Saturday, November 29, 2014

Happy Landings

Just in time for the joyous holiday travel season, a highly unscientific but probably entirely accurate survey of America’s worst airports has hit the Internet.

And --- fasten your seat-belts and return your trays to an upright position --- LAX is right up there with the worst.

This sampling is from a website called Gizmodo and while the methodology falls somewhat short of Gallup standards, it’s hard to quarrel with the results.

Drum roll, please. Here are the eight worst airports:

Kansas City International. “You're packed into your gate like sardines,” wrote one respondent. “ I have terrible memories of literally pushing my way through the crowd to reach the men's restroom at which there was a line because there were only three stalls.” Another called it “the smallest, strangest, possibly least secure international airport I've ever been to in the states.” 

Personal take:  My first experience there was landing during an Old Testament-style  thunderstorm. It did everything but rain frogs. Amenities? I was just happy to be alive.

Another time, my plane had to dump fuel and return to the airport because of a bomb threat. When we landed, an airport employee told us we could go to the bathroom if we wished. One passenger replied, “I think all of us already did.”

I sensed my luck was running out at KC. I’ve never been back.

Dulles International (Washington, D.C.): “The whole place should be bulldozed and replaced with a modern facility,” wrote one traveler. Said another: “I vote for Dulles, solely based on two separate incidences of over-90-minute TSA lines.”

Personal take:  I’ve flown in and out of Dulles for years. If you land at 5, don’t make dinner reservations in D.C. at 6. It’s so far out of town, a lobbyist couldn’t find you if you were a freshly minted member of Congress. Hit the road and it could be hours before the Washington Monument comes into view.

Philadelphia International: “Philly is where dreams go to die while you sit in a wormhole of constantly cancelled or delayed flights,” writes one apparently disgruntled passenger.

Personal take: I’ve never had the pleasure. That’s because I could never think of a good reason to go to Philadelphia.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta, Ga. “On your way to hell there's a layover in Atlanta,” writes on respondent. “Sprawling, crowded, not enough seating, not enough toilets, takes an eternity even with the stupid train(s) to get from gate to rental car,” says another. 

Personal take: The best I can say about it? Southern hospitality ends here.

Newark Liberty International Airport. “It's dirty, smells bad, has the worst food options, the pay-only wi-fi is actually still horrifically slow, and there was a single, four plug charging station for the entire terminal that I saw,” says one traveler.  

Personal take: The last time I was there, it was sorely in need of a facelift. But so did the entire city. 

O’Hare International (Chicago). “I hate O'Hare with a fiery passion that will endure through countless generations of my progeny,” writes one fan.

Personal take: OK, nobody loves O’Hare. But build an airport at the crossroads of America, throw in some of the country’s worst weather, and try to do better. Besides, it’s a great place for people watching.

LAX. The reviews are not kind. “This list starts and ends with LAX. The absolute, bar none, worse terminal I've ever been in.” “$5 waters and the $7 cronuts.” “The worst six hours of my life was spent at LAX trying to get to a different terminal.”

Personal take: Let’s get real. LAX is a sprawling, unwieldy monster where 66 million people touch down or take off every year. The traffic is terrible. The lines are long. The food is average to bad.

But it could be remade into a shimmering golden palace and people would still be unhappy.

It is a transportation megalopolis, a launching pad to the world. If you’re looking for serenity, go to a retreat. If you want to get somewhere, shut up and get in line.

No. 1 on the Gizmodo list (and most other lists I’ve seen): LaGuardia, New York.
Some sample comments: “I'd rather wake up in a bathtub full of ice than go to LGA's B terminal.”

“Last time there the bathroom in my terminal area overflowed drenching the waiting area carpet, so they had big noisy fans to more efficiently disperse the smell throughout the terminal. There was no escape…”

“What can you say about LGA other than it was built for DC-3's and used to be a garbage dump before that.”

“La Guardia will always be under construction until we finally kill it with fire.”

Personal take: I’ve never sampled the delights of LaGuardia. I’m told it’s a good news/bad news situation. Good news: it’s the closest airport to Manhattan. The bad news: it’s the closest thing to a Third World airport in this country.

And the best airports in the U.S.?  Not many, according to Britain’s stuffy The Economist: “We estimate that altogether 67% of people who fly out of America arrive at a better airport.”

On the other hand, several of the airports on Gizmodo’s “worse” list also appear on several “best” lists, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and O’Hare.

It's kind of like judging an ugly dog contest.

Happy holidays.  And happy landings.

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