Map showing New York City and the locations of JFK (1), LaGuardia
(2), and Newark
Construction and early operations
John F. Kennedy International Airport was originally called Idlewild Airport (IATA: IDL, ICAO: KIDL, FAA LID: IDL) after the Idlewild Beach Golf Course that it displaced. It was built to relieve LaGuardia Airport, which had become overcrowded after its 1939 opening. Construction began in 1943, and about US$60 million was initially spent with governmental funding, but only 1,000 acres (400 ha) of the Idlewild Golf Course site were earmarked for use.
In 1943, the project was renamed Major General Alexander E. Anderson Airport, after a Queens resident who had commanded a Federalized National Guard unit in the southern United States and died in late 1942. In March 1948, the New York City Council changed the name to New York International Airport, Anderson Field, but the common name was "Idlewild" until the end of 1963.
The Port of New York Authority (now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) leased the Idlewild property from the City of New York in 1947 and maintains this lease today. The first flight from Idlewild was on July 1, 1948; the opening ceremony was attended by then U.S. President Harry S. Truman. The Port Authority canceled foreign airlines' permits to use LaGuardia, forcing them to move to Idlewild during the next couple of years.
Idlewild opened with six runways and a seventh under construction; runways 1L and 7L were held in reserve and never came into use as runways. Runway 31R (originally 8,000 ft or 2,438 m) is still in use; runway 31L (originally 9,500 ft or 2,896 m) opened soon after the rest of the airport and is still in use; runway 1R closed in 1957 and runway 7R closed around 1966. Runway 4 (originally 8,000 ft, now runway 4L) opened June 1949 and runway 4R was added ten years later. A smaller runway 14/32 was built after runway 7R closed and was used until 1990 by general aviation, STOL, and smaller commuter flights.
The Avro Jetliner was the first airliner to land at Idlewild on April 16, 1950. A Sud Aviation Caravelle prototype was the next airliner to land at Idlewild, on May 2, 1957. Later in 1957, the USSR sought approval for two Tupolev Tu-104 flights carrying diplomats to Idlewild; the Port Authority did not allow them, saying noise tests had to be done first. (The Caravelle had been tested at Paris.) The airport was renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 24, 1963, a month and two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. proposed the renaming to JFK. The IDL and KIDL codes have since been reassigned to Indianola Municipal Airport in Mississippi.
The Port of New York Authority originally planned a single 55-gate terminal, but the major airlines did not agree with this plan, arguing that the terminal would be far too small for future traffic. Architect Wallace Harrison then designed a plan for each major airline at the airport to be given its own space to develop its own terminal. This scheme made construction more practical, made terminals more navigable, and introduced incentives for airlines to compete with each other for the best design. The revised plan met airline approval in 1955, with seven terminals initially planned. Five terminals were for individual airlines, one was for three airlines, and one was for international arrivals. (National Airlines and British Airways arrived later.) The airport was designed for aircraft up to 300,000-pound (140,000 kg) gross weight The airport had to be modified in the late 1960s to accommodate the Boeing 747's weight.
The International Arrivals Building, or IAB, was the first new terminal at the airport, opening in December 1957. The building was designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. The terminal stretched nearly 700 meters (2,300 ft) and was parallel to runway 7R. The terminal had "finger" piers at right-angles to the main building allowing more aircraft to park, an innovation at the time. The building was expanded in 1970 to accommodate jetways. However, by the 1990s the overcrowded building was showing its age and it did not provide adequate space for security checkpoints. It was demolished in 2000 and replaced with Terminal 4.
United Airlines and Delta Air Lines opened Terminal 7 (later renumbered Terminal 9), a Skidmore design similar to the IAB, in October 1959. It was demolished in 2008.
Eastern Airlines opened their Chester L. Churchill-designed Terminal 1 in November 1959. The terminal was demolished in 1995 and replaced with the current Terminal 1.
American Airlines opened Terminal 8 in 1960. It was designed by Kahn and Jacobs and had a 317-foot (97 m) stained-glass façade designed by Robert Sowers, the largest stained-glass installation in the world until 1979. The façade was removed in 2007 as the terminal was demolished to make room for the new Terminal 8; American cited the prohibitive cost of removing the enormous installation.
Pan American World Airways opened the Worldport (later Terminal 3) in 1960. It featured a large, elliptical roof suspended by 32 sets of radial posts and cables; the roof extended 114 feet (35 m) beyond the base of the terminal to cover the passenger loading area. It was one of the first airline terminals in the world to feature Jetways that connected to the terminal and that could be moved to provide an easy walkway for passengers from the terminal to a docked aircraft. Jetways replaced the need to have to board the plane outside via airstairs, which descend from an aircraft, via truck-mounted mobile stairs or via wheeled stairs. The Worldport was demolished in 2013
Trans World Airlines opened the TWA Flight Center in 1962, designed by Eero Saarinen with a distinctive winged-bird shape. With the demise of TWA in 2001, the terminal remained vacant until 2005 when JetBlue Airways and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) financed the construction of a new 26-gate terminal partly encircling the Saarinen building. Called Terminal 5(Now T5), the new terminal opened October 22, 2008. T5 is connected to the Saarinen central building through the original passenger departure-arrival tubes that connected the building to the outlying gates. The Port Authority is working on restorations to the remaining original Saarinen terminal, also known as the head house.
Northwest Airlines, Braniff International, and Northeast Airlines opened a joint terminal in 1962 (now Terminal 2).
