Delta Opens Phase One of Its JFK Terminal Project, Two More to Go

Delta, JFK - New York/JFK

It’s been nearly a week since Delta opened the first phase of its terminal project at JFK, and the reviews have been largely positive so far. Then again, when comparing to the old Terminal 3, the bar is set pretty low. Still, this is a huge move for the airline, but it’s just the beginning. There are two more phases that will have to take place before it’s truly a great experience for all Delta customers.

Delta Three Phases at JFK

Let’s review what happened in the first phase. Delta previously had its operations split between Terminals 2 and 3 at JFK with a little spillover into Terminal 4, a building primarily used by a variety of international airlines flying into JFK.

Now, Delta has taken over 7 gates in the western “B” concourse in Terminal 4 and built another 9. That project, which cost a seemingly insane $1.2 billion, was enough to allow Delta to shut down Terminal 3 completely. It will be demolished in 2015. But Delta still has to run a sizable operation in Terminal 2, where the gates now begin with the letter C to fit with the Terminal 4 naming scheme. (The old naming convention had gates numbered 20, 21, etc.) Here’s how it looks today.

Delta JFK Map

The original plan was to build a connector between Terminals 2 and 4 to make it easy for travelers to go back and forth. That plan was shelved and instead, Delta has beefed up its bus service. That’s right. You have to take a bus to get between terminals, and that sucks. As you can see in the picture, that’s a long route, and airplanes taxiing can slow things down even further. That should change in September when a new bus holdroom opens near gate B20, but you still have to take a bus.

Who decides if your flight gets put in Terminal 2 or 4? Well, Delta Connection flights are still primarily in that curved end of Terminal 2, so that’s a long connection. The other gates are used for some mainline flights. I was told the idea was to put more of the mainline flights that serve local passengers in Terminal 2 so that connecting travelers would be impacted as little as possible.

Naturally, while everyone is relieved that Terminal 3 is no longer being used, there is still a need to fix the other problems that remain.

Phase Two of the project will go a long way toward that end. In that phase, Delta will build another 11 gates at the end of the B concourse in Terminal 4, and these will be primarily for regional jets. They will have jet bridges, unlike some of the gates used in Terminal 2 today. And when it opens in 2015, the entire Delta Connection operation will move over to Terminal 4.

At this point, Delta will probably be able to flow most of its connecting traffic within Terminal 4, but Terminal 2 will still be needed to serve some mainline flights. And that leads us to Phase Three.

The last phase of the project is still pretty far out there. Nothing has been approved, and Delta says that there is neither a formal plan nor details to share. (I tried.)

But Delta can’t stretch the B concourse any further. (It’s already quite the long walk inside and there’s that pesky taxiway blocking an extension anyway.) So I believe Phase Three will be an extension of the A concourse to give Delta the gates it needs to consolidate everything in one place. Then Terminal 2 can be demolished, and JFK will be in serious need of renumbering since all that remains will be Terminals 1, 4, 5, 7, and 8.

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33 comments on “Delta Opens Phase One of Its JFK Terminal Project, Two More to Go

  1. There isn’t all that much room to extend the A pier, plus they already have the A380 gates out there so doing an in-place extension would be quite a challenge while still serving the A380 flights for Emirates.

    Beyond that, the new terminal is certainly an upgrade from T3 (what wouldn’t be??) but it is nothing special, save for the new Sky Club. Wider hallways are great but it is terribly long and the moving sidewalks are painfully slow. Also, the concessions options are quite weak for “grab-n-go” types of food, the things passengers with short connections need more than a fancy, sit-down meal.

    I’ll give it another go tomorrow and see if my impressions change, but I was not particularly impressed.

    1. Wandering – Well I haven’t been on the inside in person yet, so I can’t judge, but I would think if the biggest issues are concessions and moving walkway speed, that is certainly fixable. I’ll be interested to see if Delta is responsive in these areas.

      As for the A pier, they don’t need a lot of gates to replace what’s left in T2 after Phase Two opens. There is definitely room for a handful of new gates on A, and I know I’ve seen renderings of it posted elsewhere. Of course, when T3 is gone, then they would build another concourse that juts out toward the west if they’d rather, I suppose. Either way, this won’t be any time soon.

