Hard to believe you're at LGA: Flying from the new terminal B
If you're a New Yorker or visit the city frequently, you already know that LaGuardia airport has long been one of the city's biggest embarrassments.
I vividly remember landing in LGA after a trip to Toronto last year. When I landed on an Air Canada flight, I was greeted with the sound of blaring fire alarms (there was no fire) and a leaking ceiling right outside my gate in Terminal B. It was truly an abysmal sight and was no way for the largest U.S. city to greet visitors.
The city knew this, and — after then-Vice President Joe Biden famously compared the airport to a "third world country" — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Biden announced a $4 billion dollar plan to revamp the airport in 2015.
The project has been chugging along since, and the new Terminal B opened in early June as part of the ongoing renovation. I was lucky enough to have a flight out of this terminal just two weeks after this opening, on a Southwest flight to Chicago Midway. I was amazed at how much better the airport is not only compared to the old LGA, but also compared to other U.S. airports.
I documented my experiences at the new Terminal B from the moment I walked into the terminal to the time I boarded my flight. Here's a quick look at what you can expect when you take your first flight out. Note that I took this flight during the coronavirus outbreak, so many shops and other amenities were closed. You may have a different experience if you fly later in the year.
For more travel tips and news, sign up for our daily newsletter.
So without further ado, let's take a look at the new crown jewel of New York City!
Getting to the airport
Being a resident of Long Island City, Queens, I have a special relationship with LaGuardia. It's by far the closest airport to my apartment, but it has no direct subway access. This gives me two options for getting to the airport: use a ride-hailing app like Uber or Lyt, or ride the subway to the M60 bus.
I'm pretty split between these options. I take Uber if I'm in a rush, but opt for the subway/bus combo when I have extra time to spare. It's a mere 40-minute trip from my apartment if the bus and subway schedules align, and I was traveling on a day where I had time to kill, so to the subway station I went.
After a surprisingly quick transfer from the subway to the bus, I rode the M60 bus for 20 minutes from the N train to Terminal B.
Things got a little strange when I reached the airport: the bus goes from terminal to terminal out of order, and leaves the airport before returning to Terminal B. This is likely a temporary change due to construction, but I felt like I missed my stop for a few minutes after we left the airport for the first time.
My "new LGA" experience started right when the bus arrived at the new Terminal B. The bus drops off on the lowest level of the airport and you have to take the escalator three floors up to get to security. That said, the new Terminal B bus stop is nicer than the old one, and feels more seamless.
Crowds were minimal outside the terminal doors. I took a quick stroll outside before entering the airport, and things were pretty basic: it was clean and freshly paved. There was signage outside that explained how the new Terminal Shuttle Bus route worked as well as an explainer on how LaGuardia is handling the coronavirus outbreak.
Entering the new Terminal B
When you enter the airport from the lower level, you're greeted by a visitor's center and what looked to be the poshest Dunkin' Donuts I've ever seen in New York. All of the iced drinks were on tap, which was an interesting touch. Unfortunately, the shop was closed due to coronavirus.
I took the escalator up to the second level of the airport. This is where baggage claim lives, so I poked around for a bit before heading to the top floor.
The baggage claim area at the new Terminal B looks great. It's far more modern than the old Terminal B, and there's plenty of space to spread out when waiting for bags. The wide hallways will be great for the holiday travel rush, especially in a world of social distancing.
I took yet another set of escalators to the upper level, which is home to check-in, baggage check and security. I'm not going to lie — I was actually stunned when I walked off the escalator and into the check-in area. This was nothing like the LaGuardia I once knew.
The first thing that struck my eye was the departures board — it has a very modern look, and reminds me of something you'd see in an airport like Hong Kong (HKG). Note that it listed few flights, a consequence of the coronavirus.
I walked towards the Southwest check-in area, walking past the new terminal's breathtaking art installation. It's a huge ball suspended over the second floor. It's made up of what looks to be pieces of glass and is truly a sight to be seen.
Something about this installation makes the airport feel so much more modern and clean than any of the other New York City airports. The wall behind it was a mosaic installation, featuring clouds and iconic New York City structures.
I approached the Southwest check-in area to get a paper boarding pass. I usually try and only use mobile boarding passes, but I wanted to minimize the chance of someone touching my phone to scan the boarding pass.
The check-in area felt much more modern and spacious than the original Terminal B. It felt like a real airport, not like the dark basement of a deteriorating building (sorry, old Terminal B).
All of the check-in areas had a similar feeling. Air Canada, American, United, and Southwest all have check-in counters in this terminal, and some desks were left empty. I'm assuming this is due to the lower number of flights operating during the pandemic.
As I walked through departures and to security, I noticed a few hand-sanitizing stations placed around the check-in area. Thankfully, the station I used worked — here's hoping that these stick around after the pandemic is contained!
Security was a breeze
Security at Terminal B was always a drag — too many people were trying to use a small space, and it always seemed to be moving at a snail's pace. My experience in the new security area — granted, with far fewer travelers during the pandemic — was hugely different.
All gates use the same security area, which is large and clearly designed to actually handle the traffic LaGarudia gets on a normal day. I entered security and walked up to the booth. Three security lanes were open, and I didn't have to wait to see an agent.
