Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Come Fly With Me

Tell someone you're going to LAX, and the reaction is predictable.

Eyes roll, sympathy is expressed along with best wishes for a safe return. It's the same kind of response you'd get if you told friends you were relocating to North Korea.

Let's face it, a trip to one of the busiest airports in the world is no stroll through the park.

Just getting there requires the kind of cunning and grit that comes with traveling freeways where gridlock is the norm.

Negotiating the traffic at the airport requires the skill of a grand prix driver and the patience of a parole officer.

Parking is a breeze provided you arrive between midnight and 5 a.m. Otherwise, it's an Old West shootout, every man for himself, be fast, be merciless, take no prisoners and watch your back.

The ambience ranks somewhat higher than a Greyhound bus terminal but not by much. One critic referred to LAX as a "1950s airport operating in 2007."

There is some good news:

They're updating the international terminal, a development that occured when some airlines reduced flights because it was outdated.

And there are very few weather delays.

Aside from that, the news is mostly bad. The new Zagat survey just released ranks LAX as the third worst airport in the U.S., just behind La Guardia and Miami International.

Zagat based its ratings on the opinions of 7,498 frequent fliers and travel professionals.

And who did the Zagatistas like?

Tampa, Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul were the top three favorites.

Of course, Tampa and Minneapolis handle far less traffic than LAX which tends make to make them attractive by comparison.

I've been to Denver numerous times. It's new and clean. It's also so far out in the sticks it's about a $50 to $60 cab ride to the outskirts of town and looks like a bunch of circus tents strung together.

Then there's the recent Forbes magazine survey which found that no airport in the United States ranks among the top 10 in the world, meaning that LAX has plenty of company in its misery.

(On the other hand, the Forbes survey rated the airport in Kuala Lampur as one of the best "now that they've rid themselves of the rat infestation.")

Meanwhile, the Zagat team also weighed in on the airlines, ranking them on a number of factors ranging from comfort and food to service and website.

Some highlights:

Alaska Airlines, "A refreshing alternative to the majors with a small airline feel with can-do crews who actually seem to enjoy their jobs."

American Airlines, "hit and miss can be excellent (especially in first) or disappointing, drawing gripes about snarly staff, pitiful food and seats the size of Katie Moss' backside."

JetBlue: Despite nightmare delays last winter, fans insist this snappy single class clarrier gets its right even when they don't since they own up to mistakes and work hard to fix them."

Southwest, "hecklers dub it a winged Wal-Mart and knock the open seating but to most its cheerful, comfy and consumer friendly."

United: "Economy Plus is a godsend for extra legroom but regular economy can feel more cramped than a clown car and it takes flak for sour staff, delays, lost bags and a buggy website."

US Airways: "Unhelpful as the DMV, schedule should be published under `fiction' and the Philly hub is the Bermuda triangle of luggage."

Other remarks from Zagat surveyors:

"They think nothing is too good for you and that's what they provide."

"Their planes make Larry King look young."

"When asked what kind of chicken they had, she replied, `the dead kind."

"They lose your luggage between Boston and Buffalo and give you someone in Manila to talk about it."

"First they make you need a drink, then charge you for it."

Of personal interest is the high rating accorded Continental which once lost our luggage, was hours late in departing and caused us to miss a connection, all in one day.

Happy landings.

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