A Hong Kong-based journalist emails to ask, “Why are US airports so bad?”
The thing about US airports is they aren’t all bad.
The most frequent experiences that non-US residents have are bad, but that’s mostly a function of Miami, New York JFK, and Los Angeles (the international terminal – egads – even with recent improvements).
The airports that such folks see represent the worst of American aviation.
Now, I actually like JFK’s terminal 7. It’s small and easy in/out. And terminal 8 is rather attractive. Much has been made of the massive revamp of the Delta terminal. But the airport itself remains a mess: there terminals aren’t connected at all airside, and in many cases you even need to go outside and cross a road to reach the interterminal train. You can’t even get an airport hotel pickup outside of your terminal, you must first take that train. There’s very little redeeming about JFK…
On the other hand, the DFW D terminal is pretty good, and so is San Francisco’s terminal 2.
But on the whole US airports are (1) older, and (2) getting capital projects through approval processes is an ossified process relative to Asia. And it’s not just the US, the same issues apply to Europe. A simple contrast: Beijing’s terminal 3 was a four year project, and London Heathrow’s terminal 5 was a twenty year project.
US airports are no worse than and often better than European airports. Anyone that’s traveled through Paris (either Charles de Gaulle or Orly – both are terrible but for different reasons) or Barcelona can attest.
Asian airports are newer. They are also designed without the same constraints. And they are built for connecting traffic. The US is much larger than most Asian countries, a much higher percentage of Asian airport traffic is international connecting.
Of course it’s easy to say, sitting in Hong Kong or Singapore or Seoul, that US airports are worse. But those don’t represent the whole of Asia, either. Indian airports are generally worse than their US counterparts…
But then we also have worse airlines, Indian airlines excluded as well.
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