Rock Star Puppies Roll Through Newark Airport

By Roz Hamlett, Portfolio Editor

Since the early days of romp ‘n roll, certain dawgs have stood above others.  Their looks, their attitudes and their actions transcend the lives of mere pets. These smooth operators are rock stars with fur.  And wherever these canine celebrities appeared during a recent training at Newark Liberty International Airport, the cameras and buzz followed. Seeing Eye dogs are indisputably cool.

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For the past seven years, the Port Authority’s Felecia Davidson, supervisor of Landside Operations & Customer Service at the airport, has joined forces with Janet Keeler, puppy club leader with the Morristown, N.J.-based nonprofit The Seeing Eye to orchestrate one of the most entertaining shows in town, as some 50 pups learn the ropes before becoming full-fledged Seeing Eye dogs for the visually-impaired.

“The day we spend at the airport is so important because some of the puppies have to board airplanes and fly home with their new owners who live out of town,” said Keeler, “There’s a big difference between puppies who get to go to the airport and those who don’t.”

The mood was all business this past Saturday as the puppies entered Terminal C in more (or less) single file. Any exuberance or playfulness was discouraged with a gentle tug on the leash and a firm voice. The real-life drill had begun. The pups moved through the terminal like a miniature band of rockers in little green jackets. People stopped, stared and reached for cell phone cameras to snap a quick photo like paparazzi encountering the King of Romp ‘n Roll and his entourage for the first time.

A few of them wobbled like models in tall heels as they practiced walking the slippery stairs between terminal levels. They learned the patience required to get through a TSA security checkpoint, the self-control of waiting at the gate to board the airplane. They learned to feign disinterest as a toy poodle crossed their path in a cage. They were paraded through a smorgasbord of sights, sounds and smells in the Terminal C food court. And if any puppy was drooling for a slice of pizza, they had the good sense not to show it. They were on their way to becoming professionals.

Once post-security, they boarded the United Fantasy Flight to Cancun, Mexico, settling beneath seats and advised by retired United Airlines pilot Roger Probert to keep their tails out of the aisles. As he reviewed a list of do’s and don’ts for the proper behavior of service dogs on a flight, most of the older dogs appeared to listen attentively to the rules. A few of the younger ones just yawned and fell asleep.

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Their journey to become Seeing Eye dogs begins at the nonprofit’s facilities, where they live until the age of seven or eight weeks. They next go to volunteer puppy raisers who live within driving distance of The Seeing Eye. Puppy raisers are foster families who nurture and care for their charges until they are about 13- to 16-months old.

The dogs learn basic manners and commands, and become socialized to a variety of social situations and experiences.  The final step of their training ends with a four-month stint with an instructor before being matched with an owner.  Says Keeler, “You have to make the right match.”

Jonathan Goodman was matched with his first seeing eye dog three days after graduating from high school. Goodman, 35, lost his sight when he was 14 months old because of complications arising from surgery to remove a brain tumor.

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Jonathan Goodman with Teddy

“I grew up totally blind,” said Goodman, who lives in Somerdale, N.J. with his girlfriend, two dogs and two cats. His current dog, Teddy, goes everywhere with Goodman.  “I have flown with him.  Traveling through the airport can be a bit stressful, especially during the security check because they have to check the dog and the harness to make sure we are safe to fly.”

Goodman says that Teddy gives him a sense of dignity when he travels. As for the puppy raisers, he says, “It takes a truly special person to get a cute puppy, raise them until they are almost perfect house dogs and then selflessly give them up to enhance the life of someone they may never know.”

Posted in air travel, airports, Newark Liberty International Airport, PANYNJ, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

Interfaith Alley: A Prayerful Sanctuary at JFK

By Roz Hamlett, Portfolio Editor

Photos by Deborah Barrett, Media Relations Staff

In a peaceful corner on the fourth floor of Terminal 4 at Kennedy Airport are four prayer chapels side by side representing four of the world’s major faiths – Protestant, Catholic, Judaism and Islam.

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Foot traffic in Interfaith Alley depends on the goings-on at JFK, which occasionally finds itself at the center of political and social turbulence throughout the world.

