Thursday, June 04, 2009

Worst High Volume International Airport in U.S./ Europe

What is the worst high-volume international airport in the U.S. or Europe?

(I made this restriction only because otherwise Narita or Mumbai win, and it is not interesting. Not trying to slight our Asian friends, but when it comes to bad airports, y'all are professionals. I am just interested in the amateur competition here. And, yes, I'm classifying Moscow--Sheremetyev as "Asian," for the same reason. Professional sucking is disqualified. Further, it is likely true that 3 or 4 of the top 5 BEST internatonal airports are in Asia, because they were built recently and rationally. So don't think I am disrespecting Asia. Except for Sydney. Sydney sucks. I am disrespecting Sydney, I admit.)

Ahem. Back to the contest: In my mind, it has to come down to Heathrow-London vs. JFK-New York. Yes, CDG-Paris is excruciating, the bus system in Frankfurt is appalling, and there are other candidates (Atlanta. What is up with baggage thing, for international travellers? What are they thinking?). But in terms of simple perverse construction and mistreatment, I don't think that the Ameri-Euro airports can hold a candle to the Heathrow -- JFK pairing. Here is a poll, in which JFK comes out on top as the bottom, the worst, the armpit, the place-where-if-the-world-got-the-runs-would-flood-first.

So, I mostly want to get your thoughts. But, I'll start:

1. JFK sucks worse. The tiny little separate terminals, blocked off by walls that are obviously recent additions to maximize walking distance. No departure or arrival monitors, anywhere. If you don't know what terminal you are headed for, you are S.O.L. Unbelievably clueless personnel (at least they are really, really rude, to make up for having no idea how to answer questions). Guaranteed wait times, either to pull up to your gate if you are arriving, or to leave your gate/taxi, if you thinkn you are leaving, of one hour if you are LUCKY. Very difficult to find the "Air Train," and in order to go anywhere you have to go outside the security zone. If you happen to go to the wrong terminal, you have to go BACK out of security, and through it again. I speak English (fairly well, and I certainly read it fine), and I get lost almost every time I visit this God-forsaken hellhole. Man, do I hate JFK.

2. Heathrow sucks worse. Clearly designed to maximize both distance and discomfort. Tiny little twisting corridors. In order to get to security, customs, or pretty much anything, you have to walk in circles, like waste matter circling the potty trap. It feels like you have to walk 3 or 4 kilometers, and if you look up you can see the place where you were 20 minutes ago. An airport should not seem like rock-climbing, but Heathrow manages to do that. Then...THEY DON'T ANNOUNCE THE FREAKIN' GATES! Sure, JFK doesn't have monitors. But Heathrow has monitors, but all they say is, "Please wait". If the ill-tempered Brit bureaucrat in charge of passenger torture that day is in a good mood, s/he will post your gate on the monitor a full 30 minutes before the flight leaves. Read that carefully: not 30 minutes before it boards; 30 minutes before it LEAVES. And, of course, international flights board starting 40 minutes before departure. And the gates at Heathrow are divided into sections: 1-40 here, 41-73 here, and 73-89 here. With each "here" being 300 meters apart, with no moving sidewalk to speed your fat ass with 60 pounds of carry-ons to get there. That is if you are lucky enough to be in the correct terminal. Now, this is only a problem on international flights...BUT England is a fleck of fly poop on the world map; EVERY FLIGHT AT HEATHROW IS INTERNATIONAL! Lord, Heathrow sucks.

So...JFK vs. Heathrow, class. Discuss.

(And, seriously, don't give me any fuss about Mumbai, Narita, Manila, or Sheremetyev. Of COURSE they are worse. But they have lost their amateur status).


Anonymous said...

Tommy the Englishman says Heathrow hands down. I just love that 3km walk from Terminal 3 to the Tube Station at Heathrow that is theoretically close to Terminal 3.

A suggestion for travelers in the UK. The American carriers charge dayrates for access to their lounges in dollars. Most of us blow £15 on crappy food in the overcrowded airport anyways. For £25-£35, you can buy a daypass to the clubs where a) they will call your flights; b) people are pretty nice; c) free booze; d) well, you get the point.

