What Billions of Dollars Will Do at JFK

JFK - New York/JFK

There’s been plenty of talk about New York/LaGuardia finally having shed itself of the old Central Terminal Area with its gleaming new Terminal B. While the rebuild of Delta’s Terminal C continues, the real action is shifting over to JFK where the Port Authority is spending (checks notes) $300 gagillion babillion to get rid of several terminals and remake the airport.

I’m not going to get into access changes in this post, but instead, I’ll focus on the airlines and terminals. Despite there being terminals numbered up to 8, there are actually only 6 at JFK these days. That’s because the old Pan Am Worldport (Terminal 3) is now pavement, and the old National Sundrome (Terminal 6) — also JetBlue’s first home — was razed a few years back.

That leaves things broken down as you can see on the map below.

There isn’t an easy way to categorize each of these terminals and their functions, but I’ll try my best.

  • Terminal 1 is an international terminal with some strange bedfellows thanks to airlines jointly owning the terminal that don’t necessarily have commercial relationships with each other. Tenants include Aeroflot, Air France (but not KLM), EVA, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Lufthansa Group (but not Eurowings), Turkish, and a whole bunch of cats and dogs.
  • Terminal 2 is still used by Delta. It was closed during the pandemic when traffic was low, but Delta still needs it to run its full operation.
  • Terminal 4 is now Delta’s main terminal with the westernmost concourse B being Delta’s domain. The terminal is also the primary international terminal for Delta’s partners — including Aeromexico, KLM, LATAM, Virgin Atlantic, and WestJet — along with a ton of other airlines ranging from Emirates to Copa and everything in between.
  • Terminal 5 is JetBlue’s home except for international arrivals late at night which must go through Terminal 4. JetBlue partners Aer Lingus and Hawaiian also call the place home.
  • Terminal 7 is the British Airways terminal, but it also includes a weird mix of airlines ranging from Aerolineas Argentinas to Eurowings and Icelandair. You’ll also find the domestic cats and dogs here… Alaska and United.
  • Terminal 8 is the American terminal, and over the years it has grown — or American has shrunk — to include partners Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Qatar, and Royal Jordanian. For some reason, Ethiopian is also in this terminal, though I have no idea why.

For many reasons, this arrangement is not great. Usually in big cities, alliances like to be closer together, but that is not the case at JFK where they are all scattered to the wind. Several coming projects are going to now effectively eliminate two terminals and help to fix this mess.

Here is what it will look like in the end with brown being existing terminals and green being new construction.

Alright, so what is happening here?

Terminal 4 Extension

Delta recently broke ground on an extension of Concourse A in Terminal 4. This will add 10 gates. That may not sound like a lot, but it also wasn’t Delta’s original plan. This will allow Delta to consolidate its entire operation in Terminal 4, abandoning Terminal 2 for good, so it’s an important move.

The New Terminal 1

With Terminal 2 emptied, it will be razed. That will allow the new Terminal 1 to be built in phases. This new terminal will sit on top of the footprints of Terminals 1, 2, and the gone-but-not-forgotten 3. I assume this will allow United to reunite with partner Lufthansa Group over in Terminal 1. Heck, this will also allow Lufthansa Group to unite itself, with Eurowings presumably moving over. Other cats and dogs like Ethiopian should be able to move in with friendly Star Alliance partners in Terminal 1 as well, I’d think, but it’s too early to know that for sure. That being said, I doubt this will be a Star terminal since there will still be other legacy airlines in the mix.

Terminal 8 Expansion

My assumption about United and Eurowings leaving for Terminal 1 is partially informed by the fact that their current home at Terminal 7 isn’t going to be there long. This terminal will be razed. British Airways will be moving over into Terminal 8 with its joint venture partner American, something that’s long overdue. There is a minor project in Terminal 8 to add a couple new gates, some hardstands, and lounge space so that it can adequately support BA’s operation. Over time, I imagine that Alaska might find a way into this terminal as well since it has to leave Terminal 7, is a member of oneworld, and has an important partnership with American.

The New Terminal 6

With Terminal 7 out of the way, they can finally rebuild the new Terminal 6 which is really just going to be an extension of Terminal 5 with more international capability. This won’t be a huge, with only 9 new gates at last check. But it should allow JetBlue’s growth and provide a place for some of JetBlue’s closer international partners to relocate.

