The perpetual dumpiness of La Guardia Airport is, as ever, an embarrassment to every New Yorker.
The first impression of our city—our vibrant, exciting and modern urban oasis—is an airport that smacks of a flea-bitten motel in a backwater town. It’s the kind of place where it’s not at all uncommon to come across a dirty wastebasket in the middle of the concourse that’s collecting dripping water from the stained drop ceiling above. Being at La Guardia is like being in someone’s horribly cramped, unfinished, dirty basement, complete with ghoulish fluorescent lighting, stale pastries and iffy plumbing. You never know when a gate agent will be issuing a warning to everyone in the security checkpoint snarl that none of the bathrooms in the concourse is working. Seriously. Only at La Guardia do these types of things happen.
This armpit of the airport world makes travel such an aggravating chore that you can’t wait to get out of town. Not only that, but as soon as you’re on the airplane (delayed for an interminable amount of time on the tarmac, of course), you begin plotting how in the future, for all of your travel, you can avoid the perpetual horror that is La Guardia. Suddenly, driving eight hours to Cleveland seems completely reasonable. Fourteen to Chicago? Not a bad idea. Biking to California? Ideal.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport flaunts its air travel fabulousness. Not only does it showcase wide open concourses with soaring ceilings, superb signage and soothing lighting the likes of which are usually reserved for comfy living rooms, but everything is decorated this time of year with miles of evergreen garlands interwoven with royal red velvet ribbon. It’s a veritable celebration of travel.
Those fortunate enough to be arriving to or departing from this most delightful of hubs float through the yawning concourses upon little clouds of fairy dust. Travelers joyfully choose appetizing meals and snacks from a bountiful array of stores. They select reading materials from cozy bookstores and quaint newspaper shops. Perhaps they do a spot of shopping in any number of the luxury stores dotting the concourse. Elves frolick from gate to gate, helping travelers with their baggage. Little woodland animals scurry around cleaning every inch of the airport, whistling while they work in true Disney fashion. Gum drops in every flavor gently float down from the ceiling into travelers’ waiting mouths. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. There’s no cantaloupe-flavored gum drop.
It doesn’t take long before you start pondering how all of your trips could be rerouted through O’Hare. Maybe stop over on your way from New York to Sonoma. If flying from Des Moines to Los Angeles, backtracking hundreds of miles to enjoy the treats of O’Hare seems perfectly reasonable. It is the happiest of all air travel places.
Alas, La Guardia remains a roller coaster of discontent; it crams travelers into a tight space, pulls them laboriously up a hill of discomfort, and then plunges them headlong into a black hole of frustration. Maybe it’s fitting. La Guardia is, after all, located on the site of a former amusement park. Figures.