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Gridlocked La Guardia inconveniencing travellers, both on the tarmac and off

New York

AFTER years of being derided by travellers, New Yorkers and politicians alike as belonging in a developing country, La Guardia, an airport that sits on a chockablock site in northern Queens, is finally getting a US$8 billion makeover.

But three years into the massive construction project, traffic at the airport has been so gridlocked that some travellers have resorted to exiting their vehicles and dragging their luggage between cars to get to the terminal.

This is all happening while the airport has logged some of its busiest days on record. Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, said eight of the 12 busiest days in La Guardia's history had occurred this summer, during the "peak of the peak of construction". "We do not expect people to get used to it. We don't expect people to accept it," Mr Cotton said of the disruptions. "What we're asking people for is their patience."

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Most passengers get to and from La Guardia in cars, primarily ride-shares like Ubers or taxis. Arriving passengers must board a shuttle to take them to the waiting area for car pickup.

The delays have caused some passengers to spend more time travelling home from the airport than they spent flying.

Passengers must rely on cars since La Guardia is one of the few major airports in the world with no rail link. Governor Andrew Cuomo has pushed to build an AirTrain between the subway and La Guardia, but that project would cost more than US$2 billion and still lacks permits.

The difficulties have not deterred travellers: This year, La Guardia set a new traffic record for May.

All told, 30 million passengers pass through La Guardia each year on more than 1,000 flights a day. With so much traffic on just two runways at the edge of Flushing Bay, there is little room for error.

Consequently, La Guardia routine-ly ranks among the airports with the most delayed flights in the country with an on-time arrival rate of 72 per cent.

Delays are not likely to disappear once the repairs are finished, but conditions within La Guardia should improve drastically, at least judging by the appearance of the first new concourse, which opened in December.

Another concourse is scheduled to open this autumn, but Mr Cotton said the peak construction period would last until the middle of 2020, and the entire project will not be completed before the end of 2021. NYTIMES