Most busy U.S. airports have designated spaces in which to pray, but Kennedy is believed to be the only major airport in North and South America with a Catholic church, a Protestant chapel, an Islamic center and a Jewish synagogue.

The chaplains who preside at Kennedy are a one-of-a-kind team available to serve the spiritual needs of travelers as well as about 37,000 JFK employees.They are Pastor Romeo Dabee, Christ for the World Chapel; Father Chris Piasta, Our Lady of the Skies; Rabbi Ari Korenblit, the JFK International Synagogue, and Imam Ahmet Yücetürk, of the JFK Airport Islamic Center.

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Left to right:   Rabbi Ari Korenblit, Pastor Romeo Dabee, Father Chris Piasta and Imam Ahmet Yuceturk:  all for one and one for all.  Photo credit:  Jeff Yapalater

Dabee calls the team “The Fantastic Four.” Each handles other pastoral duties outside of JFK but are on call 24/7.  They break bread together and meet regularly to discuss matters that affect the interfaith airline community.

“The four of us realize we’re all God’s children. We get along with each other well. There’s absolute peace between us.  We’re a model for what the world could be and should be,” said Korenblit.

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A view of the JFK International Synagogue facing the bimah, a raised platform at the front of the sanctuary. This is where the rabbi stands and where the reading of the Torah takes place.

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An embroidered Star of David adorns a table inside the bimah.

The rabbi recalled a recent incident in the aftermath of the travel ban when he received a call from TSA about two Muslim passengers, who had been retained and needed a place to stay for the night. He happened to be the only cleric around, and so he immediately tried to do what he could to help. The thought that he was a rabbi cleric and therefore couldn’t help Muslims never once occurred to him.

“I just got busy and located the closest mosque that could house them overnight. In the end, it worked out well,” said Korenblit.

Dabee’s official title is JFK Airport Community Minister, who dedicates his time as pastor of Christ for the World Chapel. He knows many of the local denizens of the airport community personally, having delivered family eulogies and sat bedside with cancer patients.  He knows their stories:  the weddings and divorces, the children mixed up in drugs and elderly parents who fall out of bed and break hips.

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Located on the departure level of Terminal 4, the Christ for the World Chapel is open for prayer and meditation from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.  A weekly Wednesday service is held at 12:30 p.m.

Meeting the spiritual needs of travelers is a different story.

“I call it my minute ministry,” said Dabee. “The connection with a complete stranger happens in one moment.  The focus of my ministry is a message that God is in this place. That God is here at JFK in the midst of chaos and sometimes even threats.  I’m here to let people know they are valuable and not dispensable cogs in a capitalized machinery.”

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Pastor Dabee at his desk in Terminal 4. He believes that Interfaith Alley is “one of the best kept secrets in the world” and he encourages blog readers to seek solace with a member of the Fantastic Four while on travel.

Piasta, the pastor of Our Lady of the Skies, says there’s a big difference between the way religion works on the street and in neighborhoods, where the perspective is concerned with that particular community, and the way it works at JFK. “At JFK, whatever happens to one of us happens to all of us.  If someone is disrespectful to any person in our community, it literally affects us all,” he said.

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Father Chris delivers the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at masses scheduled throughout the week.

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The amount of foot traffic along “Interfaith Alley” depends on the goings-on at Kennedy, and what’s happening in the rest of the world. JFK occasionally can find itself in the center of political and social turbulence, such as families forced to flee global catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions in Iceland or the civil war in Syria.

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Abdul Qadir works nearby and tries to spend a few minutes in prayer as often as he can.

The chapels operate as a spiritual fortress against religious intolerance and race hatred. Yücetürk, who serves as spiritual leader of the Islamic Center, believes that the word tolerance often is associated with interfaith communities. “But that’s not it at all,” he said, “We don’t tolerate each other.  We genuinely get along and we love each other.”

He says their relationship is based on the oneness of God and the oneness of race – the human race, that is. “You cannot be a true believer in this world unless you want for your neighbor the same as you want for yourself,” said Yücetürk. “There is no hatred in any spiritual book, no matter the faith.”