      Chime in if you feel differently after you visit tomorrow.

      1. I thought that they explicitly do not want to build anything where T3 is because they want the parking space and the dual taxiing lanes which reduce traffic jams and allow an efficient operation.

  2. Having a highway interchange in the middle of JFK doesn’t help for land utilization. Although the concept of allowing airlines to build their own competitive terminals is valid and has done wonders at JFK (just see IAD for useless and uninspiring concourses).

    T4 should be fine gate wise. Some airlines will move over to T5-i when B6 builds that. Also I eventually forsee the Terminal 1 airlines building a new pier in the area that is currently T2. My guess is that $1.2 billion in New York is actually kinda cheap and DL didn’t want to build new, that’s why it just extended a pier.

    1. I agree that the highway running right through JFK was an awful idea right out of the Robert Moses playbook. (Was he responsible for the one at JFK?) For a major airport that is one of America’s top international gateways I think the airport as a whole is pretty shameful. There is no cohesion between terminals and everything is scattered about it a haphazard way. By comparison airports like ATL, DFW, DEN all seem very logical and efficient even if a little utilitarian.

      Delta seems to be improving things on their spot of land at JFK but I’ll still avoid connections there. Any number of hub airports seem like much less hassle. The terminal that NW built in Detroit is a perfect example of something that works wonderfully and can handle the volume. Extending a pier is a cheap and temporary fix IMO and if they were truly serious we would see something like the Detroit terminal.

    2. Disagree on the $1.2B comment. B6 built all of T5 for less than $1b. The T4 expansion is an extension to a concourse, a new security checkpoint, and some extra bag belts and check-in lanes. What they ended up with is a very long concourse (that’s going to be made even longer) and some new restaurants. For the life of me, I can’t figure out where the money went. The new expansion is obviously better than T3 was, but I think DL made an error with this one.

      BTW– for reference, half of DTW’s McNamara Terminal Concourse A is about equal to the length of T4 Concourse B without the extension. And DTW has a train.

    3. So I’m glancing at the map, and the “highway” is more or less the airport access road. It goes into and out of the airport. Yeah, its an Interstate but basically you’ve got two roads into and out of the airport.. So I fail to see how this is an awful idea.

  3. “””””I was told the idea was to put more of the mainline flights that serve local passengers in Terminal 2…”””””

    I take it that means flights that don’t connect to the main international flight departure banks or from cities that don’t have much international connecting traffic.

    I forgot from your earlier blogs but after T3 is torn down, there’s just going to be that big empty space with nothing there?

    1. David – If it’s a flight that doesn’t connect into a big international bank, you’d think it would still be able to park in T4. I’m guessing it’s flights that just don’t have a lot of connections. I saw from LA flights yesterday, for example, parking in T2. My guess is those have a lot more local traffic as a percentage than some of the other destinations.

  4. Why not demolish the 70’s extension on T3 and build a new ‘efficient’ concourse
    directly linked to T4B, then demolish T2 for the required aircraft parking. Solves a number of problems including the desire to keep the old PA rotunda.

    1. Marc – T3 is in terrible shape. If people think $1.2 billion is a lot, I can’t imagine how many multiples of that would be required to salvage the original part of T3. It’s just too far gone.

  5. DL has a big problem at JFK, and their marketing/PR machine is not helping the situation. The reality is T4 is now on-par with other good terminals, and kudos for that, but the entire “Delta NYC” experience is still fundamentally broken because of T2 and the bus transfer.

    To the everyday passengers (business or leisure), DL and JFK still will brutally suck every time you have to use the bus and T2. So by marketing how amazing they are at JFK now, they are setting expectations way too high in my opinion.

    This all works if they’re narrowly focused on transcon O&D biz travelers (which admittedly is a high value group), but overall DL has a long way to go to create a truly good experience for travelers at JFK.

    1. but new yorkers aren’t connecting at JFK.

      so the billion (plus) dollar question is… can you check in for the T2 flights at T2 or do you have to check in at “new” T4 and then get bused over to T2? if it’s the latter, then i agree with you 100%! if you can still check in at T2 for a T2 flight, i don’t think most new york O&D pxs will care that much.

