Dark, dingy, cramped and sad. These are some of the ways travellers describe LaGuardia Airport, a bustling hub often ranked in customer satisfaction surveys as the worst in America.
"It does not represent what people think of when they think of New York and Broadway shows and glamour. It's not very pretty," said Layla House, a sales manager for a medical supply company who travels from her home in Bullard, Texas, to New York at least six times a year.
That's about to change.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced the state is taking control of an ambitious US$3.6 billion ($4.3 billion) construction project that envisions an entirely new central terminal at LaGuardia, with vast open spaces, restaurants, shopping plazas, new parking garages, free Wi-Fi and other amenities now common in other airports. Cuomo also wants to develop a plan to upgrade cargo operations at nearby John F. Kennedy Airport.
"We are going to redevelop those airports the way they should have been redeveloped many, many years ago," Cuomo said in his annual State of the State address.
Cuomo, who is running for re-election and has been mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, said he had become frustrated that talk of such renovations has been going on since the 1990s with little progress.
LaGuardia, along the Flushing and Bowery bays in northern Queens, is the closest of the New York area's three air hubs to midtown Manhattan, just 13km, and it handled a record 27 million passengers last year.
Often the first building they see is the sprawling, boomerang-shaped Central Terminal, which opened just in time to receive visitors to the 1964 World's Fair. Many passengers say it is like stepping back in time.
They immediately encounter low ceilings and dimly lit, narrow hallways. Check-in kiosks are arrayed haphazardly in rows just inside the entrances, where bright green neon lights blare: "Welcome to LaGuardia Airport."
On the west side of the terminal sits a modest food court featuring a hamburger counter, a pizzeria and a Dunkin' Donuts.
"It's probably the worst of all the terminals I go in and out of," said Thomas Smith, a frequent-flying energy company executive from Chicago who has seen buckets on the floor under leaky ceilings and other signs of decay.
"There's no real food service other than small snack shops. The gate areas are old."
Most passengers have to drag their carry-on bags down a flight of stairs to get from their gates to baggage claim because only one concourse has an escalator. Others have complained that neither Kennedy nor LaGuardia provides free Wi-Fi, something that has been an industry standard for years.
Built to accommodate 8 million passengers a year, the central terminal now handles 12.5 million. Cuomo envisions a terminal that could handle as many as 17.5 million passengers by 2030. LaGuardia's three other terminals, which include the Art Deco-style Marine Air Terminal, where seaplanes landed in the 1940s, are not slated for renovation.
"When you see the difference between these airports and some of these other countries' [airports], it's shameful," said George Hobica, who runs the website Airfarewatchdog.com.
In 2012, Travel and Leisure magazine named LaGuardia the worst US airport, saying it had the "dubious honour of ranking the worst for the check-in and security process, the worst for baggage handling, the worst when it comes to providing Wi-Fi, the worst at staff communication, and the worst design and cleanliness".
Proposals are being prepared for the main terminal.