Vice President Joe Biden thinks New York LaGuardia is a national embarrassment.
It’s home to a new American Express Centurion lounge. Terminal C is much-improved, and the new US Airways club there is no longer the worst airline lounge in North America. The Marine Air Terminal, home to Delta’s Shuttle to DC, is super easy in and out (and the other terminals aren’t bad in this regard). Plus it’s close-in to Manhattan, I’ve frequently left midtown after 3pm and had no problem gliding onto the US Airways Shuttle to DC at 4.
No, the truly worst airports in the US feature long travel distances to their respective city centers, are difficult to navigate especially for connections, and are often dilapidated as well.
Here are my six worst airports in the US.
- Miami There’s very little redeeming about this airport. There are long walks inside of terminals, long walks to the train out to the rental car center, and insanely long walks to immigration. The lines for customs are absurd (but then I suppose they figure everyone coming into the airport is smuggling cocaine?). Security lines are quite random, and I’ve seen TSA PreCheck closed when it should have been open. Check-in lines are long as well, delayed by the volume of baggage being checked.
- Los Angeles. LAX isn’t just awful for connecting between terminals, it is awful for ground transportation. Getting in and out of the airport is tough, shuttles can easily take 15-20 minutes at peak times just transiting the various terminals.
- New York JFK. Some terminals are worse than others of course. Terminal 2, Delta’s C gates, is probably the best remaining example of the ‘old’ JFK. I actually like terminal 7 and its short walks. This is an awful connecting airport. It is an awful airport for transportation, having to take the Airtrain to get to the stop where you can pick up transportation shuttles (always fun with luggage). And it’s a schlepp from downtown.
- Washington Dulles. It is a very bad airport. They don’t use the moon buggies anymore to get between all terminals, but the new airport train drops off United passengers where they’ve wanted to build a new terminal for decades rather than where the passengers will fly out of. They’re building metro and in a few years it should be kind of sort of connecting via public transport to the rest of the city. But a single taxi company has a legal monopoly, meaning it’s tough to get picked up by anyone else and it means twice the cab trips (those cabs drive into the city and return empty, while all other cabs go to the airport and can’t efficiently pick up passengers and take them back to the city). That’s a terrible environmental decision. Plus immigration queues can be nightmares.
- Chicago O’Hare. It’s certainly bad connecting international-to-domestic. Immigration queues can back up hours-long. And Chicago weather can prove challenging at times. I actually like it, though, when weather isn’t cancelling or delaying flights. American’s terminal is reasonably compact, so good for making connections. And you’ve got Tortas Frontera sandwiches.
- Atlanta. The walks between terminals, the distance from the international terminal to the domestic ones (although international flights arriving concourse E are better for connecting). Delta is running probably the best airline operation in the U.S., but their primary hub isn’t keeping pace.
There was a time that Newark would make this list, but I think it’s gotten better. It’s still not my preferred place to fly in and out of New York from. And it suffers from New York airspace congestion as the other two area airports do. But I don’t think it’s in the top 6 of bad.
Denver gets an honorable mention for distance from the city center, but isn’t in this league of bad.
Overall, the worst airports seem to be in the biggest cities. That’s not an accident.
- They’re legacy airports, these cities have been major transportation hubs for decades.
- As major cities they’re super-congested.
- Building projects can be difficult, not just because of availability of surrounding land but also because of local politics.
While JFK’s terminals themselves have been improving (Delta’s 2013 JFK renovation is quite good and the American Airlines terminal is bright and modern albeit too sprawling without much decent food) it would take truly starting over — not in the cards — to make it right there. Meanwhile, Miami has been practically re-done as it is, isn’t really better, and is already too costly to operate at. I don’t see these airports making more than incremental improvement, although LAX’s Bradley terminal itself is better than it used to be. They’ll no doubt dump billions into special projects to try, but the fundamentals there are runways, airspace, terminal connectivity, and ease of transportation — problems that are more intractable than simply refreshing a terminal and improving the lounges and bathrooms.
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