In the Suburbs: New LaGuardia still has a ways to go

Our last trip to Chicago was January 2020, pre-pandemic, for my aunt’s funeral. It was a bitter cold and windy Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. As usual, we left from LaGuardia Airport and all I could recall as we arrived to torn-up highways that led into the airport, along with the sight of terminals under construction, was, will this transformation ever be done? I simply couldn’t visualize a finished terminal.

Fast forward to this past weekend, nearly two years later, when I decided to take my first trip to Chicago after some of the mandates were eased. Of course, the first thing I noticed as I made my trip from Bridgeport in about 45 minutes was that there were no traffic jams as I entered the highway entrance to LaGuardia. For a busy Friday afternoon before a holiday, traffic was flowing easily on the recently repaved roads and the airport transformation from the outside looked nearly complete.

I got a little nervous when I discovered that my regular Airpark had moved from its original location a little ways from the airport. But the folks from the limousine lot, which had replaced Airpark, kindly directed me to its new location about a mile away along the Grand Central Parkway. The lot had shrunk a bit, but the service was still great.

My airline, American, was now in the new Terminal B and when we pulled up in the shuttle, the outside looked gorgeous. What a difference two years and a pandemic make.

Once inside, I was totally disoriented and totally blown away by the interior of this transformed LaGuardia. It was amazing — almost cavernous.

But looks can be deceiving, as I soon discovered. This transformation still isn’t complete. And so I began my Odyssey.

After spending just under 30 minutes getting through a huge, central security area, I took an escalator to a mecca of high-level shopping and eateries. The open area was gorgeous and the new LaGuardia looked very much like an international airport. The paths to gate areas extended from the hub of shops like the tentacles of an octopus.

As I walked down a seemingly endless ramp to my gate area, I noticed from the windows the skeleton of the original American Airlines terminal. There were a number of other unfinished areas also and when I arrived at my gate, which looked the same as it had two years ago, I decided that more transformation was to come and these gate areas would probably be the last projects to complete.

After finishing my long walk to the gates from the shopping mecca, I felt very relieved that my wife had opted to stay home for this trip. Even though she would have ordered a wheelchair, the route from security to the shopping area and down to the gate clearly could become a nightmare, involving elevators and long ramps.

That potential nightmare was reinforced on my return this past Sunday. As I made what seemed like an even longer walk from gate to baggage, I saw more than ever that this would not have been a trip for my wife. I thought the long walk to the gates was bad, but the trek from the gate to the baggage areas seemed even more tedious.

Once again, I had to follow the long ramps that passed yet-to-be-completed overpasses and probably other future shortcuts, this time up through the shopping and food and toward another bank of gates that led to baggage. I finally reached yet another escalator, which took me down two levels to baggage claim.

And when I reached baggage claim heaven and easily retrieved my luggage, I breathed a sigh of relief and prepared to walk out the door to find my shuttle to Airpark. Wrong! I still had to take one more escalator down a level before I could breathe that outside air. And when I reached the outside, I found myself in front of a nearly deserted terminal B. The area is now reserved for only ground transportation.

What an odyssey! My only hope is that once the areas still under construction are finally finished and the kinks are smoothed out , this almost “grand” new LaGuardia will truly be the convenient and streamlined jewel it was designed to be.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.