Hellish airports

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by hotbtminla, Mar 30, 2008.

  1. hotbtminla

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    Article in this week's Newsweek describes how everything that could go wrong with the opening of the new Heathrow T5 did go wrong. It's been a while since I've flown into or out of Heathrow myself, but I recall it pushing the limits of my patience (which is really saying something considering I have to contend with LAX :eek:) even before it got bigger.

    What's the worst airport IYO? LAX really is horrible, in fact I tell people if they can to fly into Burbank or Long Beach because they're the more civilized ways to arrive in Los Angeles.


    A Crash Landing | Newsweek International Edition | Newsweek.com

    A Crash Landing
    Heathrow is one of the world's busiest airports—and possibly the worst.


    Rod Nordland and William Underhill
    NEWSWEEK
    Mar 29, 2008


    Heathrow is hard to avoid. The world's busiest international airport is also its most crowded. Every year some 67 million passengers—up to 200,000 a day—pass through the airport's four terminals, which were designed for 45 million people. The airport operates at 99 percent capacity, and with only two runways, 65 percent of its flights are more than 15 minutes late. According to a report last year, Heathrow's major carrier, British Airways, ranked 24 out of 25 European airlines for its record on lost baggage. Some 2 million business-class and first-class passengers have abandoned Heathrow since 2006. A survey of leading figures in the aviation business last year rated Heathrow as the worst of the world's leading airports.


    But all that was supposed to change last week when Heathrow's grand Terminal 5, dedicated to British Airways flights, opened to its first passengers. The biggest freestanding building in Britain, it was designed to end the interminable queues for security and check-in, and whisk passengers through the formalities in a promised 10 minutes. State-of-the-art security systems would make it convenient and safe. Underground baggage conveyors would ease the conveyor congestion for which the airport is justly infamous.


    Instead, just about everything that could go wrong, did—short of an airplane crash. Passengers were stuck for up to 20 minutes in elevators, which often stopped working altogether. By day two, only one out of a bank of 15 elevators worked, leaving airport workers to carry wheelchair-bound customers up stairs. The monorails meant to zip passengers to satellite boarding areas failed completely. Only 20 percent of scheduled flights were flying. On incoming flights, luggage disappeared without a trace. "Heathrow has been an international disgrace for years, and this was meant to be a new beginning," said British interior designer Howard Pike, who arrived from Oslo the first night and was still looking for his bags the next day. "I've always avoided Heathrow, and now I'm going to avoid it even more."


    BA did its best at damage control. Workers donned yellow T shirts reading CAN I HELP? and fanned out through the legions of stranded and delayed travelers. But in the words of David Wilshire, a Conservative M.P. whose constituency includes Heathrow, "It couldn't have been worse." In a way, BA and the British Airports Authority were victims of their own public relations. The opening followed a lengthy campaign that culminated in a ceremonial opening by the queen two weeks ago, which went off without a hitch. Expectations were high that a terminal building big enough to handle 30 million passengers a year on its own would soon bring an end to the human traffic jams and other indignities suffered by travelers to London. The airline and the airport operator—which also runs London's Gatwick and Stansted airports—suggested the other was to blame, Wilshire says. But the real problem is that it was the biggest airport restructuring "anywhere on the planet."


    The opening of Terminal 5 may be just the beginning of Heathrow's travails. The transfer of flights to T5 was planned for two stages, with the second due in mid-May. Then, BAA plans to build a new megaterminal to replace the outmoded Terminals 1 and 2—which go back as far as 1955—it hopes in time for the London Olympics in 2012. Even then, Heathrow officials must contend with a bigger problem: its runways. The government wants to see construction of a third runway that would raise capacity from 480,000 to 702,000 flights a year. A decision is expected this summer, but even in a best-case scenario it is unlikely a third runway could be built before 2012. With only two runways, no amount of terminal expansion will solve the problem of delayed landings and takeoffs. "The infrastructure at Heathrow just hasn't kept pace with demand," says Peter Morris of the aviation consultancy Ascend.


    Bad news for Heathrow is good news for its competitors. Rivals across the continent, like Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris, are yearning to bag any traffic London can't handle. Many alternative hubs serve more international destinations than Heathrow, and are better placed to handle extra traffic. Schiphol in Amsterdam already has five commercial runways, Paris's Charles de Gaulle has four, and Frankfurt has won approval to build a fourth. None is operating at more than 75 percent capacity. "The trouble is that Heathrow is in decline relative to other hub airports," says Clive Soley of Future Heathrow, a lobbying group pressing for the construction of a third runway. "In 1990 it served 227 destinations; that's now down to 180. If that decline continues, you have to ask yourself at what point it is no longer Europe's premier hub airport. Milan, Rome and Munich will overtake us soon. Without it [a third runway] we are going to be marginalized in Europe and in the global economy. London is a great city and great financial center with a truly crappy transport system."


    It can only get worse. Beginning April 1, U.S. and European carriers will enjoy much wider rights to fly into different country's airports, thanks to the "open skies" deal between Brussels and Washington. But it is unclear why any airlines would choose London when others have more space to offer. Lobbyists now argue London's status as a global capital would be endangered unless expansion gets the go-ahead. But any proposal to expand must contend with fierce opposition from environmentalists. In February, activists climbed to the roof of the House of Commons to protest the third runway and the likely increase in pollution, noise and road congestion. Others have protested at the airport and threatened to block construction workers.


