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The State of US Airports October 15, 2016

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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One of the defining political narratives recently has been the condition of US travel infrastructure, particularly the airports. I travel a lot, and have my own opinions.  I admit that my sample if biased, based on where I have been, which is almost entirely the US, Canada, and Europe.  I’ve done Mexico a few times, but not recently.  And I fly Delta and SkyTeam, and your experience with OneWorld or Star may be different.

Well, first, you don’t come into the US through LaGuardia, despite complaints from the likes of Gore and Trump. It is not an airport of entry (except for pre-clearance through a handful of Canadian airports).  After a hiatus of about three years, I recently flew into LaGuardia again.  Terminal C was fantastic!  The airport is highly restricted by its location, but once inside I have seen much worse.

JFK is approaching disaster status, even with the remodeling of the Delta and SkyTeam terminals. If we want to throw money at transportation infrastructure, this is a prime candidate.  My last trip back to JFK, it took me almost two hours go get bags, clear Customs and Immigration (and I have Global Entry), and re-clear security for a domestic connection.

Logan (my local long-haul airport) is okay, although I wish you didn’t have to come back into the country through Terminal E. Orlando is very nice though crowded, Atlanta is as good as it’s going to get – not great, but it gets you from one place to the other.  San Diego needs a new airport, but they put enough maintenance money into the old one.  Detroit’s SkyTeam terminal, while now about 15 years old, remains top-tier.  Seattle, where I just returned from, is old and needs more than a refresh.  It’s been awhile since I’ve been to LAX, but it is always in need of a tune-up.

So let me also talk about some places in Europe. Zurich underwent significant remodeling over the last several years and is a really nice airport, probably one of the best in the world.  Helsinki was pretty nice.  Vienna is old and groaning.  Charles DeGaulle is nice in spots, but is really a vast and poorly laid-out facility.  The Schengen terminal for the secondary European cities is terrible (I will be in that terminal a week from now), and remote from the main part of the airport.  This really needs to be rethought.  Schiphol is quite nice for an airport of its size, and it has recently undergone significant remodeling.

Brussels was old but serviceable, though the bombing last year may have caused some redesign, and I haven’t been back.  Tegel has been a disaster for years, and if Berlin doesn’t open Brandenburg soon (that is a complete fuster-cluck), I can’t imagine what this is going to be like.  Dusseldorf was simply okay, with nothing special to recommend it.  Same with Hamburg.  I’ve not been to the relatively new T5 at Heathrow, but the rest of the facility is unattractive and has perennially long lines.

Yes, a few countries have spent billions on showcase airports, of note Seoul Inchon, Hong Kong, and several Middle East Emirates. These are the exceptions.

My point is that US airports, with few exceptions, aren’t disasters. Some are quite nice, especially compared to some in Europe.  They certainly wouldn’t be hurt by some modernization, especially the older and more travelled.

But. We don’t, or at least shouldn’t, spend a lot of time in airport terminals.  If we are, any money would be better spent improving air traffic control and runway configuration, not the terminals themselves.  The purpose of the terminal is to get us from one place to another.  If they are doing that, it shouldn’t matter that they don’t have the latest shopping or restaurants.

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Comments»

1. Karen Cegelski - October 16, 2016

Airports like Wilmington, NC are the best. Arrive 45 minutes before your flight, check in and go through security and still have 30 minutes before your flight. Obviously, no Sky Club though!


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