AirTrain passengers, to receive free rides

By Ivan Pereira

The city's largest airport will be turning 60 next week and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey will be celebrating the occasion by giving passengers and straphangers free rides on the AirTrain this Friday.

Officials said the giveaway was a thank you to New Yorkers for helping make John F. Kennedy International Airport one of the most used airspaces in the country.

“Kennedy Airport would not be the world-class airport it is today without them,” said Chris Ward, the Port Authority executive director, in a statement. “We hope this small benefit gives them one more reason to come to Kennedy, use AirTrain JFK, and reduce traffic on our roads.”

The first passenger arrived at JFK on a Peruvian International Airways flight from Santiago, Chile, July 9, 1948, when it was originally called New York International Airport. On July 31, 1948, the airport was officially dedicated in a ceremony attended by President Harry S Truman.

Until 1957, the airport had only one terminal, known as the Temporary Terminal, which operated as its main hub. The airport grew tremendously over the years as air travel grew and flyers were treated to more destinations.

The airport's space expanded from 1,000 acres to 5,000 acres in the 1958 to 1971 period and added eight new terminals. Each of these new spaces utilized a modern architectural look and had new features.

The Worldport (Pan American) terminal, which opened in 1962, sported an elliptical roof and was one of the first terminals to feature jetways that provided departing passengers with a new alternative to runway stairs.

The TWA terminal, which also opened in 1962 and is currently being remodeled for the new JetBlue terminal, had artistic glass designs and a curved stylized roof. The landmarked building was designed by Eero Saarinen and today is widely regarded as an icon of American design.

In 1963, the airport was renamed in honor of the assassinated president and continued growing. In the 1970s, JFK was home to the inaugural voyage of the B-747 jet. Twenty years later the Port Authority began a long-term, $9 billion-plus, public-private redevelopment program that helped modernize the airport's facilities with new equipment, planes and services.

The biggest of those ventures was the AirTrain monorail. After years of planning, the 8.1-mile transit system began construction in 1998 as a cheap, fast and clean option to connect passengers to JFK from Howard Beach and downtown Jamaica.

After conductor Kelvin DeBourgh, 23, was killed in a derailment accident during a test run in 2002, the monorail's launch was delayed for a year. When it finally opened to the public on Dec. 17, 2003, leaders such as Gov. George Pataki and Borough President Helen Marshall said it would be a new gateway for passengers to Queens.

Recent statistics from the PA show the transit option has helped the city tremendously with 4.4 million riders using it last year.

“Free rides on AirTrain JFK are our way of thanking our customers for making JFK Airport the nation's premier gateway for the last six decades, while highlighting this great mass transit option and reducing the number of cars on the road,” Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia said in a statement.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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