    For aviation policy watchers, these issues have a weary familiarity. Governments have talked of expanding London's airport capacity since the 1960s, including ambitious proposals for an entirely new site on the Thames estuary east of London. Almost every scheme has been junked on the grounds of economy or because of local opposition. The original plans for Terminal 5 were drawn up in the late 1980s, and its opening was at least six years late. Whatever happens now won't bring relief to Heathrow's hapless visitors any time soon.
     
  2. D_Chaumbrelayne_Copprehead

    D_Chaumbrelayne_Copprehead Account Disabled

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    I've never flown into Heathrow. But when going to Los Angeles, I avoid LAX as best I can. I usually go into Burbank, myself.

    Similarly in NYC, I'd rather deal with Newark or even Westchester than LaGuardia (uccch) or JFK.

    Tampa and Kansas City have good airports. My home base, PDX, is pretty good too. ATL, as huge as it is, actually works pretty well, all things considered, and is less depressing than O'Hare in Chicago.
     
  3. hotbtminla

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    Ugh... JFK. Another favorite of mine. Last year I flew back east for a funeral. Because it was last minute I had few options. I flew into JFK, and a friend of mine had to to fly into Philly. We landed within about 10 minutes of each other.

    And we both arrived in Manhattan at the same time.
     
  4. Phil Ayesho

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    Lantau Airport, In Hong Kong, is possibly the very best airport I have ever been thru...

    Brilliantly designed, spacious, beautiful....


    Although I do have fond memories of going thru Heathrow with 7 very large work knives in my carry-on... ( i had bought them in europe and did not want to chance losing them )

    As the bag went thru the x-ray... the technician stopped,, stared at the screen and asked me, "pardon, sir, have you any metal articles in your bag?"

    I held up my hands about 10 inches apart and said, "yeah, there are seven knives about this long in that bag".

    "right," he replied, " very well and have a good flight."

    This was a few years before 9/11, but still.... the only thing I can figure is that they must have thought that if I was up to no good, I would have lied about the knives....


    About two years later, 9/11 happened
     
  5. dong20

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    I've always disliked Paris CDG, I can't quite pin down why, it just seems to piss me off. I try to avoid Heathrow but it's not always possible. I fly to (or via) SA a lot so use Terminal 1 which is generally much more civilised than the scrum T4 often was.

    I assume BA will move it's Joburg flights to T5 if it hasn't already - that's fine by me, I fly SAA. I'll wait until T5 is running smoothly then see what it's like.
     
  6. prince_will

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    i've been in JFK last week for the Easter holiday and it was quite uneventful. no really big lines, and the flight was on time....but i was flying back home to the Bahamas, so it might've been different for me.

    the worst i've had so far was Chicago O'Hare...geez. the gate for our flight several times, the flight was delayed, and when we were on the flight, i fell asleep for about an hour and we were still on the fucking ground! apparently, we were like 12th in line or something to take off. i could actually see the planes lining up on the runaway.

    there was a dude who called his brother in Air Traffic Control, and somehow, we shot to the top of the line. if it wasn't for that dude, i'd still be there...
     
  7. hotbtminla

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    I keep thinking of other stuff every time I look at this thread.

    Thanks to Heathrow I have a suitcase that's seen more of the world than I have. When I was moving back to the States from Switzerland about 10 years ago I changed planes at Heathrow and one of my suitcases wound up in the Philippines. I've stopped trying to make sense of that.

    I was picking up a couple friends at LAX when they flew in for a music conference a couple years ago. They worked for an indie label in Boston and had a lot of crap with them. Driving to their hotel my friend E is in the backseat pulling some CDs out of his carry-on bag for me and yelled, "Holy shit!" They'd left their office in Boston so quickly that he wasn't paying attention to what he was doing and must have shoved a box cutter in there. A box cutter. This was in Nov 2001. Flying from Logan to LAX. No one said a thing to him when he went through security.
     
  8. Phil Ayesho

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    ...Listen to us bitching at how inconvenient it is to travel all over the world in a matter of hours....

    Magellan would be keel hauling us for being such pussies....
     
  9. jumbo747jet

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    Singapore, Changi airport, is a extremely well functioning airport which is easy to navigate your way through. A pleasure to be passing through there.

    KLIA, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, is also quite alright as far as functionality goes, but it doesn't have the same welcoming atmosphere as Singapore.
     
  10. prince_will

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    lol...exactly! a couple of hours in an airport is loads better than a week on a boat. :p

    and speaking about contraband, my dad somehow managed to carry a huge ass screwdriver on one of our post 9/11 flights by mistake.
     
  11. Northland

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    Worst airports for me are without a doubt, Newark-Liberty, Lambert-St.Louis, and Ben Gurion wasn't much fun either (hmm...I wonder why?). Best treatments, LaGuardia, Kennedy, and Lvov over in the Ukraine.
     
