Delta & OTG Transform the LaGuardia Airport Experience
Amidst the usual daily drill of takeoffs and landings and delays at New York’s crowded and perennially busy LaGuardia Airport, a quiet revolution in airport design and service has taken place. Delta and a company called OTG Management have not only rehabbed terminals C and D but they’ve essentially transformed the flying experience for every single passenger who passes through these terminals.
I hadn’t stepped into the terminals in a while so I was floored by the changes that have occurred when I was on my way to Salt Lake City via Minneapolis a few weeks ago. My guide was the affable and coolly in-charge Marcello Surerus, former head concierge of W Hotels, who runs OTG’s ambitious program at LaGuardia.
The $160 million makeover was more than skin deep. There are iPads everywhere for anyone to use, so passengers can play games, browse the Internet or see what’s available at nearby shops and restaurants and have it delivered to them. The staff seems to have been upgraded as well, evincing a pleasant can-do attitude that is normally only found when you’re around rival airline JetBlue. Most of the rows of fixed plastic upholstered seats have been replaced with bar-height stools that tuck into white countertops fitted with electrical outlets and USB ports, with space to store luggage.
Banished is the idea of sitting in a worn seat staring at row after row of weary travelers. Now, once you’re checked in, you can settle in on a high seat, browse an iPad, and choose from 100 different wines at wibar, one of the new bars in the terminals. But it’s the restaurant experience that OTG has created that really transforms the experience of waiting in the terminals. They are all new, sleek and inviting places, serving food that not only sounds good but is good.
“The idea with the restaurants was to connect with some of the top chefs in New York, many of them celebrities, and have them open places here in terminals C and D,” explained Surerus. The good news is that they’re not just clones of their New York counterparts, but smart, sharply designed eateries primed to deal with LaGuardia’s tight spaces and time-crunched travelers.
We had breakfast at the just-opened Victory Grill, which is overseen by Chef Andrew Carmellini. It was early morning, so while we could dream of oysters, lamb chops and a wine selection behind a glittering floor to ceiling display, we were more than delighted to have creamy cappuccinos, a classic lox on bagel and pancakes that my niece declared to be the fluffiest she’d ever eaten.
Other dining options in Terminals C & D include Empire Tavern, a collaboration from Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, the duo behind New York classics Balthazar, Pastis, Schiller’s and Minetta Tavern. Empire is fashioned after a classic New York City tavern, with classically prepared meat and fish as well as 24 beers on tap and 24 wines by the glass. The same team conceived Bisoux, a bistro inspired by Provencal cuisine. Cotto is Chef Michael White’s Italian eatery with pizzas, pastas, a coffee bar and gelato counter. Kombi features contemporary Japanese cuisine by Chef Jamison Blankenship, Prime Tavern is Chef Michael Lomonaco’s American steakhouse and Vela Aquaria is Chef Aaron Sanchez’s Mexican place. Pizza, you say? Crust features thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizzas with artisanal toppings, baked at nearly 700 degrees for the perfect crunch. There are no fast food chains, as these terminals lead the demand for upscale dining by increasingly sophisticated travelers.
Delta has also redone its Sky Club in terminal D and opened a new one in Terminal C. I happen to like Sky Clubs but OTG has done such a brilliant job with the new eateries, iPads and lofty design that you don’t feel like you’re missing out if you don’t have Sky Club access. They’ve brought that clubby experience out into the terminal.
When we landed in Minneapolis for a two hour layover, we found a similar transformation in Terminal G at the Minneapolis- Saint Paul International Airport, with restaurants and shops that make a layover a pleasure.
But it’s the rebirth of Delta’s Terminals C and D at LaGuardia, a major airport long in need of a facelift, that leaps out as the outstanding airport success story this year.
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