When this is all said and done… I’m pretty sure JFK will still be a mess. But the facilities will all be nice and new, and partners should be able to locate closer to each other, making it easier for travelers. I’m not sure how all the rats will feel about their homes being demolished, but I guess you can’t please everyone.

38 comments on “What Billions of Dollars Will Do at JFK

  1. Like the LaGuardia $ billions extreme makeover, the Kennedy $billions extreme makeover yields no new runway capacity, so same old delays, with nicer places to wait.

  2. The new T-1 is an international terminal. I’m not sure it’s going to have a domestic baggage handling. The current T-1 does not. There is no easy and simple solution for UA. T-4 with no lounge space is probably going to be it, since DL doesn’t technically operate it. Or they can do gate/slot swap with B6 for EWR access.

    I believe AS is negotiating with both T-6 operator and T-8. Nothing definitive yet.

    I’d assume AF moves into T-4 now that they are no longer part of the new T-1 consortium. Same with JL to T-8.

    That new T-1 is going to be seriously expensive to operate out of. By fitting all of IAG (and probably AS) into T-8 without a real expansion, AA condemns themselves to be permanently small at JFK.

    Most of the remaining international carriers will be jockeying for T-1 or T-6 space. T-6 can easily add more gates if needed. They just don’t have the need right now. FIS in T-5i can finally close after T-6 open. That gives B6 additional space there.

  3. LaGuardia’s Concourse B is absolutely gorgeous. It is wonderful to see the old CTB finally being razed after decades of low and leaky ceilings, poor to no amenities, some lounges placed BEFORE security, and the dreadful experience that it was. JFK in some ways has been a far better experience, but it depends on where one’s travels originate. Terminal 1 is a mess, thanks to Delta’s expansion at T4, which pushed out many airlines making this once charming (and first new facility in decades at JFK, when it opened in 1998) and relatively pleasant place into a bottleneck, which overcrowding, terrible customer service, and poor amenities all around. T2 is long past its prime and regardless of all that Delta put into it, it is a relic of the 1960s and needs to go. T4 is just OK. Long walks, low ceilings, so-so amenities, and there can be long waits at security and at FIS, depending on the time of day. The T4A expansion underway won’t do much to ease any of that. T5 is pleasant enough, built for the post-9/11 travel experience, with decent amenities and an overall modern feel. T7 is way past its shelf life. Small, cramped, dated, prone to long lines through security, a lousy BA lounge, and not a nice place to ride out a delay. T8 is a bit soulless, perhaps echoing its anchor tenant’s corporate ethos, but it is far and away the nicest, with lots of room, and with some improvements to the retail and dining experience, will actually be fairly nice.

    Terminal 8 will no doubt become the Oneworld hub at JFK. BA and IB will move, as we already know (IB not confirmed, but presumably, it will), joining AY, QR, CX, RJ, and QF at T8. I’d imagine EI will also move from T5 to T8 eventually, given the expanded code-sharing AA and EI have agreed to, though EI has a lounge at T5, but I suppose that move isn’t urgent and transfers can be assured through the shuttle bus that AA and B6 have set up between T8 and T5. AS will probably decamp to T8 once T7 closes, and presumably, we’ll see AS drop SFO and just focus on SEA, PDX, and the struggling SAN route. Other moves likely are JL and Royal Air Maroc, down the road. JL was part of the four airline ownership structure of T1 (alongside KE, AF, and LH). That structure does not carry over into the new T1.

    The big question is where does UA go? Guessing T1, temporarily, and then permanently in the new structure when complete. Guessing Icelandair, ANA, LOT (also currently at T7) go to T1.

    1. Not mentioned here, the PA has plans to bridge T5 to T8 behind security once T7 is demolished. This is part of the NEA between B6 & AA as I recall.

      Part of the T4 extension is headed for T3’s footprint similar to what was already noted with T1 being extended towards T2. There were plans I think Brett posted here about a bridge being constructed between T2 & T4, but were abandoned so the current configuration could be constructed. Also note, JFK has a 153 total gate limit, but is nowhere near that number.

