The Best Worst Airport in the US

Frequent and casual travelers have their favorite airports. The ones that are easy to navigate and usually not too crowded always make the list. And then there are those airports where you have to use all your willpower just to deplane. These sprawling terminals are usually inhabited by a staff whose goal in life is seemingly to make your trip through their turf as nightmarish as possible. Overstatement? Perhaps, unless you’ve just come through customs at Chicago O’Hare.

Yes, O’Hare is one of those airports on my “worst” list. It is difficult to navigate (unless you have a PhD in Geography or a very good hand-held GPS unit) and perpetually crowded. The customs and immigration folks there have given me the most hassle of any airport in the country. If it was just me, I’d guess that I fit some sort of profile. But everyone seems to have trouble. On my last trip, I witnessed a little Japanese grandmother being pulled out of the customs line after she couldn’t answer (or perhaps even understand) a customs agent’s eloquently posed question “How much Yen you got?”

At the same time, there are certain corners of O’Hare that I love.One is the bar in the corner of the international terminal. The bartender on my previous trip was not only generous with her pours, she knew the status of every flight coming into and out of the terminal seemingly aided by some sort of sixth sense that must come from a lifetime in airport bars. And her yarns about the airport life were almost enough to make you want to work there. I’ve always found this particular bar to be staffed by equally laid back and knowledgeable people.

At the nearby hot dog stand, they might serve you a hot dog with a dismissive frown, but as a last meal before heading off overseas, it can’t be beat. Hell, a trip to this little corner of the massive monstrosity that is O’Hare might even have you thinking fondly of the place. But don’t worry, there is always plenty of swearing businessmen ready to push you down if no one is looking, surly staff dishing out the attitude and cavity-searches to keep you in touch the reality.

I’m always happy to leave O’Hare. But that’s one of the points of travel, isn’t it? Being happy to leave where you are and looking forward to where you are going.

Gadling’s worst five US Airports for public transportation

Earlier this week we wrote up a brief article rating some of the best connected airports in these great United States. What’s the value of a top five list without the sadistic benefit of a bottom five list though? Fear not Gadlingers, it was easier to create this list then the top five, with these airports rated above and beyond the worst connected to public transportation. Again, we’ve not only ranked them by accessibility but also cost and proximity to the city in question.

  • Detroit: We can thank the automotive lobby for this one. With barely any train service in the city and a metropolitan airport halfway between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, nobody can easily get to DTW. There are a couple of public buses, but they only appear to run in specific directions and to be honest with you, I’ve never seen one on the grounds.
  • Newark/New York: While EWR is connected to NJ transit, it costs freaking 14$ to get there from Penn Station and THEN you have to take the stupid airtrain around the airport. Half the time the latter train is broken down, and if you forgot your ticket from NJTransit you have to pay extra for the privilege to transfer to your dumpy terminal. Terrible.
  • Los Angeles: SoCal vehicle mentality seems to require people to drive everywhere in the city. The lackadaisical subway system doesn’t even consider coming close the airport and even then most people are afraid to use it.
  • Las Vegas: Nevada seems to think that if people are going to Vegas to gamble that they have enough money to pay for a cab into town. Not everyone comes to the city to gamble!
  • Washington DC (Dulles): IAD has the Washington Flyer, which will at least connect you to the Orange Line in NOVA, but it costs nine bucks and takes an extra half hour to get there. Transferring downtown takes even longer and the Flyer can be affected by traffic. With all of those stipulations, the 2$ I pay for the New York Laguardia bus looks like a dream.

Don’t agree or think that your city belongs on the list? Let us know!

San Jose Airport renovates, not a moment too soon

Having had the pleasure of flying through SJC a few times in the last several weeks, I can now officially name Mineta Airport as my official “Worst Airport in the United States“. It takes a fair amount of effort to deserve this distinction from blogger Grant, as I try to be fairly forgiving of travel and airport related issues. But listen Mineta San Jose, for the airport of the great Silicon Valley, you’ve got some serious, serious problems.

  • There are no jet bridges! The last time two times I had to walk onto the tarmac to climb steps into my airplane were in Houghton, Michigan and Marrakech, Morocco. The former’s population is 7010 (that’s 0.7% of you) and the latter is a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY.
  • You have no airline lounges in terminal C. Business and first class travelers are stuck milling around the rundown concourse trying to get mobile and wireless reception while families stream around and trip over laptop cords. Yes, I know it sounds elitist to say that, but airline lounges are a proven, profit making device for airlines and help keep everyone sane.
  • No gas stations exist between the expressway and the rental car return. So if you want to avoid the egregious gas refill fees you have to exit the grounds and drive aimlessly around surrounding roads looking for a station.
  • Connection to public transportation is weak. Sure the public 10 bus makes a free connection to the light rail and Caltrains, but it comes infrequently, is poorly labeled and is confusing to catch.

What do business people from around the world think when they come to visit some of the nation’s top technology companies?

Luckily, San Jose recently got the message and is working furiously on the new additions; the first section should be complete some time this year. May the new facilities be ripe with bars, restaurants, lounges and jet bridges, may the wireless flow freely from the walls and may honor be restored to the great Valley of Silicon.

Smaller Airports a Traveler’s Pleasure?

My dad LOVES flying out of Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York. Once he found out he could get out of the Hudson Valley in upstate New York without heading to Newark, JFK or La Guardia and the hassle that comes with mega airport travel, he heads to Stewart if he can find the connections.

This summer when I landed at the airport in Bellingham, Washington and found the Hertz car rental counter so close to baggage claim that I could pick up my bag and rent the car at the same time, I was hooked on the simpler life. I’m not alone. According to Gary Stoller’s article in USA Today, business folks often prefer smaller airports without all the amenities that the bigger ones do.

Convenience is the reason. There isn’t as much traffic to get to them, car rentals, as in Bellingham, are closer, gates aren’t miles apart to get to or for connections between flights and security lines are generally shorter.

Not all small airports are equal, however. Some lack in speed when it comes to uniting passenger with bags. Austin-Bergstrom airport in Texas is one of the culprits. This slower than molasses in January approach landed it on the bottom of the ratings. Texas generally does airports right, though. It has the highest ranked airport as well, plus a few high ranking others. William P. Hobby airport is number one. Dallas Love Field is number two. San Antonio International Airport is three and El Paso is number four. I found it interesting that Port Columbus International (in AP photo, Jay LePrete) is ranked number 17, only two higher than Austin-Bergstrom. If it’s not one of the best, I have to say, it’s not bad. As a helpful hint, Wendy’s has $1 meal options, but you have to go there before you go through security.

Large airports still have a large fan club in tact. If you miss a connection, it’s more likely you’ll get another flight fairly quickly. Plus, there’s more to do to pass the time in airports geared for keeping the masses entertained while they wait.