An Ode to the Observation Decks at JFK

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                                         (Photo by Mel Lawrence, Shea Oakley collection)

You might notice the silhouetted figures of several individuals on the roof of the building above and behind the photo of this Pan Am DC-8-33 taken in the 1960’s. They are members of the public enjoying what was once the largest observation deck at JFK International Airport. It encompassed all of the International Arrivals Building (IAB) and its East and West Wing, including piers, for over a decade after the terminal’s opening in 1957.

While the IAB roof was perhaps the most impressive of the Idlewild/Kennedy observation decks it was by no means the only one. In those pre-terrorism days both the Eastern Terminal (on the site of the current Terminal 1) and, later, the BOAC Unit Terminal (the current Terminal 7) had open-air decks. There was also an enclosed viewing area just beneath the cab of the original control tower. This was open to the public until the early 1970s (the author remembers visiting it while a young Port Authority volunteer intern in the mid 1980s. At the time it still had identification photos and descriptions of airliners in use circa 1960 mounted under glass.)

By the 1970s, all that remained of the original IAB deck was a small section in what was called the “center of the U” in the central part of the building across from the control tower. It too was finally closed in the 1980s.

One other excellent place for public observation of JFK flight operations existed after 1973; the rooftop parking lot of the Pan Am “Worldport” terminal, which was the now-demolished Terminal 3. From here there were excellent views all around of takeoffs on the long “Bay Runway” (13R-31L), ramp action at the Pan Am terminal itself, and then the West Wing of the IAB and the Northwest/Delta terminal (now T-2) on either side. As security concerns mounted at Pan Am during the second half of the 1980s, a large fence with panels eliminated the view from the Worldport roof almost entirely.

Today, there is an open-air section of the new Delta Terminal 4 extension, but it is located post-security and open to Delta Sky Club members only. In a sad sign of the times, no dedicated viewing areas remain at John F. Kennedy International, though the developer’s plans for the upcoming TWA Hotel at Terminal 5 include mention of a 10,000 square foot public observation deck.

Article previously published on NYCaviation.com

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