      T1. 11 gates
      T2. 10 gates
      T4. 30 gates
      T5. 26 gates
      T7. 12 gates,
      T8. 26 gates

      I maybe off on T4, but the others I remember the numbers as I came across them a year or two ago.

        1. But as the two terminals expand, that distance should be less of an issue especially if there are moving walkways. As it is, one must exit security, use AirTrain & reenter through security a second time. Therefore a long walk behind security is preferable even though it’s not ideal.

      1. SEAN – I have heard about this “153 total gate limit” at JFK a few times before. Can you tell me where it comes from? Can you cite a source? (I am not doubting you at all – like I said, I’ve heard this before, but I can’t find anything to back this up, unlike the LGA perimeter rule which is very well documented.)

        Also – what does “total” even mean? Is it all possible gates AND hardstands? Contact gates only? Weird.

        Many thanks.

        1. I believe it’s an agreement between the PA & NYC. My best guess is to search http://www.panynj.com & check for documentation there.

          As for the total number of gates, as I understand it that includes both hard stands as well as ones with jet bridges.

  4. Cranky, have you been able to reach out to anyone at the Port Authority (or United for that matter) to confirm that Terminal 1 will be getting a domestic baggage claim as part of this new terminal expansion project?

    The too small a mess with too many airlines (although if you need a bite to eat and aren’t flying like meeting up with someone it’s the only terminal with a real food court outside of security) that is the current terminal 1 lacks a domestic baggage claim area and couldn’t accommodate United today. It’s also the only terminal in the 50 US States where passengers can take their duty free with them after purchase like in the rest of the world since everyone is flying Internationally, and you don’t need to pick up your purchase on the jet bridge.

    Terminal 4, after it opened in 2001 from the ashes of the former International Arrivals Terminal, even before Delta’s expansion into it, had a domestic baggage claim. The limited service of pre-merger Northwest Airlines and Continental Airlines (until it left JFK around 2007 I think) both used Terminal 4, I remember arriving their once on Northwest in 2007 and it felt we were pushing ourselves to get through the exit at security because the narrow exit area was full of people watching their loved ones, flying off on International Flights, go through security. If United returned to Terminal 4 it would be kind of coming full circle from the Continental days.

    1. Subway – Reach out to the Port? Ha! I gave up on that years ago. It would be a giant mistake to not have a domestic baggage claim in the new T1, so I assume that will be rectified from the existing building. Do I know that for sure? I do not.

  5. T4 I believe is operated by Schiphol Group, the Amsterdam airport operators, home of KL (and by extension SkyTeam/Flying Blue) of course. I believe that will remain the case as the contract is still current. I am not sure if it makes sense to have various operators run various parts of one and the same airport. On the one hand, Schiphol Group knows how to run an efficient international airport, but on the other hand, the JFK T4 design is an absolute disaster. I am looking forward to a day where I am arriving at the far end of the “long arm” and having to connect to a gate on the newly extended “short arm”. At least I will get my steps in…

  6. JFK, like LAX, is and always will be a product of the airline owned terminal concept even if the ownership issues change. JFK, unlike LAX, is better suited geographically for connections but both airports are and will be the primary longhaul US gateways for transatlantic and transpacific traffic, respectively.
    Neither JFK or LAX can completely rebuild while maintaining operations so we see a patchwork of new and expanded terminals with new terminal configurations and tenant moves that take place over decades. Even LGA was able to do a lot of the rebuilding by taking space for the new terminals from the landside rather than airside operation and did a lot of work during the pandemic. JFK won’t have that ability. LAX has built west toward the ocean with linear terminals which is a much more efficient way to add space – like ATL and DTW and the JFK T8 satellite – in contrast to the piers that have been added to JFK T4.
    It is hard to believe that people don’t see that stuff like the security checkpoint at T4 and the current international only T1 configuration can and will change; megatrillions can fix MOST problems.
    Finally, all of these gabzillions that are being spent translate into higher airline costs. LAX will probably come out as a lower cost alternative to JFK T1 and probably T6. DL’s resistance to spending a boatload at JFK is undoubtedly related to what it is spending at LGA. There is a point of diminishing return for terminal expansion from a cost standpoint. At some point, connecting traffic can be sent over other hubs while still serving the local market competitively. Terminal 1 and 6 will have high costs per passenger while T8’s high costs will diminish as more airlines move into fill space in AA’s terminal.

