NEW YORK — On Thursday night, March 23rd around 10:30PM I made my way to Terminal 3 at JFK. It was quiet, not many people around except for a few Delta employees mulling around in their T4 t-shirts. There was no media. There was no pomp and circumstance. Without much fanfare a Delta Boeing 747, flight 268, bound for Tel Aviv pushed back from gate 6. On the last day of operations, few seemed to even be aware of the historic occasion. The main sign change was in the air were the moving vans positioned on the departures level. Many vendors had already closed and were moving inventory to the new nearby T4. Port Authority and Delta crews were relocating seats, computer systems, and monitors. With their attentions firmly fixed on their new Terminal 4 world class gateway, Delta and certainly the Port Authority didn’t promote the passing of Terminal 3. Now most people wouldn’t even bat an eye, but for those that knew this was the last day of operation at an icon of aviation, this was a significant day indeed. Tonight, the last ever flight would depart from what was once known as the World Port – the gateway of the jet age. Used by Pan Am until the “Chosen Instrument’s” December 4, 1991 demise, T3 was chock full of history: the inaugural commercial flight of the Boeing 747 originated here in January 1970, the jet-bridge was basically first used here with planes nosing in under the flying saucer to protect passengers from weather, and this terminal was the scene of countless history making flights such as the US-USSR inaugural at the height of the Cold War. Pan Am and The WorldPort were even portrayed in a clip from the movies “Live and Let Die” and faithfully recreated for the former ABC-TV series “Pan Am”. Unlike TWA’s Eero Saarinen designed Terminal 5, the WorldPort hasn’t gained preservation status and is slated to be demolished against the passionate wishes of many preservationists such as Save The Pan Am WorldPort. This historic terminal, the oldest still in operation at JFK, closed 53 years nearly to the day of its opening on May 24, 1960. It’s next use will be that of an apron for aircraft.
In spite of all of its history, The World Port has been kept patched together just enough to sustain operations. It was now a rundown facility despised by passengers no longer meeting the needs of major airline in New York, especially Delta who is aggressively pursuing its goal to be the number 1 premiere airline in New York. Delta already operated some international flights from a few gates at Terminal 4, but change was literally in the air. In July 2011, Delta announced its move to Terminal 4 and a major 346,000 square foot expansion across the tarmac of its new home, which first opened in 2001. T4 would now measure over 2 million square feet, making it one of the largest terminals in the U.S. Terminal 4 itself replaced the original International Arrivals Building, which was a very unique showplace for international airlines. The expanded T4 would be Delta’s new showplace for its burgeoning New York hub and also allow it co-locate operations with Virgin Atlantic who Delta has acquired a 49% stake-in.
As I arrived on Friday morning May 24th, to cover the opening of the new T4 expansion, I passed by the now closed T3. Not even 8 hours had passed since I was there and the place seemed lifeless and desolate. Workers had began ripping down airline signage and setting up barracades blocking off the entire terminal. Over in Terminal 4, workers were still installing the finishing touches in advance of the inaugural events that would soon follow.
Less then 2 years after it was announced in July 2011, Delta celebrated the May 24, 2013 opening of Phase One, a $1.4 Billion expansion of Terminal 4 which gives Delta’s hub the enhancements to match its upgraded service levels and New York router structure. Passengers departing from T4 will experience a state of the-art facility with improved amenities and better services.
According to Delta, The new features and amenities of Phase One include.
- Nine new and seven renovated international gates.
- Improved and renovated check-in areas, including a dedicated Sky Priority check-in.
- A centralized security checkpoint.
- New dining and retail offerings such as Shake Shack, Blue Smoke and Buffalo Wild Wings.
- A new 24,000-square-foot flagship Delta Sky Club with the first ever Sky Deck at Delta Sky Club outdoor terrace. (more on this later)
- An in-line baggage system to streamline and improve the baggage handling system.
- Improved Customs and Border Protection, baggage claim and re-check facilities.