Interestingly enough, the TSA agent only checked and scanned my ID, not my boarding pass. This was a nice touch when trying to minimize contact with other humans during the pandemic. Each of the TSA booths was accompanied by a large screen that looks like it will be used for advertising.
Side note: I kept my KN95 mask during most of the interaction with the TSA agent. I only had to pull it down when he checked my ID.
The security lanes are much more spacious and modern than the old terminal. Each has automated, European-style security where the bins automatically cycle through the conveyor belt. I didn't have to wait at all, and my bags were quickly through the scanner.
I couldn't get a picture of this, but the body scanners were different in the new terminal too. Instead of being fully enclosed, you simply stand facing a board with your arms extended to the side. It's less claustrophobic and might even reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus in an enclosed space.
It was a quick ride through security and I claimed my carryon luggage without issue. The claim area was also spacious and had a couple of hand-sanitizing stations. As you can see in the photo above, it was quite crowded, but everyone was wearing a mask and doing their best to social distance.
an eerie airside experience
After security, I was met with yet another escalator! This one would take me out of security and into a new shopping area. Next to this escalator was huge screen, so clearly the new LaGuardia is expecting some big advertising income once travel picks back up.
There was another departures board at the top of the escalator which showed a split view of flights departing in the next 90 minutes and all upcoming flights for the rest of the day.
Walking towards the gates, you're immediately met with a huge shopping area. There was a handful of different options available, with an electronics store, toy shop, grab-and-go food kiosk and a variety of clothing stores being some of the first available.
More than three quarters of the stores and restaurants were closed.
The shopping area leads to a huge dining area, filled with various chain restaurants. A couple New York favorites have outposts there too — for example, you'll find a Think Coffee and Junior's Cheesecake. There are plenty of seats and departure boards scattered about, so I could see it being a nice place to have a meal before a flight.
You'll find even more places to eat as you approach the gate area. Most places were still closed there, too.
I walked down a long hallway towards the gate area, which was lined with more empty shops and restaurants.
Thankfully, there was one open shop in this long hallway. One of these was fully stocked with masks, wipes and hand sanitizer too — definitely a sign of the times. The sit-down restaurant across the hallway, though, was still closed.
This hallway is pretty long, so you'll get your exercise when making your way from check-in to your gate. With plenty of sunshine coming in from the huge windows, this is a huge upgrade from the dark old Terminal B.
The newly constructed American Express Centurion Lounge is located at the end of this long hallway. Unfortunately, all Centurion lounges are still closed due to coronavirus. I'm really excited for this lounge to open, though — since it's airside (unlike the old lounge), future me can spend more time eating, drinking and working from the lounge without worrying about the TSA line.
There's a skywalk that takes you from the retail area to the actual gate area. It has huge windows, giving you awesome views of the tarmac. This was my first flight in months, so I'd never been so happy to see a Spirit plane up close.
For the time being, you can also see the old Terminal B from the skywalk.
The skywalk is long but lined with moving walkways that speed up the experience greatly.
At the end of the skywalk, you're greeted with a down escalator that takes you to a middle floor where the Air Canada Maple Leaf and United Club lounges are placed. Both lounges were closed, but it was nice to see them up close.
My flight was departing from the new gates, so I continued down the sixth escalator of the day to go find my gate. This wasn't my first time flying out of these gates as they've been open since late 2019. Some flights are still operating out of the old gates as Terminal B is still partially under construction.
More things were open in this part of the airport, and I was excited to (hopefully) find a coffee. Unfortunately, the Irving Farm — my usual LaGuardia coffee shop — was closed, so I had to find a drink elsewhere.
On the bright side, the Shake Shack is open. This was the only open restaurant in the gate area during my visit, so eat before you get to the airport if you're not a burger lover.
I finally found my coffee too — a handful of shops were open, including the Nespresso inside the District Market near gate 47. The Nespresso shop is only selling two drinks right now: americano and espresso. I got my double shot of (mediocre) espresso and continued my walk around the terminal.
The Kingside bar across from the Southwest gates was also closed. This was in stark contrast to the last time I flew out of the new LGA gates, when the bar was absolutely packed, just a few days before Christmas.
Gates were a mixed bag
I was on a Southwest flight out of gate 57, so I circled around the Southwest and American gates. Southwest was boarding a flight to Denver (DEN) at gate 56, and there was a pretty large crowd waiting right outside the gate area.
The crowding started to thin out at the end of the terminal, and travelers were largely respecting social distancing and wearing masks. This was refreshing to see and a contrast to what I saw right outside of gate 56.
I then made my way to the United gates at the other end of the terminal. This is where the airport became eerie again; the next United flight wasn't scheduled for a little over two hours, and the gates were completely empty.
The open-air design of these new gates is so much nicer and really brings the airport into the 21st century.
When it was time to make my way back to the Southwest gates, I passed by more empty shops and cafes.
Though it was an eerie experience, the new LaGuardia is stunning. The new Terminal B is a shining example of what the airport experience can be in the U.S. — something that I never thought I'd say after years of flying in and out of the old terminal.
The terminal gives me hope for the future of aviation too. In a time where passenger demand is low and international travel is at a standstill, seeing a brand-new terminal reminds me that this pause is only temporary. We'll resume traveling soon — and if the new LaGuardia is the sign of things to come, it'll be better than ever before.