    1. “Neither JFK or LAX can completely rebuild while maintaining operations so we see a patchwork of new and expanded terminals with new terminal configurations and tenant moves that take place over decades. Even LGA was able to do a lot of the rebuilding by taking space for the new terminals from the landside rather than airside operation and did a lot of work during the pandemic. JFK won’t have that ability. LAX has built west toward the ocean with linear terminals which is a much more efficient way to add space – like ATL and DTW and the JFK T8 satellite – in contrast to the piers that have been added to JFK T4.”

      And this is why JFK is always in a state of reconstruction. I saw it in the 80’s, the 90’s, the 00’s, the 10’s & now. The difference is the current plans are more obvious & a bit less piece meal. The last time JFK had this level of construction was when the AirTrain was constructed along with new terminals 4, 5 & 8. It wouldn’t shock me if terminals get renumbered at some point.

      1. absolutely correct. It is the evolution of US megacarriers and their alliances that now provides a blueprint for mega-terminals -again with multiple international airports including LAX being examples of where there will be multiple very large airline/alliance operations.
        JFK is now on the verge of having 4 massive terminals, which even though, they won’t look anything like each other, will each house scores of gates.

        For any that complain about the walk from opposite ends of the expanded T4 complex, that same thing is possible at the expanded T5-6 complex and is possible but less likely in T1 which will be less of a hub operation. Airline planners do know what flights connect to the most other flights and can position flights in the terminal on a regular basis to minimize connection distance.

        It’s also worth noting that this is all very high level – just building gates and headhouses in long-term locations. There are certain to be improvements inside the terminals but on a less monumental scale. T4 just by itself is a massive building w/ lots of space that can and will be reconfigured as airline finances support the investment. Right now, just getting the basic configuration of terminals set at JFK, like at LAX, and airlines in long-term “homes” that matches current commercial realities and the future as it can best be seen is a massive accomplishment.

    2. While we are on the topic of Delta and its terminals, I had a good binoculars-enhanced view of Delta’s new LAX Terminal from the In-And-Out Burger last week. Very impressive what they are doing there. Great plane-spotting too: everything from the A-220 up to the 767-400. A few days later, I saw the A-350 in SEA. Quick question: How can I tell an Airbus A-330-900 from the -200/300 models?

      1. A key distinctive feature of the A330NEO and the A350 is the “raccoon mask” around the cockpit windshield. It is coming to other aircraft but for now it is a distinctive between the A330NEO and CEO.
        The A330NEO has a hybrid appearance between the A330CEO and the A350.

        1. A320NEOs have it too. It’s an option on A32NEO aircraft, thus not exclusive to A350 and A330 NEO.

  7. Thank you for this post. The color-coding “before and after” diagrams really help in making sense of the text and the actual physical layout of the entire facility. You did a great job of explaining the “missing” terminals and how the new construction utilizes that empty space. Very well-written.

  8. So the plan is to completely raze T1 after less than 30 years of operation? That’s very short lived. The typical lifespan of terminals at JFK is 40–50 years.

  9. I love how everyone in the US complains about the chronic issues our old and outdated airports have but whenever a long-term solution that actually fixes problems created by years of short-sighed planning is proposed, everyone balks at the cost. Then we spend money on another short-sighed project, only to have to repeat the process and spend more money 5-10 years later because the previous short-sighted project barely fixed anything.

    At least Star Alliance could maybe be finally consolidated under one roof at JFK and get a decent terminal. I just hope they don’t decide against putting a domestic baggage claim facility in Terminal 1, relegating United to T4 or the new T6. If T1 gets a domestic baggage facility, it wouldn’t just benefit United, but also any cat and dog international carriers with pre-clearance that aren’t happy with their current facilities. Or if Air Canada pulls a United and decides they want to come back, they now have a better facility.

