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Guide to LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

Spread over 680 acres and situated in the borough of Queens, LaGuardia Airport (LGA) was first established in 1929 but did not commence operations as a public airfield until ten years later in 1939. Named in honour of Fiorello LaGuardia, a former mayor of New York, the airport is mainly used for domestic airline services although there are also a limited number of international flights. It is the third-busiest airfield serving the New York area and ranked twenty-first in the U.S. in terms of passenger numbers.

Because of its location on the Grand Central Parkway, LaGuardia is subject to strict air traffic regulations including a curfew on flights after a certain time and a slot system for take-offs and landings. From 2000 to 2015 LaGuardia came under fierce criticism for its obsolete (and often dirty) facilities, poor customer service and the overall inefficiency of its operations. In response, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey approved plans for a multibillion dollar overhaul of the airport's infrastructure with renovations, expansions and improvements expected to reach completion in 2025.

LaGuardia is currently a hub of operations for Delta Air Lines and American Airlines and bears the International Air Transport Association (IATA) designation code LGA.

Numerous Name Changes

North Beach Airport

Plans for a private seaplane airbase were announced by New York Air Terminals in 1929. The 200-acre site at North Beach featured a two acre concrete plateau which was connected by an amphibious aircraft ramp to the water and the airbase officially opened later that same year. Named North Beach Airport, the new airfield soon began airline services to Atlantic City and Albany operated by Curtiss Flying Service and Coastal Airways and, shortly afterwards, Airvia began running flights to Boston.

Glenn H. Curtiss Airport

The new airport developed quickly and, as early as 1930, new hangars and illuminated runways had been added. In September of 1930 the airport underwent its first name change when it became the Glenn H. Curtiss Airport, named after the recently deceased aviation pioneer of the same name. At the opening ceremony, Trans World Airlines announced its intention of establishing the first U.S. transcontinental airmail route at the airport.

Municipal Airport 2

Fiorello LaGuardia, a staunch advocate for aviation development, was elected mayor of New York in 1934 which signalled a new period of investment in the city's airports. LaGuardia proposed Governors Island as the ideal site for a combination airport and seaplane base but this proposal met with opposition and it was suggested that Curtiss Airport could be upgraded and developed instead. Funding was secured, Curtiss Airport underwent a major overhaul and, in January of 1935, it was dedicated as Municipal Airport 2.

LaGuardia Airport

Because of Mayor LaGuardia's promotional work and backing for the airport it was soon dubbed LaGuardia Airport but this was an unofficial title. However, in 1947, LaGuardia's work was recognised when control of the airport was transferred to the Port of New York Authority who renamed it LaGuardia Airport. Sadly, the man who had contributed so much to the development of the airport passed away just three months later of pancreatic cancer.

Restrictions and Improvements

From the outset LaGuardia was a successful enterprise with the result that the airport became so busy it could not handle the demand placed upon it. Flights had to be limited and transatlantic flights were moved to the nearby Idlewild Airport. In 1984 the Port Authority also introduced a perimeter rule whereby LaGuardia could only handle non-stop flights from destinations less than 1,500 miles from the airport, with Denver being the only exception. Further restrictions followed when the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) imposed limits on the number of flights and types of aircraft allowed at the airport.

Despite the restrictions and limits placed on the airport, air traffic continued to increase and delays and overcrowding became a real problem as LaGuardia struggled to cope with demand. Upgrades, improvements and reconstruction were required and work began on overhauling LaGuardia in 2006.

A new control tower was built and opened in 2010 while it was also planned to demolish and rebuild the airport's main terminal.

A $4 billion plan for major renovations was introduced in 2015 which included rebuilding all terminals and connecting each via terminal bridges. Redevelopment plans were so extensive that it basically meant tearing down the airport as it stood and rebuilding from scratch. First construction work began in early 2016 and was expected to take around five years to complete.

LGA Terminal Guide

Excluding Canada, LaGuardia does not handle international flights and lacks the necessary facilities to deal with them. Because of restrictions LaGuardia only deals with domestic flights to or from U.S. destinations within a 1,500 mile radius with the exception of Denver International Airport.

All incoming and outgoing flights are handled at one of the airport's four terminals which are designated Terminals A, B, C and D.

Terminal A

Also called the Marine Air Terminal as it was first used for seaplanes, Terminal A is the principal domain of JetBlue Airways.

Terminal B

The largest of the four terminals, Terminal B only opened after major renovations on the arrival and departure areas in 2020. There are four levels with ticketing and check-in on Level 3 and Baggage Claim on Level 2.

Terminal C

Situated on the eastern side of LaGuardia Airport, Terminal C has a direct pedestrian walkway to Terminal D.

Terminal D

The arrivals area is located on the ground floor of Terminal D while check-in and departures are one floor up on Level 1.

Most airlines operate from an assigned terminal at LaGuardia with the major operators allocated as follows:

  • Terminal A. JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines.
  • Terminal B. Air Canada, United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines.
  • Terminal C. Delta Air Lines, Spirit Airlines (Myrtle Beach and Nashville), Frontier Airlines, WestJet.
  • Terminal D. Delta Air Lines.

LaGuardia Airport operates shuttle buses between all terminals as well as to parking areas and car rental transfer points. The courtesy buses operate 24 hours a day at ten minute intervals during peak times and every fifteen minutes at other times.

Airport Security and Customs

The only international flights arriving at LaGuardia Airport originate in Canada. As Canadian citizens are usually not required to have a U.S. Visa to visit the United States there is no need for the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checks that operate in other international airports.
Each terminal has one or more security checkpoints (dependent upon the volume of passenger traffic) with delays kept to a minimum due to the use of the TSA PreCheck and CLEAR systems.

CLEAR is a subscription scheme in which members provide background information, a photo and fingerprint and eye scan before enrolment. Once approved, members of the scheme can use a CLEAR kiosk to verify identification, thus avoiding the queues at the CBP desks.

TSA PreCheck is a program operated by the U.S. Transport Security Administration (TSA) whereby a traveler's personal details and identity is verified and fingerprint samples taken at a personal interview. Once approved, the applicant is assigned a Known Traveler Number which can be applied to any frequent-flier accounts held. Enrolment in the scheme allows the member to use TSA PreCheck security lanes at any participating airport. Users of TSA PreCheck security lanes do not usually have to remove belts or shoes or remove liquids and laptops from any baggage which speeds up the security process.

Both CLEAR and TSA PreCheck will expedite clearing security at LaGuardia and other U.S. airports but the two schemes are currently only available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. There are TSA PreCheck lanes in all four terminals at LGA and CLEAR Kiosks in Terminals C and D.

Transfers and Ground Transportation

As LaGuardia is located virtually in the heart of New York it is easy to get to but probably the best way is to use one of the local bus services. Depending on the starting point, and which terminal is required, the route number will vary.

From Manhattan

The M60 bus runs from many of the subway stations in Manhattan to LaGuardia where it stops at all four airport terminals.

From Queens

Route Q70 provides a link from the boroughs of Queens and Long Island to Terminals B and C where an airport shuttle bus can be taken to Terminal B. Terminal D can be reached on foot from Terminal C. Q70 is a free service.

The Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) also operates regular bus services between Queens and LaGuardia Airport on routes Q47, Q48 and Q72.

There are no subway or rail stations at LaGuardia Airport so a bus is the only real method of travel although taxis are plentiful in New York and the fare to the airport is reasonable.