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The Travel Column 2002-11-14

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We are pleased to bring you The Travel Column, written fortnightly for "The Trinidad Guardian"


Unfortunately, it seems that extended airport layovers, or lengthy connection times between flights, are as common as cramped economy class seats and exasperating security checkpoints. However, unlike many aspects of traveling, in this respect you’ve often got a choice; if you’re transiting North America, more than likely you will have to make a connection, so why not explore your options and pick the airport in which you’re going to be trapped?

Which airport should you pick? J.D. Power and Associates, a global market research firm, conducted a customer satisfaction study a couple years ago, and named Orlando, Florida the number one airport, and this choice I’m inclined to agree with. Orlando has the airy feel of a lovely European train station, rather than the all-too-common overcrowded airport. However, J. D. Power listed Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport as number two. Now this I’m not so sure about. What I recall vividly about this airport is that passengers are allowed to smoke only in ‘designated’ areas, but these seem to be everywhere, so if you have an aversion to cigarette smoke, then you’re in for a tough wait for your connection. Obviously, your preferences will be based on personal experiences, and some customer satisfaction surveys seem to be as reliable as your asking a few people their opinions as you wait in a departure lounge. I’ve enlisted the help of one of our travel colleagues, Christopher Elliott. He has traveled extensively throughout the USA, and here are what we’ve determined to be the five best airports for layovers in North America:

1. Orlando International Airport

This is the best airport in the US, by far. And even J. D. Power had this as their number one as well. The airport is easy to find, there is no problem to find parking, and its terminals are incredibly user-friendly. Over 85,000 people bustle through on any day, flying on 80 different airlines. The passenger traffic flows freely, and there’s plenty to do if you have to wait; theme-park shopping in the Sea World, Universal Studios and Walt Disney stores, eat at one of the Hyatt’s several restaurants or the 20 or so snack/food vendors. There’s art on display, and even Laptop Lane offers fax, mail, copying and internet services.

2. Denver International Airport

Denver was known as the airport travelers loved to hate when it first opened, due to its original hopeless baggage handling system. However, Denver has turned over a new leaf. Re-opened since 1995, it’s a spacious airport, marked by a glass atrium and a Teflon-shell roof that reflects the region’s bright sunlight. Its 34 tent-like points represent the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. The terminals are well laid out and the many amenities include fast food, newsstands, souvenir shops, luggage stores, travel agencies, sports bars, restaurants, postal service, internet stations and even an interfaith chapel. Lots of things to do to pass the time!

3. Chicago O’Hare International Airport

This airport was voted the “Best Airport in North America” by the readers of Business Traveler International magazine for the last four consecutive years. Business travelers enjoy basic services, such as laptop workstations, language assistance, currency exchange, and a mailing centre. If you have a long layover at this airport, you can take advantage of the many restaurants, shops and other distractions. Among nearly 50 eateries are Chicago favourites like Pizzeria Uno, the Billy Goat Tavern and Potbelly Sandwich Works. The shops provide the necessities and some indulgences including Backrub Hub and the Michael Jordan Golf Shop. O’Hare also has a children’s museum, duty-free shops, an interfaith chapel, a medical centre, health club and salon.

4. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport

Hartsfield received a much needed facelift and opened a new international terminal just before the city hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics, so it’s really a quite a pleasure if you have a lengthy layover at this airport. The shopping and the dining are both first-rate. If you’re hungry, hit Paschal’s Southern Cuisine, or the Brews Blues Bar for some local flavour. If your vice is shopping, the atrium has a large selection of retail stores, including a local favourite, the Coca-Cola store. The stores and restaurants stay open late, so you don’t have to worry about missing dinner or suffering from terminal boredom. Hartsfield is also on the city’s subway system, so a long layover can be a brief local adventure, as it’s extremely easy to take a train into town.

5. San Francisco International Airport

This is the fifth-largest airport in the US serving 35 million passengers a year on 45 domestic and international carriers. This airport recently underwent a complete overhaul; US$2.4 billion was spent on the upgrade and included is a museum, and 30 specialty stores and restaurants, which are on par with those found in the city of San Francisco itself. The new airport is continually improving, a work in progress with a coming-soon train service, redesigned road system and parking facilities. If you’re bored, find your way to one of the 19 mini-exhibitions, or the specialty shops such as the Museum Store or San Francisco Golf; or if you’re hungry you might whet your appetite at The Crab Pot or Harry Denton’s.

So right now, I know what you’re probably thinking. I’ve left out your favourite airport. Remember, preferences will be based on personal experiences, and for this article the primary criterion was how the airport fares with passengers on a layover. In an upcoming article, I would like to consider the top five airports to avoid if you possibly can! If you’ve got a strong opinion on what you think is the worst airport, please feel free to e-mail me at with your experience!

Melanie Waddell, Director
November 14, 2002


Previous Travel Columns

The Travel Column 2002-10-31
The Travel Column 2002-10-17
The Travel Column 2002-10-3
The Travel Column 2002-9-19
The Travel Column 2002-9-5
The Travel Column 2002-8-22
The Travel Column 2002-8-8
The Travel Column 2002-7-25
The Travel Column 2002-7-11
The Travel Column 2002-6-27

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