There’re two Terminal 5’s in New York: one’s the oversized, futuristic-prison-looking music venue so far on the west side, it’s almost in the Hudson River. The other’s the new Jetblue Terminal at JFK. On name alone, we had reason to be skeptical; that being said, ask anyone who lives here — NYC travelers are mostly forsaken by the airport gods, as both JFK and LaGuardia are a pain in the ass to get to. (Nobody wants to fly out of Newark, supposedly the “nicest” of the three airports.) Such facilities are mostly drab, extraordinarily boring places. As entries to one of the greatest cities on the planet, they’re underwhelming, depressing travel hubs. The taxi lines are long, the weather getting off of the plane is traditionally shitty, the scenery isn’t exactly nice. That being said, expectations for Terminal 5 could be set reasonably low. Jetsetters were promised top-shelf dining, shopping, and a generally perfect, 180-degree turn from not just the typical New York airport experience, but the airport experience at large. I flew through Terminal 5 on my most recent holiday home, and can safely say it lives up to the hype. Terminal 5 was awesome.
Checking In: it was one of the busiest flying days of the year (the day before Thanksgiving), and I didn’t wait more than five minutes to get my bags checked — the long, long line of check-in counters running over half of the front of the terminal were mostly line-free. Plenty of computer stations for travelers to check themselves in, if they didn’t need to check any bags, though. The line for security was slightly longer, but moving relatively fast; there were about five lines, all of them being navigated helpfully by service agents and TSA staff (yes, TSA staff, being helpful). The music playing throughout the terminal was pretty pleasant: I remember hearing both Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and Foo Fighters’ “Learn To Fly.” I mean, the place might actually have a DJ. It’s entirely possible.
Terminal Basics: My phone picked up the free T5 wifi almost instantly, without hassle. When I needed to reorganize my bag post-security line, the center of the terminal had a large, Spanish-style grandstand (replete with kind of unnecessary, but nonetheless neat modern-design-esque cushions to sit on). Plenty of people were camped out there, hanging around, checking email. The layout of the terminal makes it pretty simple to navigate, as the restaurants and shops sit around the large entryway, with the two wings of gates jutting out from said main pavilion; essentially: look, and you’ll find it.
Shops: The Borders bookstore was well stocked, well attended. The Muji store managed to hold far less interest from other travelers, but was the nicest of the bunch — like the products themselves, minimal, understated, effective. Lacoste staff was slightly aloof, and the selection was slightly smaller that what the space could hold, but still: You need a polo, there they are. It was more than kind of strange to see a Ron Jon Surf Shop in a New York City airport, but if you’re heading to a warmer climate and are in desperate need of a pair of boardshorts or sunglasses, the selection there was best-of-the-best, well stocked, and attended to by a totally competent staff. Full list of shops here,
Restaurant Scene: The reason you want to get to Terminal 5 as early as you can: a massive resto selection, all of which are reasonably priced, all of which looked really, really good. Couples chowing on pizzas from Italian enoteca Aeronova looked satisfied, and the pizzas looked solid. Didn’t get to catch anything from 5ivesteak, the steakhouse with a borderline-disco theme, but it had a decent-sized crowd hanging out inside, as did underground railway-themed French bistro La Vie. I checked out the food court, which was serving everything from burgers to an organic salad bar to pork buns … everything gets ordered via touchscreen, is given to you by the chefs preparing it, and is paid for at a bank of registers outside of the court.
Food: I decided on Deep Blue — the blue-hued, ultramodern design-oriented sushi/Japanese option at Terminal 5 — and saddled up to the bar. Service was a little harried, but they eventually got to me. The menu was expansive, and I started out with a drink order, which they screwed up (to my benefit): two were ordered, two were delivered, they apologized for “ordering a second drink,” promised to comp it, and placed it right next to the first one. Awesome! I started with a Soft Shell Crab roll — the portion was a little small, the flavors, nothing out of the ordinary. For sushi at an airport, it was competent. The next thing I ordered was a dare of sorts, as it’s my favorite dish, with one of my favorite ingredients: an uni (sea urchin) risotto. This is exactly the kind of thing one shouldn’t order on an excursion like this — risotto, a notoriously hard dish to get right, at a Japanese restaurant, at an airport — with a complex flavor that takes a good chef to get right. I went with it anyway, and (this might be the greatest testament to Terminal 5) it wasn’t just good. It was solid. It was cooked to perfection; the rice was soft, chewy, al dente. The uni flavor was faint, which, for a hot dish, it should’ve been, and there was just enough truffle oil to not overwhelm the dish (but to give me, the drunk traveler, the happily false idea that I was eating a far better dish than I had ordered). The entire experience was shockingly solid, and when I asked for the check, they threw it down almost immediately.
Overall: The problem with Terminal 5 is that you have to travel through it to get to it; it’d be a great escape for city locals looking to get out of Manhattan for few hours, grab a decent bite, take in some aeronautic scenery, watch some planes take off. That being said, it’s by far and away the best airline terminal I’ve ever had the chance to travel through in regards to design, quality of shops/food, and service. And it ultimately puts JetBlue head and shoulders above other airlines, at least for New Yorkers. A must-fly.