    1. Airports (at least in the US) can only build what airlines are willing to pay for and use. No one wants to spend enormous amounts of money but buildings do reach their life limits and prove that they are not designed for current operations – such as the now defunct terminal 3 at JFK.
      DL’s terminal history at JFK highlights precisely why they have built in stages over time. Originally a domestic airline at JFK, T2 was fine. They bought the Pan Am assets over 30 years ago and are still years away from what may be an end stage terminal solution – all of their operation plus a bunch of their BFFs under the same roof with the largest operation at JFK, or one of the largest single terminal building operations at JFK. DL has changed international partners and will go through entire generations of aircraft by the time the space is available for DL to reach that point – in part because T4 has housed dozens of other international carriers that must have space at JFK to move to.
      B6 didn’t even exist 25 years ago and they are now building an expanded massive complex of their own that matches a business model that is neither legacy carrier or alliance-based.

      Same thing is true at LAX where DL’s willingness to rebuild one large corner of that airport opens up the potential for AA to consolidate its operations in a roughly mirror image on the south side of what DL is doing on the north side.

      Let’s also not forget that there are some pretty old concourses and terminals at major global airports like AMS, FRA and LHR. Other airports have taken a bunch of disjointed pieces of real estate and created something workable.

      And let’s not forget that major airports like CLT and DFW still are less than ideal for the types and sizes of operations that exist at those airports but there isn’t a willingness to spend the money to even do major bandaid work that is needed. There is only so much cost that airlines can swallow for new airplanes and terminals; right now the coastal airports and ORD are where the most expensive construction activity is happening.

      As a traveler, I am loving watching it come together and hope that high value air travel rebounds to justify the expenditures as well as keep more refurbishments in the pipeline.

  10. Cranky, I got a good laugh at “$300 gagillion babillion”, but you seriously have to look into these ABSOLUTELY BONKERS cost estimates. The announcement I read said $9.6 billion for 23 gates in Terminal 1 = $417m/gate / $4.50 PFC per passenger / ~150 passengers per plane / 20 planeloads per day per gate (10 arrive, 10 depart) = 85 years for that gate to breakeven!! (assuming 0% debt!) Even if you assume all widebodies with twice the passengers per flight (not at all realistic), that’s still 42 years to breakeven! Am I missing something in this math?!

    To put that in context, that’s *29* Houston NRG Stadiums for *one* airport terminal, at a cost of more than one NRG Stadium for each gate! How the hell does *one* airport gate cost as much as an entire NFL football stadium?!

    1. You’re missing that airport debt is also paid for by other revenue sources, such as rent for restaurants, landing fees, parking fees, taxi fees, Lyft and Uber fees, land rents for hotel complexes, etc. (Not JFK specifically, but some airports even have functioning oil fields!)

      As for why is it so expensive? It’s expensive to build at airports, especially while keeping them running. Its expensive to build in NYC. Combine the two, its really expensive.

  11. Perhaps some of the billions of dollars being spent on JFK in the next decade should be spent to increase the footprint of the airport and runways, to ease overall congestion? Has the PANYNJ considered this? What is the long-term vision for this airport?

    1. JFK is really hemmed in, and can’t expand into the bay because of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, which is important both for migratory bird and marine wildlife preservation. It’s part of the National Park system so any change would literally require an act of Congress. The idea of some combination of the PANYNJ, the City, and the State buying some land elsewhere and restoring it to wild habitat to offset filling in part of Jamaica Bay has been floated in the past but has never gone anywhere.

      Expansion without going into the bay would be fantastically expensive and could involve moving roadways as well as buying and tearing down commercial properties.

      If the Port Authority really wanted to show “vision” they’d be looking at HSR or maglev to make Stewart more useful. (Or going with my favorite idea and building a new mega-airport to replace JFK, LGA, and EWR… what possible better use could there be for Staten Island? :-)

      1. CraigTPA – thanks for that insight! I would think expansion into the bay would also be fantastically expensive as well! I also like your idea of a new mega-airport for the region – New York City and surrounding areas could definitely support this. Again, how many billions are we going to continue to throw at outdated facilities that have no outward room to grow? Someone in the NYC area needs to step up with some future vision and get this rolling!

  12. Is there any sort of estimate on when this will be done? I’m guessing it’s a long ways away but still something to look forward to.

    1. Mark – Well, it’s all over the place.

      *T8 growth with BA moving is supposed to happen Dec 1 this year *T4 extension will be done in 2023 (it has already broken ground) and T2 will close *T6 will have first gates open in 2025, but I don’t know the final completion *T1 will have its first gates open in 2026 with full completion in 2030

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Cranky Flier