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April 17th, 2009:

Why we hate airports

JFK Terminal 1

We all hate going to the airport–the lines, the prices, the hassle, the stress and the general discomfort. Over the last decade, airports have become so unpleasant that the term no longer evokes images of modernity and mobility, but rather images of misery and incompetence.

But why do we hate airports so much?

Security, parking, and customer service are a drag for sure. But no one of these common complaints are enough to explain why going to the airport is so utterly miserable. The real reason is bigger than any one shortcoming. The reason we hate airports is because airports incorporate many of the things that suck about Europe into one place.

NO FREE WATER: Ever try to get a free glass of water at an airport? Good luck. Not only do airport vendors sell you bottled water for upwards of $2.50/bottle, but they have also conspired with security to take away any of your own liquid refreshments at the checkpoint.

HORRIBLE CUSTOMER SERVICE: In America, the customer is always right, unless you’re at the airport. Airline customer service has always been gruff, but it has only gotten worse after years of wage cuts. Today, the typical airline customer service representative is so snotty and curt that they are indistinguishable form a waiter at a fine Parisian restaurant.

EVERYTHING IS 2X AS EXPENSIVE: A bottle of water, $2.50, a piece of pizza, $5.00, a pair of clean socks, $15.00. In short, prices in the airport are so exorbitant that you’d think you were being hosed down by  your typical European street merchant. Either that or, you’re paying European-style 17.5%+ VAT that nobody told you about.

UNPREDICTABLE HOURS: Airports are full of stores, restaurants and stands selling (for very high prices) anything you could want. But if you’ve ever been to an airport at sometime that wasn’t 2-8 pm, you’ll know that the store you’re looking for is probably closed. Airport stores seem to operate on what I’ll call the Italian Model. They are open when they want, for how long they want and will charge you whatever outrageous price they want—and no, they don’t post hours of operation either.

BAD TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS : Nothing is more of hassle than getting around an airport, except, perhaps, for getting to and from the airport in the first place. Airports, like Europe, lack sufficient parking. This forces you to take, at minimum, a bus from your car to the airport. This is even true in car-centric cities like Detroit. In cities like NY, if you want to get to the airport, you need to take at minimum 2 different types of public transit (possibly more) and that does not include all the walking you’ll have to do! What makes matters worse is that at each transit transfer, you typically have to wait a while and pay more money too.

GENERAL FILTH: Some American airports are nice—take Detroit’s for instance. However, the vast majority of our airports were built in the 60s and have low ceilings, dirty waiting areas, dated amenities and a lackluster commitment to cleanliness. It rather reminds you of Europe—Italy in particular. Add the general filth of the buildings to the fact that many of the patrons have been caught in the airport system for hours, if not days on end, and have not had a chance to shower. Well, you get the picture.  

NO WIRELESS: Half the bars and coffee shops in America these days have free wireless internet access. It is getting to the point where free wireless access is a birthright. But have you ever tried to log in at an airport? If they have wireless at all, it is likely for some exorbitant hourly fee. And if you don’t want to pay the fee – try using one of those goofy pay internet terminals—the slow connection and pay-by-the-minute pricing will make you feel just like you’re in a dodgy European internet café.  

So next time you’re fuming about how miserable the airport is remember: in Europe everywhere is like the airport. 

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