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Who Uses NYC Airports: Biting Into The Big Apple’s Main Transport Hubs

Bracha Arnold
May 16, 2023
Who Uses NYC Airports: Biting Into The Big Apple’s Main Transport Hubs

Three major airports serve the New York Metropolitan area – John F. Kennedy (JFK), LaGuardia (LGA), and Newark Liberty (EWR). And although the three airports were all hailed as marvels of architecture and engineering when unveiled, the years have taken their toll. To address this, the New York & New Jersey Port Authorities are in the middle of an ambitious $25 billion renewal project that is slated for completion in 2030. 

We take a closer look at location intelligence data for these three airports to better understand who they serve and what can be done to turn them into ever-more appealing travel hubs for New Yorkers. 

Ready For Takeoff

The three New York area airports see millions of passengers coming through their halls yearly, with each serving a specific need. EWR and JFK serve as international travel hubs for the area, while LGA, crowned the world’s best airport post-renovation, serves as a center for more local flights, with few departures traveling more than 1,500 miles from New York. 

Digging into the trade areas for all three illustrates each airport's unique role. Although EWR, located in Newark, NJ, covers a much larger trade area – 703.1 square miles – than the other two, the trade area population is nearly identical to that of JFK, likely because New Jersey is less densely populated than the New York City boroughs. 

On the other hand, LGA covers the smallest trade area, at 196.5 square miles, likely due to its high concentration of local flights. With many business travelers selecting that airport as their destination due to its proximity to the city, travel distance to and from LGA is appropriately short. 

JFK, meanwhile, has a trade area of roughly 293 square miles and is the busiest airport in the region. Pre-pandemic, the airport saw around 62 million passengers a year, and the renovation seeks to add capacity for an additional 15 million a year. Its trade area size and huge annual passenger volume cements its status as the most prominent airport in the New York area. 

More Families in New Jersey

The renovation projects underway at the three airports aim to improve the existing infrastructure and provide passengers a more pleasant travel experience, while creating plenty of space for new businesses. And location intelligence – in particular, analyzing the psychographic and demographic characteristics of residents of census blocks that house many of the airports’ visitors (the airports’ captured market) – can shed light on these passengers’ habits and preferences. Developers and airport management can leverage this data to inform their decision-making regarding their services and amenities.

For instance, looking at census data for the census block groups making up the airports’ captured markets reveals that the share of family households within EWR’s trade area is 62.1%, substantially higher than the share at JFK and LGA (56.9% and 52.7%, respectively). This suggests that EWR may derive a greater benefit from incorporating child-friendly spaces, family parking and restrooms, and food that appeals to children than JFK or LGA. 

Hand Me My Beer

Similarly, restaurateurs and airport management can benefit from understanding their target market's dining preferences. The airports see visitors from all over the world, but catering to local tastes can help ensure steady demand for products. For example, analyzing the airports’ trade area using the AGS: Behavior and Attitudes dataset reveals that all three airports serve visitors that identify as “Vegetarians,” “Junk Food Averse,” and “Craft Beer Drinkers” at higher rates than the statewide average. (JFK and LGA visitors are compared to the wider New York State population, while EWR visitors are compared to the wider New Jersey population.) 

Still, there are variations between the airports. JFK visitors are the most over-indexed for Vegetarians and Craft Beer Drinkers, with an index of 120 and 121, respectively, compared to a statewide average of 100. LGA sees the largest proportion of Junk Food Averse travelers, while EWR passengers tend to be only marginally more Junk Food Averse than the average New Jersey resident.

The data indicates that JFK and LGA passengers may be slightly more interested in healthy, vegetarian fare than EWR visitors – and all three would likely see strong demand for a craft beer bar in the terminal halls. Identifying these preferences can be helpful for airport operators looking to add dining concepts to the terminals or restaurant chains deciding with which airport to contract. 

Taking Flight

The ongoing renovation of the three New York City area airports will improve the traveler experience and bring the airports in line with modern needs. It also offers a unique opportunity for developers to truly understand their demographics' wants and needs and cater to them. 

For more data-driven travel insights, visit

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