Until now, the Jet Blue terminal at JFK Airport was a continental anomaly. Well designed, inviting and with restaurants run by area chefs, Terminal 5 was the exception that made the rule seem even bleaker.
But five years on, there's another massive overhaul and it may mean things are finally looking up for North American air travel.
On May 24, Delta Airlines opens Sky Deck, a 2,000-square-foot outdoor terrace at their Delta Club lounge at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens. It's part of the airline's $1.2-billion renovation that will see the demolition of Terminal 3 and a complete overhaul of Delta's new home in Terminal 4.
The Sky Deck, three storeys above the runway with views of the Manhattan skyline, will only be open to people with sufficient Delta status (or those willing to pay the $50 entry fee). But what's important is the literal opening up of the airport experience it represents, and the likelihood that the approach will start trickling down to less exclusive areas.
This transformation of airports from sort of non-places, often separated from the cities they serve by hives of highways and vast tracts of buffer zones, into attractive spaces in their own right – literally open to their environments – is something the rest of the world has been doing for some time.
Singapore's Changi Airport started the trend by creating a nature trail, a series of outdoor (and outdoor-esque) areas in all three terminals, including a butterfly garden, an outdoor pool, cactus and sunflower gardens to allow people to catch their breath before settling in for several hours of recycled air.
In London, Virgin Atlantic's Clubhouse lounge at Heathrow's Terminal 3 has a rooftop terrace with a free bar and view over their own planes docking and taxiing.
Amsterdam's Schiphol offers an indoor-outdoor park with a juice bar, bean-bag chairs, picnic tables, a tulip stand and trees. And at W. A. Mozart Airport in Salzburg, Austria, there's a runway-side outdoor visitors lounge for aerophiles and pre-check-in passengers called Hangar-7, with wicker furniture and barbeque.
A U.S. airport joining the outdoors club is a watershed, and Delta wants to make sure you know it. They teamed up with Architectural Digest (bible to houseporn-hounds the world over), who in turn hired Thom Filicia, the interior decorator from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, to sprinkle his own brand of mass-media-friendly pixie dust on the project.
"The idea is to encourage everyone to look at air travel as more comfortable and inviting," Filicia said on the phone from Los Angeles. "It's certainly an industry that's going through a lot of changes right now, and this kind of attention to detail is the exciting part of what's happening."
To hammer home just how big a deal it is, Delta has opened a Manhattan pop-up storefront, in SoHo, to give people an advance taste of the Sky Deck experience.
The second Sky Deck is scheduled to open at Delta's home airport in Atlanta in June.