Improvements Are Taking Off at U.S. Airports, As Industry Calls for More Investment

After years of criticism, terminals at New York’s LaGuardia Airport and other major travel hubs are finally getting some needed renovations. But a lot more investment is still needed, groups say.

Among the litany of complaints about the sad state of U.S. airports, one particularly harsh take came from then-Vice President Joe Biden. “If I took you and blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you’d think, ‘I must be in some third-world country,’” he said during a 2014 speech.

Biden might not repeat that line today.  LaGuardia has been undergoing major renovations, including the opening of a new concourse for Delta Airlines shuttle flights just two months ago. “Inside the concourse, which houses gates 92 to 98, it felt for once like LaGuardia was a clean and efficient modern airport,” Zach Wichter of The Points Guy wrote recently.

Improvements have been coming to other American airports as well, including in Orlando, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Restaurant options are getting better, and more recent facilities like the international airport in Indianapolis, built in 2008, have won awards for their design and ease of check-in.

In a recent interview with CBS News, Mario Rodriguez, executive director of the Indianapolis International Airport, said such improvements have the potential to change our relationship with travel.

“We’ve been desensitized, and we’ve been trained to think that the airport experience is horrible,” Rodriguez said. “Why should that be? That only happened just recently. You know, before it was the miracle of flight; traveling was exciting!”

Officials with trade groups such as the U.S. Travel Association and Airports Council International-North America say more funding is necessary. In a study last year, ACI-NA said U.S. airports need tens of billions of dollars in new investment every year to keep up with growing passenger and cargo needs—$128 billion through 2023, with 56 percent of that money required to fund terminal upgrades.

“While passenger and cargo traffic through airport facilities continues to grow at a record pace, our outdated aviation infrastructure is not keeping up with demand,” the council said in the study. “As a result, far too many airports around the country are overcrowded and cramped.”

There is evidence that the current state of airport infrastructure is harming the reputation of U.S. travel. In comments to CBS News, U.S. Travel Association Vice President Tori Barnes said the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have a top-ranking global airport is a major blemish.

“We don’t need a Taj Mahal; we’re not asking for that,” Barnes said. “We just need the government and private sector to be willing to invest in making it a better system.”

The Indianapolis International Airport is seen as a model for the rest of the country. (Kirkikis/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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