A $10 billion overhaul of New York’s main airport isn’t going to fix its biggest problem

Airport of the future.
Airport of the future.
Image: NY Governor's Office
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New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport—which receives more international passenger traffic than any other in the US—is racing against the clock. Within a decade, the airport will reach full capacity, according to New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

To help remedy the current and future congestion around one of New York’s airports that president-elect Donald Trump has classified as ”third world,” the governor on Jan. 4 unveiled a $10 billion plan for a revamp. “You look at airports all across the globe and one is better than the next,” lamented Cuomo. “They are all ahead of where we are.”

JFK ranked 59th in Skytrax survey of the best 100 airports worldwide, a list that was topped by Singapore’s Changi airport. (Anyone who has traveled widely will be surprised it made the top 100.)

The plan aims to improve security at JFK by possibly adopting facial recognition technology, add more amenities such as better shopping and dining, and link JFK’s currently disjointed terminals. But it ignores perhaps the most important of all for passengers: improving dismal public transportation options to and from the airport.

Travelers currently have to take at least two trains or a bus and a train to reach JFK. Reaching Manhattan the quickest often involves a bleary eyed traveler having to pay a $5 fee to exit the airport (for using the AirTrain), buy a ticket using antiquated machines that require everyone to enter a zip code when using a credit card, get on a train at Jamaica station in Queens to take the Long Island Rail Road (a totally different train system that requires a separate ticket), and then arrive at the maze that is Penn station (which Cuomo is also overhauling and has previously compared to “dark” and “dingy” catacombs) with no guidance as to how the city’s subway system works.

It’s why weary travelers often throw up their hands upon arrival and jump in a taxi (flat rate to Manhattan: $52 plus tolls and tip), further clogging the roads.

One option is to double the number of cars to four on AirTrain, the rail that ferries passengers from stations in southern Queens to JFK terminals, as well rebuild one of its stations. Now, government officials have finally started talking about a single-ride option that would allow a travel from central Manhattan get to JFK on one train—which could involve a new train or extending one of the current lines.

But don’t get too excited yet. They are only “exploring the feasibility” of it, which means that they haven’t even committed to looking at options.

And in any case, you shouldn’t hold your breath. We know how long other public works projects have taken New York. Meanwhile, the French have recently approved a new train that will take you from Charles de Gaulle airport to Paris in 20 minutes from 2023.