Plus, if you should be unlucky enough to have a Heathrow-JFK-somewhere else connection, the daypass is good at JFK so long as it's on the same day.

Mungowitz said...

Holy Kapowski! It had never occurred to me that someone might have to do a somewhere-heathrow - jfk -somewhere connection. That is cruel! But I'll bet it happens.

Wow. Now I'm all scared, just thinking about it.

Angus said...

Mungo you are way off base. as bad as JFK and Heathrow are,Mumbai and Narita are even worse aren't they?

You don't have a leg to stand on laddie!

Dad said...

JFK--Hands Down. I returned from Milan with 2 children under 4 years old with strollers. No elevators to be found! The Italian soccer players with nose rings were delightful and tried to help us navigate the escalators, which were speeding by so fast my daughter was scared out of her wits. I finally told the wife to hit the emergency stop button on the escalator. Be warned: doing this results in a plethora of security and a massive jolting sound of crushing metal.

I could go on about the rude employees who were screaming at the disabled man to get on board, but I think I'll stop here and just say that JFK sucks it big time.

John Thacker said...

Heathrow. Not announcing the gates is ridiculous. You sit in a lounge and then have to sprint to your gate. Even worse was that I had a Dulles-Heathrow-Leeds/Bradford connection, so I was going international to UK domestic. (United to BMI interline.) As I was leaving the international terminal and going to the domestic terminal, we were blocked by a airport functionary who insisted that the domestic terminal was being evacuated due to fire. We waited, and waited. Slowly streaming out of the domestic terminal were passengers. They didn't look in a hurry. We took the liberty of asking them if they were being evacuated, and they had no idea. We tried to pass, the functionary wouldn't let us. Finally, after 25 minutes of waiting, the airport employee decided it had been a mistake and let us through. Of course, I missed my flight. My flight hadn't actually left, mind you, but it was a small plane and the little bus from the gate had already left to the plane. They knew I had checked in, but unlike a US terminal they wouldn't hold the plane. When I complained to the BMI ticket agent about missing my flight thanks to an idiot airport employee, I got the response of "Well, better safe than sorry, innit?" So, 5-6 more hours waiting in Heathrow for the next flight.

I can also mention that Dulles has a ridiculous international baggage and customs issue as well-- get off your international plane, now time to ride the bus over to the entirely separate customs building. When the train comes, it still won't fix that.

Paul Gowder said...

What about Miami? Gateway to the Caribbean and southern hemisphere, completely unnavigable by ordinary humans...

Or DFW, just because it's American's hub and American is so agonizingly incompetent that they've managed to break it.

John Thacker said...

Oh, and about JFK. Asking the airport personnel a question is a mistake, like in most places in New York. Those people don't want to do their job.

But, if you find a native New Yorker, or better yet a group of them, they'll all be very happy to give you directions, and even compete for the right to do so. It's part of how they demonstrate that they're real New Yorkers and not tourists.

Kunal said...

While it is true that Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai is perhaps the worst airport ever (I haven't been to Narita, but I cannot believe it compares), the domestic airport is pretty sweet. So thats Mumbai international that sucks, not Mumbai airports in general. Just saying.

prisonrodeo said...

I would rather of through either of these a half-dozen times than fly international from Dulles *once*.

John Thacker said...


I'd rather fly international from Dulles a half-dozen times that fly international *to* Dulles once.

Shawn said...

seriously. dulles sucks gigantass. especially when put up against reagan, which is like heaven...especially when you live in the district.

T.Lord said...

Another vote for Dulles, and all because of the ludicrous Short Bus system. It's like the designers dosed up on Brazil, Kafka, The Phantom Tollbooth, laudanum, and all the practical jokes that are sold (used to be sold?) in the back of comic books, and suddenly decided, "Aw heck, let's not build a slaughterhouse after all! Let's build a, whatchamacalit, an airplaneport or whatever!"

If there were instead a string of limos that could meet you at the terminal, and then proceed, stately, to your plane, it might be sort of a fun Hollywood fantasy touch. There could be hired mobs of teenagers to swoon, too, and play paparazzi.

But it's not -- just a bunch of weird 2mph wheeled slugs.

T. Lord

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