National Airlines opened the Sundrome (now Terminal 6) in 1970. The terminal was designed by I.M.Pei. It was unique for its use of all-glass mullions dividing the window sections, unprecedented at the time. In 2001, United Airlines planned to redevelop this terminal and the TWA Flight Center as a new United terminal. Terminal 6 was used by JetBlue Airways from 2001 through 2008, and then was vacated and demolished when JetBlue Airways moved to Terminal 5.
In 1951, the airport averaged 73 daily airline operations (takeoffs plus landings); the October 1951 Airline Guide shows nine domestic departures a day on National and Northwest. Much of Newark's traffic moved to Idlewild (which averaged 242 daily airline operations in 1952) when Newark closed in February 1952. L-1049 Constellations and DC-7s appeared between 1951 and 1953 and did not use LaGuardia for their first several years, bringing more traffic to Idlewild. The April 1957 Airline Guide cites a total of 1283 departures a week, including about 250 from Eastern Air Lines, 150 from National Airlines and 130 from Pan American.
Airlines began scheduling jets to Idlewild in 1958–59; LaGuardia did not get jets until 1964, and Idlewild became New York's busiest airport. It had more airline takeoffs and landings than LaGuardia and Newark combined from 1962 to 1967 and was the second-busiest airport in the country, peaking at 403,981 airline operations in 1967. LaGuardia received a new terminal and longer runways from 1960 to 1966. By the mid- 1970s, the two airports had roughly-equal airline traffic (by flight count); Newark was in third place until the 1980s, except during LaGuardia's reconstruction. The Concorde, operated by Air France and British Airways, made scheduled trans-Atlantic supersonic flights to JFK from November 22, 1977 until its retirement by British Airways on October 24, 2003. Air France had retired the aircraft in May 2003.
Construction of the AirTrain JFK rapid-transit system began in 1998, after decades of planning for a direct rail link to the airport. Although the system was originally scheduled to open in 2002, it opened on December 17, 2003 after delays caused by construction and a fatal crash. The rail network links each airport terminal to the New York City Subway and the Long Island Rail Road at Howard Beach and Jamaica.
The airport's new Terminal 1 opened on May 28, 1998; Terminal 4, the $1.4 billion replacement for the International Arrivals Building, opened on May 24, 2001. JetBlue's Terminal 5 incorporates the TWA Flight Center, and Terminals 8 and 9 were demolished and rebuilt as Terminal 8 for the American Airlines hub. The Port Authority Board of Commissioners approved a $20 million planning study for the redevelopment of Terminals 2 and 3, the Delta Air Lines hub, in 2008.
On March 19, 2007, JFK was the first airport in the United States to receive a passenger Airbus A380 flight. The route, with an over-500-passenger capacity, was operated by Lufthansa and Airbus and arrived at Terminal 1. On August 1, 2008, it received the first regularly-scheduled commercial A380 flight to the United States (on Emirates' New York–Dubai route) at Terminal 4. Although the service was suspended in 2009 due to poor demand, the aircraft was reintroduced in November 2010. Other airlines operating A380s to JFK include Singapore Airlines (on its New York–Frankfurt–Singapore route), Air France (on its New York–Paris–Charles de Gaulle route), Lufthansa (on its New York–Frankfurt route), Korean Air and Asiana Airlines (on their New York–Seoul route) and Etihad Airways on its New York–Abu Dhabi route. On December 8, 2015, JFK was the first U.S. airport to receive a commercial Airbus A350 flight when Qatar Airways began using the aircraft on its New York–Doha route.
On August 14, 2016, at 9:31 pm, gunfire was reported at Terminal 8; shortly afterward, gunfire was also reported at Terminal 1. An investigation indicated that no shooting had occurred, but frightened travelers ran from the terminals onto nearby highways and runways. The terminals were temporarily shut down, and flights were rerouted. Police, who were investigating, learned that the reported gunshots were travelers clapping for Usain Bolt after he won the men's 100-meter dash at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Two people were injured in the resulting stampede, and the Port Authority Police Department later reviewed its strategy for dealing with possible terror attacks.
On January 4, 2017, the office of New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to renovate the airport at a cost of $7 to 10 billion. The Airport Master Plan Advisory Panel had reported that JFK, 59th out of the world's top 100 airports, was expected to experience severe capacity constraints from increased use. The airport was expected to serve about 75 million annual passengers in 2020 and 100 million by 2050, up from 60 million when the report was published. The panel had several recommendations, including enlarging the newer terminals; relocating older terminals; reconfiguring highway ramps and increasing the number of lanes on the Van Wyck Expressway; lengthening AirTrain JFK trainsets or connecting the line to the New York City transportation system, and rebuilding the Jamaica station with direct connections to the Long Island Rail Road and the New York City Subway. No start date has yet been proposed for the project; in July 2017, Cuomo's office began accepting proposals for master plans to renovate the airport.
In October 2018, Cuomo released details of a $13 billion plan to rebuild passenger facilities and approaches to JFK Airport. Two new international terminals would be added. One of the terminals, a $7 billion, 23-gate structure replacing terminals 1 and 2 and connecting to Terminal 4, would be financed and built by a partnership between Lufthansa, Air France, Korean Airlines, and Japan Airlines. The other terminal, costing $3 billion, would be developed by JetBlue and will replace Terminal 7 and the vacant space of Terminal 6, and would connect to Terminal 5. Terminal 8 would remain a separate terminal operating American Airlines and Oneworld flights. JFK's redesign will include adding cars to AirTrain trainsets; widening connector ramps between the Van Wyck Expressway and Grand Central Parkway in Kew Gardens; and adding another lane in each direction to the Van Wyck, at a combined cost of $1.5 billion. If approved, construction is expected to begin in 2020. Under the plan, the first gates would open in 2023, and the project would be complete in 2025.