The slideshow below is a glimpse of the beautiful stained glasses, statuary and religious symbols on display in the four faith chapels in Interfaith Alley.

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Posted in air travel, airport terminals, airports, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Kennedy Airport, PANYNJ, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , ,

Giving New Life to a JFK Temple of Flight

By Portfolio Editor Roz Hamlett

From the moment renowned architect Eero Saarinen presented his design for the $12 million TWA Flight Center in 1957, his mission was to create a building unlike anything built before in its dramatic expression of travel during the golden age of flight.

“The fact that to some people it looked like a bird in flight was really coincidental,” Saarinen told the press at the time. “That was the last thing we ever thought about.”

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Perhaps best described as flight frozen in motion, the flight center, one of Saarinen’s most famous projects, has since ascended to the rarified air of architectural masterpiece. At his early death at age 51, Saarinen was both the most prominent and the most promising architect in America.  Today his master work is poised for a new future as the TWA Flight Center Hotel, after being dark for more than 15 years.

The completed hotel will have 505 guest rooms, eight food and beverage establishments and a 10,000 square foot public observation deck. Its revival wouldn’t have been possible without a $20 million investment by the Port Authority, and more than a decade of agency commitment to preserving the historic building, despite financial pressures to do otherwise.

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“It was very easy to feel a sense of attachment to the building,” said Don Free, program director for the Port Authority’s Aviation Business Development unit, who was part of the preservation effort. “Inside the flight center, you are awed by the incredible design, and at the same time, you feel very comfortable and not dwarfed by the structure because of the organic feel of the curving lines.”

Completed in 1962, the flight center was an airport mainstay for nearly four decades. But after TWA went into bankruptcy and ceased operations, the facility closed in December 2001.  In the decade which followed, a new flight center wasn’t a high priority until construction work began on the adjacent JetBlue Terminal. JetBlue is physically connected to the Flight Center by two walkways extending off both sides of the main terminal and connecting to two “flight wings” or departure terminals that were constructed at the same time as the main terminal.

After 30 years, the building was designated historic by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and few years later, listed on the National Register of Historic Places well before its 50th anniversary.  This occurs only for the most extraordinary buildings.  But even so, capital expenditures were made by TWA in the most efficient ways possible, with little regard for the significance of the architecture.  Bag belts were inserted through glass curtain walls and ticket counters were in installed in areas not designed for those uses.  The congested and chaotic terminal that resulted was not one that attracted much interest from developers.

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Still, the Port Authority never lost sight of its desire to return the terminal to the public realm. The Redevelopment Advisory Committee (RAC), co-chaired by Jim Steven, program director for JFK Redevelopment, met more than 30 times as part of the preservation effort to redefine the future use of the space.  The RAC included federal and state historic preservation entities as well as the Municipal Arts Society, The Trust for Historic Preservation, the Federal Aviation Administration and many others.

“Of course, the challenge was the wide variety of opinions on what it meant to protect this historic resource,” said Free.

To some it meant retaining an almost museum-like reverence for the center, while others wanted to restore vibrancy to a place that once bustled with activity. Prior to the $20 million investment, the Port Authority had sought proposals for its rebirth, but the only response came from a group interested in converting the terminal into a museum that lacked the finances to make it work.

The worst fate for the building would have been demolition, the second worst, remaining vacant. It was simply too small to operate as an airline terminal anymore.  It’s conversion to a hotel made the most sense.

Russell Kriegel, principal architect of the $20 million restoration for Engineering, took the lead in hiring Beyer Blinder Belle, an architectural firm best known for the restoration of Grand Central Station, to stabilize the flight center. Steven also led various efforts to provide the public with access to the building through events such as the annual Open House New York.  Additionally, he facilitated countless tours by historic groups and universities, and is charged with leading the Port Authority coordination on the hotel’s construction.

“Everyone involved in restoring and redeveloping the Flight Center had a sense of ownership,” said Free. “We all shared an overarching goal of returning the building to the public so that as many people as possible could enjoy its richness.”

 

Posted in airport history, airport terminals, airports, aviation geeks, history, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Kennedy Airport, PANYNJ, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , ,