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The Travel Column 2003-3-13

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

Top 5 Airports to Avoid!

Any frequent traveler will agree … no airport is perfect. A few columns ago, I listed what I thought were the five in North America that were the best; and promised that I would follow-up with those that I considered the ones to avoid if at all possible. Here’s the bad news up front; the #1 and #2 ‘worst’ airports are the two major gateways into the US for travelers departing T&T! Every airport has its flaws, whether it's confusing access roads, like Palm Beach International’s, or San Jose’s (Costa Rica) frustrating evening fog or Las Vegas airport's annoying cigarette smoke. Regular travelers understand these imperfections, and simply must deal with them.

But the airports which deserve special recognition are those that are so maddening that we go out of our way to avoid them, and we would rather drive to the next major city than have to face them, plus we warn everyone we know to stay away … far, far away!

Having not traveled as extensively, I’ve once again sought the help of our colleague and travel expert, Christopher Elliot to help decide on those airports you may wish to most avoid.

In a recent customer satisfaction survey, J.D. Power and Associates concluded that some major US airports didn't do very well, but their survey results were vague, only saying that the airports rated below-average.

Another survey comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which rates airports by their on-time record. These results are only slightly more helpful than those offered by J.D. Power. A quick glance indicates that at problem airports about 20% of all flights arrive and depart more than 15 minutes late. Now isn’t this something we all already knew!

Using available data and his own experiences, Mr. Elliot has come up with a list of possibly the five worst airports.

  1. New York's three major airports:
    1a. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR);
    1b. LaGuardia Airport (LGA);
    1c. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).

    It's a three-way tie for first! All three are pretty awful airports any way you look at them. Newark is an enormous construction site, and considered by many a dreadful, disorganized mess of a terminal. There's an almost-constant traffic jam in front of JFK, and it’s astounding that recently another terminal was opened, in the hopes that this would somehow make things better. But LaGuardia is in a class by itself, with its dark terminals, predictable delays and reports of lax security. Even New Yorkers avoid this airport despite its proximity to Manhattan. The numbers tell the story … 20% of all flights arriving at LaGuardia and Newark are late. At JFK, almost a quarter of arriving flights were tardy.

  2. Miami International Airport (MIA). Like New York's infamous airports, Miami welcomes you with an almost-constant traffic jam. The bottleneck on Highway 836, which parallels one of the airport runways, seems to never end. Inside, the inconveniences continue. The check-in areas are dark, noisy, and claustrophobia-inducing. Security lines are almost always long. Once in the departure area, your eating options are very limited; basically hot dogs or cinnamon rolls. The arrival areas are also very confusing, often resulting in many a lost passenger.
  3. San Jose International Airport (SJC). This airport is just slightly better than the New York airports with its on-time statistics — about 17% of its arrivals and departures are more than 15 minutes late. But most of the criticism of SJC is that it simply wasn't built to accommodate the influx of travelers over the last 10 years and the increase in security. Complains Sue Bradford-Moore, a retired public servant who lives in San Jose. "Security lines have sometimes stretched the length of a football field, through baggage claim and out past the passenger pickup area." Sharon Wingler, a flight attendant for a major airline, wonders: "How can such an upscale part of the US have an airport without jetways? Also, there are no restrooms past security, so think twice before ordering that cappuchino."
  4. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Friends don't let friends fly into LAX; this is the standard joke for Los Angeles locals. LAX is simply too big for its own good, and nearby alternate airports are being expanded to the point where they're almost big enough to be classified as primary airports to accommodate this airport’s overcrowding. Getting to this airport is difficult at any hour due to the constant traffic, and the location is not at all suited to a desperately needed expansion, as every inch of real estate around Los Angeles International is built up. "LAX is oppressive," says frequent traveler Pete Maclean. "It's dingy and dilapidated, noisy and overcrowded, unfriendly and with poor facilities."
  5. Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). The usual complaints here: big crowds, long lines, never-ending construction. Sounds familiar? The on-time numbers at BOS are better than its competitors in this category (the most recent numbers say only 15% of its flights left late) and this has kept the airport from being ranked higher. Frequent travelers generally prefer to use one of Boston's alternate airports, Providence (Rhode Island), or even Hartford (Connecticut). "It's the worst airport ever," agrees Jeffrey Filipov, a consultant who lives in Boston. "It's old, squeaky, dirty, small, cramped, and has no facilities or shops."

Be sure to ask your professional travel agent to be creative in helping you to avoid any airport of which you’re not particularly fond; you’d be surprised at how many options you really have. However, all is not lost for the airports mentioned here. Many of these airports have master plans to provide solutions to some of these problems. So … even though the terminals have problems, the problems aren't terminal!

Melanie Waddell, Director
March 13, 2003

Visitor comment:

That is a great article. I was surprised to see that San Jose was included in the list. I live in Cupertino, California and fly out of San Jose when I can. Now that the tech bubble has burst the amount of traffic has decreased significantly. It would seem that you were at the old terminal, the newer terminal does have washrooms past security. Interestingly, the runway construction is supposed to be finished in the near future, so that should assist with a better air traffic flow.
Good article.

John Bishop


Previous Travel Columns

bulletThe Travel Column 2003-2-27
bulletThe Travel Column 2003-2-13
bulletThe Travel Column 2003-1-30
bulletThe Travel Column 2003-1-16
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-11-28
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-11-14
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-10-31
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-10-17
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-10-3
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-9-19
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-9-5
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-8-22
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-8-8
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-7-25
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-7-11
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-6-27

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