging area for the VIPs in attendance.
One security checkpoint for all
After checking in, you'll go up to the third level of the headhouse where you'll find the new centralized security checkpoint. There are 11 security lanes, which can be expanded to 16 lanes should if needed.
The floor-to-ceiling windows drench the entire space with plenty of natural light. Plus, with soaring high ceilings, you'll instantly realize that you're no longer in the "old" LGA.
Delta curated a collection of local, unique artwork for the new terminal. You'll find plenty of pieces throughout; perhaps the most interesting one is the digital installation made of 34 lenticular panels over the security checkpoint.
The scenes change with every Delta departure out of LGA. For instance, when a flight to Florida departs, the display will change to a beach, according to Ryan Marzullo, Delta’s managing director of New York construction.
Digital signage will also display live security wait times for all different lanes, including Clear, PreCheck and Sky Priority.
Most security lanes, including those dedicated to TSA PreCheck, feature the latest baggage screening machines. While these machines allow you to keep your laptop in your bag, many flyers who've experienced these machines in other airports have complained that they are much slower than the existing technology.
It even took the small media group nearly 15 minutes to clear security.
A highway above the tarmac
After clearing security, you'll need to make your way to your departure gate. Delta will eventually have four piers of gates, numbered from 60 through 99, but some of these will be under construction until 2024.
Gates 90-99 opened in 2019 and already reflect Delta's latest airport design. Gates 60-69 and 80-89 will eventually be renovated, but they'll remain open for the time being as the airline works behind the scenes to refurbish these areas.
Travelers will eventually be able to take a sky bridge to each gate pier, but while Delta puts the finishing touches on the terminal in the coming years, getting to gates in the 60s and 80s will require some (annoying) navigation. To reach the 60s gates, you'll have to enter the 70s pier then find a nondescript door next to the Starbucks that leads to a hallway to the 60s gates.
Meanwhile, the 80s gates will be connected to the new centralized security area via a temporary walkway.
While Saturday marks the end of bus gates at the airport, getting to each gate will require more walking than ever before. LaGuardia may have been woefully outdated, but at least the curb-to-gate journey was convenient.
Along with the new facilities comes more walking — a tradeoff that Marzullo and the entire Delta team believe to be worthwhile. Delta estimates that it would take 15 minutes on average for someone to walk the entire length of the new terminal, from the end of the 60s pier to the end of the 90s pier.
Thankfully, the only people to do such a walk would be those connecting from the ends of the terminal — something most travelers won't have to worry about.
A new pier of gates
As part of the grand opening on Saturday, Delta is also opening a new pier of gates from 70-79. These gates are designed in the airline's latest motifs and style.
After clearing security, you'll turn left and follow signs for gates 70-79. You'll pass by a few new concessionaires, including a flagship outpost for Bubby's, a famous New York City establishment perhaps best known for its over-the-top brunch.
There are four Starbucks locations in the new terminal, one of which you'll find just before entering the new pier of gates.
OTG is operating the concessions in Delta's new terminal.
In the new terminal, you won't see workers collecting trash or pushing carts to restock restaurants and stores. Instead, the terminal was designed to hide the mechanics of operating restaurants and bathrooms.
An underground corridor allows for restaurants and stores to restock without pushing carts through the passenger hallways. Workers can empty bathroom trash cans from behind a wall, never slowing the flow of passengers in and out of the facilities.
You'll descend a set of escalators before seeing the new concourse's dramatic, light-filled entrance, which is adorned with a massive Delta logo.
The new gates feature plenty of seats, each with AC outlets and USB-A ports. Some seats even have the newest USB-C ports.
Throughout the entire concourse and new terminal, you'll find a handful of new restrooms. They are much larger, brighter and more modern than the ones they replace.
There's a "How Can We Help" counter hiding underneath the escalators.
Delta's largest Sky Club
Along with the new terminal, Delta is opening a new Sky Club in LaGuardia. It's located one level above the security checkpoint and spans much of the headhouse.
It features floor-to-ceiling windows with expansive views of the tarmac and Runway 31 in the distance.
The Sky Club opens with seating for 580 people, and it will feature an extra 120 seats when the second phase opens in 2024.
Once complete, it'll span 34,000 square feet, making it the largest in the Delta network. Stay tuned for a detailed first look into Delta's new Sky Club.
Revamped baggage claim
When you're ready to exit the new terminal, you'll need to make your way to the main headhouse and find the exit.
The western exit has a direct connection to the parking garage for those with parked cars and without checked bags.
For everyone else, there's an escalator to the baggage claim area located on the first floor of the headhouse. There, you'll find five baggage belts, which will deliver your checked bags within 20 minutes of arrival, per Delta's checked bag guarantee.
You'll even find some local artwork, including a cool "Welcome to New York" piece that's modeled after the fuselage of a plane.
This is also where you'll find the baggage services office should you have an issue with your checked bag.
App-based ride-hailing vehicles and private cars will be able to pull up to the arrival curb. You won't need to trek to the parking garage to use Uber or Lyft, like you would if you arrived in the airport's Terminal B.
Delta's new LaGuardia terminal is a massive improvement compared to the one it replaces.
There's a centralized check-in area, security checkpoint and passageway to get to each gate. You'll find plenty of other passenger experience improvements, including fancy new restrooms, improved concession options, and power and USB outlets throughout.
The terminal is also home to the world's largest Sky Club, which is poised to be the crown jewel in Delta's entire lounge network.
While the improvements are immediately clear to anyone who's passed through the "old" LaGuardia, there is one (potentially big) downside: The new terminal comes at the expense of efficiency. You'll no longer be able to reliably get from curb to gate in mere minutes.
However, the complete overhaul of Delta's space in LaGuardia required this tradeoff, and it's likely one that most travelers will appreciate.