• Many large cities have multiple major airports or hubs.
  • Each of the three main airports in New York serves a specific purpose.
  • Newark recently opened a new terminal, and JFK is undergoing a $19 billion renovation.

Many large cities have several airports, including London, Beijing, and Tokyo, just to name a few. While this could complicate travel and connections for some travelers, there is a reason why they exist. The New York area has three primary commercial airports, LaGuardia (LGA), John F. Kennedy International (JFK), and Newark Liberty (EWR). All three airports opened at different times and for various reasons, but they continue to serve specific roles for the city that never sleeps. Here's some insight into why New York has so many airports.

Multiple airports in one city

It is quite common for a large city to have multiple airports. In the United States, cities such as Washington DC, Houston, Chicago, and Los Angeles also have more than one significant airport. The reason for the numerous such facilities in New York is somewhat historical and functional. New York Municipal Airport opened in 1929 as a private airfield. Then in 1939, due to its proximity to the city, it became a commercial airport. In 1953, the airport was renamed LaGuardia Airport after the mayor of New York at the time, Fiorello La Guardia.

Newark Liberty International Airport was opened in 1928 under the name Newark Metropolitan Airport. It was built to be New York's primary aviation gateway, and in the pre-war years, it was considered one of if not the busiest commercial airports in the world. Finally, in 1948, JFK Airport opened under the anime New York International Airport, primarily to help ease capacity as air traffic expanded.

Dozens of aircraft parked at gates at New York JFK airport.
Photo: Mikhalis Makarov /

Expanding an existing airport is challenging, especially when extensive work is necessary. Another effective option is building a new airport on open land, as seen in Beijing, Dubai, and Istanbul.

While New York has three major airports, three other smaller commercial airports also feature regular passenger service. These include Westchester County Airport, New York Stewart International Airport, and Long Island MacArthur Airport. These are mainly used for local travelers rather than connections, except PLAY Airlines, which launched flights between New York Stewart and Keflavík International Airport in Iceland.

Long-haul vs short-haul

Even if creating one central airport for New York was an option, it would not make sense, as each of the three main airports serves a specific purpose. For instance, LaGuardia, the closest to the city, mostly features short to medium-haul flights with smaller aircraft. The airport can accommodate up to a Boeing 767-400; for example, Delta Air Lines' previously operated flights to Atlanta using the aircraft.

Multiple American Airlines aircraft parked at LaGuardia Airport.
Photo: EQRoy | Shutterstock

Furthermore, LaGuardia airport has a "perimeter rule" that restricts airlines flying to airports farther than 1,500 miles away. There are two exceptions to the rule: flights to Denver and any flight operated on Saturdays.

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This is compared with JFK and Newark, which handle larger aircraft on longer routes. The airports are also set up for many passengers, transfers, and international arrivals. As both airports facilitate many connecting flights, airlines must keep them in the same airport, so Newark is a hub for United Airlines, while JFK is a hub for Delta Air Lines and American Airlines and a focus city for JetBlue.

A Untied Airlines aircraft taking off from Newark Airport.
Photo: Newark Liberty International Airport

As New York City is home to almost 8.5 million residents, in addition to the massive number of tourists that visit every year, having a choice of airport location is a must. If all airport traffic moved in the same direction, this would cause consistent traffic jams, inconveniencing travelers.

Future plans

All three of New York's airports are established commercial powerhouses and have been catering to the robust travel that the city brings. Recently, Newark opened a new Terminal A as part of the airport's modernization plan. JFK is also going through a $19 billion renovation that will see the construction of a new Terminal 6 and a new Terminal 1. Competition between the airports also continues to change as Newark passed JFK in the number of offered European passenger destinations.

What are your thoughts about New York's three major airports? Let us know what you think in the comment section.