NEW YORK — Some say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. As Delta pursues its goal as New York’s leading premium airline, the company begs to differ. As I stepped into Terminal 4 at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport two weeks ago, I was quite impressed by their new digs. The old Terminal 2, and the adjacent Terminal 3 (formerly the PanAm Worldport) felt old and beat down. The dingy walls and shops of T2 are tired. The common areas are overrun with people, and there’s hardly an available seat during peak periods. The space is/was simply too small for the number of passengers that Delta was attempting to push through JFK. Now that T3 has been closed, T2 is the only remnant of the “old Delta” in New York City, and it too will be demolished in 2015.
Come along with Airways as we explore every inch of Delta’s brand new addition to Terminal 4.
Landside: Setting the Standard
Almost every trip begins at check-in, and a pleasant check-in experience can often set a customer’s expectations for the rest of the journey. The check-in area at Terminal 4 is massive, and even has a huge dedicated SkyPriority area for premium or elite passengers.
There’s also a group check-in area for passengers traveling in a large group, and the area has a mix of kiosk stations (with supervising employees) and manned desks. Depending on the hour, it’s an efficient trip through security and off to the terminal’s airside portion with its 12 security lanes.
Airside: That New Terminal SmellDelta’s extension to Terminal 4 (which opened May 24, 2013) is doing a beautiful job of filling the gap. It feels clean and crisp, even in the common areas. High-end shops and upmarket eateries (like Uptown Brassiere,) are fixtures, without neglecting grab-and-go staples like Shake Shack and La Brea Bakery. In addition, there’s a number of more upscale eateries. The space is clean and modern — it’ll be interesting to see how well it ages.
Terminal 4, managed by Schiphol Group’s JFKIAT, is a multi-part project, slowly being rolled out over the next few years. This first phase, Phase I, features 16 gates, primarily for Delta’s international flights. Phase II, scheduled to be completed in summer 2015, will add 11 additional gates, replacing Delta’s T2 regional jet terminal. In the meantime, buses dubbed the “JFK Jitney” (a nod to New York’s Hampton Jitney) connect the two somewhat distant terminals.
SkyClub: Something for Everyone
Enter the Terminal 4 SkyClub. Delta’s premium lounge is an oasis set away on the concourse’s upper level. Opaque glass doors open to an escalator bank, and a short trip upstairs brings you to the reception area. There’s an army of agents working the desk, leading to only seconds-long wait times for everyone.
Even in the late afternoon hours ahead of the busy bank of European departures, the SkyClub felt fairly roomy. Nearly every table was occupied in the main dining area, but I was able to head off to the club’s outer ring of seating areas and find a quiet place to work. Floor-to-ceiling windows make sure that every seat around the club’s perimeter has a view of the apron.
The food spread was better than expected. While any lounge that features a bottomless container of Biscoff cookies and Nutella is a winner in my book, Delta attempts to satisfy a myriad of tastes. The complimentary snack selection includes cheese and crackers, several different snack mixes, fruits and veggies, cookies, and various spreads and dressings.
If you’re in the market for something more substantial, the SkyClub kitchen offers a wide variety of salads, sandwiches, entrees, and desserts, all of which can be ordered and paid for from touchscreen stations around the club. You’re assigned a pager, and a waiter delivers your food directly to you. In an attempt to be healthy, I ordered a caesar salad and edamame, which were filling and tasty, though pricey. If you’re watching your wallet and not your waistline, a delicious burger from Shake Shack may be the way to go.
As far as functionality goes, Delta knows what’s important to travelers: power. The SkyClub has ample connectivity points, both traditional AC outlets and USB ports. They’re everywhere. It’s like outlet invasion, which is a good thing. Of course, wi-fi is also free.
SkyDeck: An AvGeek meets Hip NY Rooftop Bar
Delta really sets the SkyClub apart from other lounges with the addition of their SkyDeck, an outdoors space featuring comfy sitting areas, views of the apron, and a hint of the smell of Jet-A. This club is as stylish as a Manhattan rooftop bar that would require a 2-hour wait and perhaps a substantial tip to the doorman. When I was at the club in July, the SkyDeck was closed due to rain. However, Airchive.com editor Chris Sloan visited the SkyDeck later in the month, and apparently really enjoyed it.
Now that we’ve covered the tangible things, it’s time to get to the intangibles: the staff. For me, the quality of the staff can make or break the experience. Thankfully, Delta scored an A+ with their SkyClub staff. The agent who checked me in was efficient, kind, and professional. But she set herself apart by going above and beyond (at least what I consider) the minimum level of service. During my 5+ hours in the SkyClub, I used the bathroom more than a few times. In order to get to the bathroom, I had to walk past the front desk. Whenever I would come out and begin the walk back to my seat, the agent who checked me in would say things like, “Just checked your flight, it’s still on time,” or “Your flight’s leaving out of gate BXX, it’s just two down from the club here.” Naturally, if she was assisting another passenger during that time, she wouldn’t interrupt to brief me, but those types of unsolicited interactions is what sets a good staff apart from a great staff, in my opinion.
Delta has done a great job of cleaning up the JFK “situation” — it was long overdue, considering the recent push that Delta has made in courting local traffic and premium passengers. Terminal 4 is clean and efficient, and has considerably improved passenger experience.
It couldn’t come at a better time. As fellow Airways correspondent Vinay Bhaskara detailed in his analysis “The Transcon Wars,” New York’s airlines are facing a critical period in terms of passenger experience. As the lines between a good experience and a bad experience are thinning, airlines only have one chance to make a first impression, and every stage of a customer’s journey will count.
With these new offerings, Delta has positioned themselves well. Premium passengers and seekers of quiet space will enjoy the new amenities, especially the SkyClub and SkyDeck. Overall, it seems like a seamless, enjoyable experience for both international and transcontinental premium travelers alike.
However, Terminal 2 is the elephant in the room. The transfer between T2 and T4 on the JFK Jitney isn’t terrible, and even features some nice views of aircraft on the apron. Terminal 2, though, is well past its prime. While passengers who originate or terminate their travel in New York won’t notice, travelers connecting to/from another Delta domestic destination will almost certainly have to make a trip through T2.
All in all, a solid show from Delta. Only time will tell whether they can keep raising the bar at JFK.
SkyClub access information Day passes run $50, in line with other airlines. Great value for longer layovers.
Passengers with confirmed itineraries in BusinessElite (or business/first on partner airlines) on international journeys are entitled to complimentary access, as are SkyTeam elites traveling on an international itinerary in any cabin. More on lounge access here.