Will Delta’s T4 leave you wanting for more?

n.b. – This story first appeared in the APEX Editor’s Blog on 28 May 2013

NEW YORK: “I could quote you a whole bunch of statistics but, let’s face it, the new terminal in awesome.”

That is how Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson opened his comments to the gathered masses at the celebration for the inauguration of the newly expanded T4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. And, to be fair, he’s mostly correct, though that doesn’t mean the statistics should be completely overlooked.

The expansion adds nine gates and more than 32,500 square meters of space to the terminal, allowing Delta to consolidate its operations at JFK down to only two terminals rather than three. It is also a long walk from start to end. The old pier was just under 400 meters long and the addition nearly doubles the length. Rep. Joe Crowley from New York joked at the opening “I did need a plane ride to get from the entrance to here today.” They aren’t done building, either. The next phase of construction is starting imminently, adding more gates and further extending the pier. These gates will cater to smaller regional jets and allow Delta to move those operations to a proper terminal space and away from hard stands within a few years.


The nicest part of the new terminal space is one which most passengers will never use: the lounge. The new Sky Club covers more than 2,200 square meters and is the nicest in the Delta network. It is, by nearly all measures, a very comfortable place to await departure.


Unlike the gate areas, there are a number of different seating options, ranging from waiter-serviced tables (food is a la carte, not complimentary) to couches to work cubicles to the outdoor Sky Deck area; similar to the gate areas power outlets are everywhere.


For Portland Shepard, a Platinum Medallion in the Delta SkyMiles program, the new lounge lived up to the hype. Talking about his time spent in the lounge on opening day Mr. Shepard noted, “The SkyDeck is fantastic; I rerouted myself to come through here today because they were opening and it was definitely as good as I hoped.”


The complimentary snacks available in the lounge are the same as in the other Sky Club locations; they are not particularly compelling. The paid dining options are unique to the new Sky Club. They are reasonably priced for airport food in New York City (salads and sandwiches are $14-16) and tasty, too. Meals can be ordered at the tables or from a number of tablets around the club. Orders from the tablets are delivered to the traveler wherever they are in the lounge; their location is tracked via a wireless puck similar to those used at some restaurants whilst waiting for a table.


The public space at T4 is significantly more inviting than the now shuttered T3 which went into service over 50 years ago. T3 was ahead of its time when it first opened; alas the building did not keep up as the industry progressed and by modern standards it was woefully ill-equipped. By contrast, the expanded Terminal 4 features wider halls, higher ceilings, larger gate areas and both more and better dining options. Seats in the gate areas are plentiful and well-equipped; three quarters of them have 120V and USB power plugs directly accessible. One passenger, a first-time visitor to JFK, noted that the building reminded him of his home base at Amsterdam’s Schipol.


And, yet, while the new terminal area is significantly better than what it replaces, the passenger experience comes up a bit short in some areas. Compared to the renovated Delta terminal across town at LaGuardia the JFK space is somewhat unimpressive. The JFK gates do not have the iPads for entertainment, information or to order food on demand that LaGuardia offers. Nor are there the variety of seat types (some low chairs, some higher with a counter/desk available).

Options for grab-and-go dining are somewhat limited considering the size of the space. The new restaurants are big names – Shake Shack and Blue Smoke are two local brands with outlets in the new space – which is sure to please customers who have time to wait. The line to get food at Shake Shack early on opening day rivaled the in-town version of the restaurant at more than 20 minutes to get food; that’s not good for travelers with a short layover and a flight to catch.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.