  12. faceking

    faceking Active Member

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    JFK is a pit.... as is LAX.

    Oakland used to be bad, is a bit better.

    Logan (Boston) HAS to be the worst in terms of turnaround/time in getting your baggage. Unbelievable.

    Honolulu is a bit aged as well...
     
  13. simcha

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    Actually, I was OK with CDG in Paris. However the bagage handlers always seemed to take forever and an age to get bags to passengers when the flight was over.

    Heathrow was bad. It's the only place where I've actually been frisked during the security process. Of course that was during the first Persian Gulf War. It took 2-3 hours to get through security.

    Chicago's O'Hare is notorious. I'm from Chicago and I hate being stuck there in O'Hare.

    The worst airport in the USA, hands down, in my opinion is the Atlanta Airport. That's Hell on Earth. And you can't avoid it if you ever fly Delta.

    I didn't like the Denver airport either...

    By far, BWI (Baltimore Washington International) is one of the easiest to navigate. Also I think that Oakland International is well-run, if they don't lose your luggage. I dislike SFO, the security there is obnoxious.

    My favorite? Well that would have to be The Quad Cities Airport. It's a tiny local airport and it was very well run. Security post 9/11 was even friendly.
     
  14. B_Demention

    B_Demention New Member

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    JFK is hands-down the worst for me. I can't tell you how many times I've had canceled, rescheduled, and delayed flights from there. The other thing too is that they constantly screw up the air-traffic control, so quite often you're stuck on the ground either waiting to take off, or to come in. It's inevitably boiling hot in the cabin too, and you're always stuck next to some guy with really bad body odor and/or halitosis. It's the worst.
     
  15. vince

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    :rolleyes: I've often thought the same thing. Anyhow... back to the bitching...

    Number 1 worst airport for me is Sheremetyevo 2 in Moscow. Dark, dreary, and uncomfortable. The Russian immigration staff makes their American counterparts seem like Walmart greeters. Last time, I had a seven hour lay over and they still managed to forget to load my luggage!

    Every time I connect through JFK my bags get lost. never fails.

    Milan is the most confusing airport I know. It's not big, but I get lost there all the time.

    Heathrow is like a rabbit's warren. Terminal 2 is not too bad if you are just connecting.

    Paris CDG is dirty and the last time I flew on AF, they gave me a boarding pass for the wrong flight! I went to board my ticketed flight and couldn't because I did not have the correct boarding card. So I had to wait four hours and get on a flight I had no ticket for!! I had to arrange another connection at JFK enroute to LAX and of course my bags arrived 2 days later.

    Miami is pretty bad as well. The security there is very lax.

    My favourites are Vancouver (beautiful design), Beijing, Istanbul and Munich.
     
  16. ManlyBanisters

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    I dislike Heathrow - very much. I've never had a good customer service experience there except for with the AerLingus staff. I haven't been in Heathrow since 2001, I hope to continue the habit.

    I heard horror stories about Atlanta but I breezed through it - but then I try, when possible, to travel without check-in baggage, which helps.

    My favourite airport so far has been Schiphol - I've never felt hassled, rushed or lost there.
     
  17. vince

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    Yes Schiphol is good too. Except I got mugged on the train leaving there.
     
  18. The Dragon

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    When it comes to Australian airports the worst I found is Brisbane in Queensland.
    My case in point.
    I had flown to a southern state to buy and bring home a puppy.
    At every airport transfer the baggage handlers had treated the puppies crate with respect and made sure it was in the shade.
    Upon deplaning at Brisbane, we where informed that there would be a 5 hour delay for a connecting flight home.
    Walking down a hall way I looked out the window and what should I see but all our luggage sitting on a trailer in the middle of the tarmac, and what should be balancing precariously on top in the blazing sun but the crate containing my puppy!
    They where very happy to leave a 8 week old puppy in the blazing sun for 5 hours without water!
    No fucking way!
    I had tried to get the attention of the baggage handlers who had suddenly gone blind.
    I went to the information/general enquiries and things got rather heated (actually I went postal ) Theatened to ring a news crew, the RSPCA, the police and my lawyer.
    In hind sight I'm suprised that air port security didn't taze me and drag me off to a holding cell in a head lock.
    So much so that they decided to find a baggage handler to bring the puppy to me to see if he was ok.
    I gave him a drink of water and a check over I was able to have him with me for the 5 hour stop over.
    Putting him back in the crate when we where finally able to board the flight home was a task and a half.
    We where both grateful to get home.
     
  19. dong20

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    Whenever I read about Queenslanders being "as mad as cut snakes", it just makes me want to visit the Gold Coast even more, and I don't even have a puppy.:biggrin1:
     
  20. hotbtminla

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    Laughed out loud with that, Vince.

    I've also had good, efficient experiences at Schiphol. Beautifully designed and well-laid out. I do like things that result in my using the words "well" and "laid" together.

    Miami... ugh. I used to change planes there a lot when I was flying to So/Central America often. Never failed that my gate change would be equidistant from wherever I was, not that that was the airport's fault. Getting to said gate was like running the gauntlet carrying sacks of wet concrete. I often felt like I fell into a video game when I was there. That airport has a really weird smell too.
     
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