  6. I think you are going to see T4 back were the piers join the main terminal extending over to the old T3 foot print. This will be Delta’s phase 3.

    1. $1.2 billion just don’t buy what it used to. especially when you have to factor in the mob, er, union tributes required to hire construction companies or even lift a box within the shall we say unique JFK / queens ecosystem.

    2. Andrew – I’m guessing there were a couple issues. I’m sure budget was part of it. If you saw renderings of the connector, it was really long and probably not a great experience for the traveler. The other part is probably that they decided to move forward Phase Two. That meant it probably was harder to justify paying for the connector. But that’s just speculation.

  7. Clearly there is a lack of understanding about how the NYC and its airports work synergistically. As the largest air market in the world, no single airport can fulfill all of the needs of the region. LGA is the preferred airport for domestic where DL has significantly beefed up its presence and quality of offering (except still operating shuttles out of Ter A). Most NY’ers and business types prefer the convenience of LGA due to its proximity to Manhattan. Other than Jet Blue, JFK operates primarily as an international gateway (in fact the largest in the US) with domestic feeder flights. The long term plan is to have DL in one terminal but constraints on space to build created a need to sequence of building projects to achieve that. In terms of Ter 2 and 3, both are not repairable structures and Ter 2 lacks any design aesthetics worth saving (and the walk between 2 and 4 is longer than the B pier in Ter 4). BTW, this discussion leaves out the other major airport, EWR which has its own challenges.

    1. Scott – There is no lack of understanding. LaGuardia is the preferred airport for flights within 1500 miles since that is all it can serve. JFK is the default for everything else. So there is plenty of local traffic on flights to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Vegas, Phoenix…. Delta’s goal is to isolate those with the most local traffic into T2 so that it can keep connection flows within T4. This will be much easier once Phase Two opens and DL Connection moves over.

  8. Don’t forget, the $1.2 Billion includes the demolition of T3, and the re-building of the ramp currently occupied by T3. From what I have heard, there is A LOT of asbestos abatement that must be performed and that is expensive.

    Also, once T3 is demolished, the bus ride gets a lot shorter. There is a trip report up on where the poster discussed this exact issue with a Delta rep. She didn’t have a timeline but said “next year”.

    1. Scott C – I mentioned this in the post. The new bus terminal outside B20 is supposed to open in September, or at least, that was the last update I saw from Delta. That will be what shortens the ride. It’ll be a shame if that’s been delayed further into 2014.

      1. The new bus terminal at B20 will save the need for the buses to go around pier B, but they’d still need to get around the demolition site of T3, weaving between taxiing planes. Now there is a roadway to the north of T3 which up till last week served the baggage claim area; if they can find a way to connect that to the secure are and keep it active during demolition, then the bus rides can become a lot shorter. I guess we’ll find out in September.

  9. Re: the terminal numbers only being: 1, 4, 5, 7, and 8.

    I was thinking about this and the biggest problem is how much Jetblue has invested into their terminal being known as T5. Is anyone else really invested in their terminal number?

    I’m curious if there is a plan on this, or if its just going to be spatter plot until then.

    1. I agree, B6 has made ‘T5’ part of the brand.

      Maybe they can leave it be. Nobody seems to mind that BOS lacks a terminal D, in between A, B, C and E.

      1. The other question I’m curious about is if they go back in time and go for “Named” terminals. So it’d be the JetBlue Terminal, the Skyteam-Delta Terminal, etc.. Although glancing at the tenants I’m not sure how that’d work.

  10. I won’t miss T3 at JFK. That place was a dump, but I wish they would get rid of T2, that terminal is really miserable too. If feels like a third world airport to me.

  11. From Delta employees I have spoken with the bus takes 25 mins to connect from T4 to T2 not counting any wait time. And if you have to walk the length of the B concourse in T4 your now looking at 45 mins to get to T2 presuming you walk right into the bus and it immediately moves out. I foresee a lot of upset connecting Delta passengers as long as the situation remains unchanged.

    Personally if it were me I’d start Demo on T3 immediately with the idea of building an all new replacement either as a C wing of T4 or a new T3 to augment Delta’s operation from T4 which would allow them to close T2 which frankly (speaking as someone who regularly uses the RJ gates there) is a far bigger mess and far more unpleasant than T3 was.

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