History of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport

History of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport

Photo: Doug Letterman [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

John F. Kennedy International Airport, also known as JFK or Kennedy Airport, is located in Queens, New York. It opened in 1948 and was initially known as both New York International Airport and Idlewild Airport. Construction for the airport began in 1943 on the grounds of the former Idlewild Beach Golf Course. It was built to help relieve some of the congestion at nearby LaGuardia Airport. The project was renamed Major General Alexander E. Anderson Airport to honor the late Queens resident. The New York City Council changed the name to New York International Airport, Anderson Field in 1948. The airport was also referred to as Idlewild Airport by locals until the official name change to John F. Kennedy International Airport in December 1963.

The airport opened with six runways and five terminals to serve its passengers. Opening ceremonies were held on July 1,1948 with president Harry S. Truman in attendance. Two years later it averaged over 70 flights a day. Most of Newark’s air traffic was rerouted to Idlewild after Newark’s airport closed in 1952. By 1957, the new airport was handling over 1,200 departures a week. Jet flights arrived a year later, making Idlewild the busiest airport in the New York area.

Idlewild was the second most used airport in the United States in the 1960’s. Additional modifications would follow over the next several decades. The Airtran JFK rapid transit system began construction in 1998. The purpose of the project was to provide a more direct route to the airport. The project was completed in December 2003 after a few delays. The transit system connects all of JFK’s airport terminals to the Long Island Railroad at Jamaica and Howard Beach, New York and the New York City Subway.

JFK International was the first airport in the nation to have an Airbus A380 commercial passenger flight. Airbus planes were designed to accommodate over 500 passengers and were operated as part of a joint venture between Airbus and Lufthansa Airlines. Additional Airbus flights would follow over the next decade as additional carriers added these planes to their fleets.

New York City governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announced plans in January 2017 to renovate the airport. The plans were put in place to address forecasted increases in demand. JFK was expected to facilitate approximately 75 million passengers in 2020 and 100 million passengers by the year 2050. At the time, JFK International ranked 59th out of the world’s top 100 airports.

More details for the project were released in October 2018. The $13 billion renovation included plans to add a pair of new international terminals, replacing and upgrading other older terminals, adding additional gates and installing connector ramps. Construction began in January 2020 with the goal to have the project completed in 2025.

History of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport

Photo: ClassicNewYorkHistory.com

JFK International Airport currently has six active terminals:

Terminal 1 opened in 1998, more than 50 years after President Kennedy’s passing. It serves Japan Airlines, Air France, Aeroflot, Alitalia, Korean Air, Air China, China Eastern Airlines, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, EVA Air, Brussels Airlines, Cayman Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Air Italy, Norwegian Air, Interjet, Azerbaijan Airlines, VivaAerobus and Philippine Airlines.

The terminal was designed by renowned architects William Nicholas Boduva and Associates. JFK’s Terminals 1 and 4 are the only terminals at the airport that can sufficiently handle Airbus A380 arrivals and departures. Terminal 1 has 11 gates to accommodate all of its international passengers.

Terminal 2 opened in 1962 to serve the now-defunct Branff, Northeast Airlines and Northwest Airlines. After Northeast and Branff folded, the terminal was then used for Pan American World Airways flights. The terminal is now used by Delta Airlines. The terminal has 11 gates for Delta air passenger traffic.

Terminal 4 opened in 2001 to replace the airport’s former International Arrivals Building. The terminal’s 38 gates serve flights from Virgin Atlantic, Air Europa, Delta, KLM, Air India, Airomexico, Caribbean Airlines, China Airlines, EgyptAir, Xiamen Airlines, Asiana Airlines, WestJet, Swiss International Air Lines, Avianca, Air Serbia, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Volaris, China Southern Airlines, JetBlue, Uzbekistan Airways, South African Airways, Copa Airlines, El Al, Hainan Airlines and Etihad Airways.

The terminal can also accommodate Airbus A380 flights. The 1.5 million square foot terminal has undergone several expansions and renovations since it was first opened. It was initially constructed at the same time as the AirTran transit system. The AirTran station for the airport is housed in Terminal 4.

Photo: ClassicNewYorkHistory.com ©2018

Terminal 5 opened at JFK as a hub for JetBlue Airlines in 2008. The terminal has also been used for Cape Air, Aer Lingus, Hawaiian Airlines and TAP Air Portugal arrivals and departures. Terminal 5 has 29 gates for continental and international flights.

The terminal is located just behind the former TWA Flight Center, which was converted into the TWA Hotel in 2019. Passengers waiting for their next flight have been known to spend some of their down time in the terminal’s Airspace Lounge (which opened in 2013) or Aer Lingus’ airport lounge (which opened in 2015).

Terminal 7 was added to JFK in 1970 to serve Air Canada and the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The terminal currently accommodates flights from Alaska Airlines, British Airways, All Nippon Airways, Aerolineas Argentinas, Icelandair, the Ukraine International Airlines, Qatar Airways, Iberia Airlines, Eurowings and LOT Polish Airlines.

The terminal is operated by British Airways. It was expanded in 1991 and again in 2003. British Airways extended its terminal lease in 2015 and announced plans for further renovations. The project to improve service at the terminal’s 12 gates is expected to be completed sometime before the current lease expires in 2022.

Terminal 8 opened in 2007. It was created to replace the airport’s former Terminals 8 and 9. It is a major one world hub, with American Airlines as its primary air carrier. It also serves Iberia Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, LATAM Chile, British Airways and LATAM Brazil.

This is also the largest terminal at JFK International Airport. It is currently twice the size of Madison Square Garden. The terminal has 29 gates, over 80 ticket counters, 40 self-serve information and ticket kiosks and 10 security checkpoint stations. It also has a U.S. Customs and Border Protection that can process over 1,500 passengers per hour.

Terminal 8 serves over 10 million passengers every year. It is a key part of the city’s renovation project for the airport. Construction began in January 2020 and is expected to be completed in 2022. After the project is done, British Airways is expected to move into the terminal so that the air carrier can provide additional daily flights to London, England.

JFK Airport hasn’t been around as long as LaGuardia or nearby Newark Liberty International Airport, but that doesn’t make it any less important. It’s an important part of the area’s transportation infrastructure. It’s also become one of the busiest airports in the nation, and that trend is expected to continue in the coming decades. JFK Airport is a local landmark that people far and wide have grown to appreciate and admire during their travels every year.


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