“The state-of-the-art Terminal 4 facilities have been years in the making and Delta people, global customers and the residents of New York now have the international hub facility that they expect and deserve,” said Richard Anderson, Delta’s chief executive officer. “It’s an exciting time at Delta and JFK Terminal 4 is emblematic of the investments we are making in New York and around the world. We are celebrating today thanks to the hard work and dedication of our partners in this project including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, JFKIAT and the Schiphol Group.”
When the closing of T3 was announced, many wondered aloud while the much less significant, over-crowded, and unloved Delta Terminal 2 would be preserved. Terminal 2 originally opened in 1962 for Braniff, Northeast, and Northwest. T2 has been Delta’s original JFK base of operations since the 1972 merger with Northeast. On Friday at the press announcement, they got their answer. This expansion is just the beginning, as phase 2 construction which is to begin immediately will add additional 11 gates to Terminal 4’s concourse B. When completed in 2015 Delta will have 27 gates and Terminal 2, now the oldest remaining Terminal still operating at JFK will become a thing of the past. Until then, there will be a shuttle bus connecting customers between Terminals 4 and 2 from gate 23. Plans for the connector were scrapped for obvious reasons, as well as the length between T4 and T2.
The Sky Club offers travelers a very unique customer experience in the Sky Deck which is a 2,000 square foot uncovered rooftop terrace with unprecedented views of JFK’s runways. its kind of reminiscent of the WorldPort when you could drive yourself up to the rooftop parking lot and look down and see all the jumbo jets moving about the field. Now passengers can sip champagne and watch planes in the comfort and relaxation of the Sky Deck. The Sky Deck was designed by renowned designer Thom Filicia in partnership with “Architectural Digest”.
The Sky Zone is a place for kids. Specifically those kids traveling by them selves. There’s plenty to do to keep your child occupied while in the Sky Zone everything from board games to XBOX and lots of refreshments.
Who needs Power? For those passengers on the never ending search for power ports, have no fear the new terminal expansion has power and USB ports almost everywhere. There is plenty of ports at each gate area as well as in the Skyclub. As mentioned before, Delta added 9 new international gates and renovated 7 existing gates.
Many dignitaries were on hand to help Delta celebrate the opening of the new terminal including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who praised Delta for doubling the amount of employees working at JFK and help boosting the local economy. “Thanks to Delta’s $1.4 billion investment, travelers to and from JFK will experience a state-of-the-art facility with improved amenities and better services,” said New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “Over the past six years, Delta has doubled the number of employees based at JFK and created quality construction jobs, with a focus on local hiring and priority to MWBEs. We look forward to their continued expansion and partnership with New York City.”
Sir Richard Branson and his airline Virgin Atlantic which became a partner of Delta in December were also on hand. Mr. Branson did not speak at the event but did suggest to Delta CEO Richard Anderson that he loosen things up by not wearing a tie and promptly approached the stage and ripped Mr Anderson’s tie off and threw into the crowd of media and Delta Employees.
Adding to the festivities with a little New York flare, Delta brought in some famous NY celebrities including Keith Hernandez, Walt Cldye Fraizer, Adam Graves and Bernie Williams. And even the Radio City Rockets made an appearance.
The balloons dropped and Delta’s T4 was open. Fitting that the first flight out of this new terminal would also be a 747 like the night before to close terminal 3. Passengers and crew boarded flight 173 bound for Toyko through gate 41 and even pushed back a minute early at 2:37pm. As the tug pulled away from the aircraft it was given a water cannon salute.
As someone who had vowed never to fly Delta again from JFK after a few bad experiences I am really impressed with the new Delta Terminal. From the abundance of power ports to the views out the window and of course plenty of food choices to pick from this terminal experience should be a much needed improvement for any passenger flying Delta out of JFK Airport. Still, it is sad to lose another icon of the jet age, especially one as historically and architecturally significant as Terminal 3. When it is demolished by 2015, the last major visual symbol of Pan Am in New York will be gone. Progress marches on, but history will likely be sacrificed.