Three Airports I Hate

Ordinarily I’m a huge fan of airports. There’s something wonderful about sitting back with a book and a beer, a wide view of the tarmac and nothing ahead but the next adventure. Maybe it’s some weird form of traveler’s Stockholm Syndrome developed after too much time spent waiting to catch flights, but I actually love the peace and anticipation of a layover.

So when I say there are some terminals I hate being stuck in, understand that this is coming from someone who likes nothing better than to be at a Chili’s Too using his boarding pass as a bookmark. Airports have a surprising amount of local character for transit hubs. Some, like Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi reflect the best that their city has to offer.

Others, well they’ve managed to pick up the worst. Such as…

Athens’ Eleftherios Venizelos

Athens was the inspiration for this post. Trying to leave Eleftherios Venizelos is like catching the last lifeboat off the Titanic. There’s less of a ticket process than a mad scrum for agents and counter space on the land and sky side of the terminal.

Where some airports fail for lack of investment or infrastructure, this is actually a fairly new facility that was built in the orgy of spending around the 2004 Olympic Games. No, it’s no lack of investment that makes this place fall apart. It’s that the whole thing is just so shoddily run.

During busy hours (most of the time at this, the main point of entry for the entire country) ticket agents lose control of their own lines. People shove ahead of the line, or just ignore it altogether. Soon order collapses and everyone is behind schedule, so the agents begin calling passengers by whoever’s closest to missing their flight, turning ticketing into a process of just putting out fires. On the inside, with security operated at each gate in a fashion common to European airports, the process is repeated. And then again on boarding.

It’s a microcosm of the problems that plague this wonderful, troubled country (which, I emphasize, I deeply love). Airports rely on a certain degree of order to move a lot of people through. In Athens the very Greek habit of always looking for an angle leads to chaos, and it’s anything but charming.

New York’s JFK

This was kind of inevitable… John F. Kennedy Airport routinely makes the lists of most hated terminals by heavy and casual travelers alike.

And what’s not to hate? A global hub of enormous importance, almost everything about JFK is woefully outdated. That would be no problem if demands on the facility hadn’t increased, but it goes without saying that they have. Facilities are old and shoddy, modern amenities such as wifi and outlets are either poor quality or absent altogether, and vast lines stretch on due to personnel and security bottlenecks. There’s a reason the city’s main international terminal was rated the worst in the world some years back.

If Eleftherios has adopted the Greek attitude towards rules, JFK is evidence of America abandoning its public spaces to the philosophy of “good enough.”

The truth is, I can forgive a lot out of an airport that gets the job done. If I can get in, through security and to my gate in a reasonable amount of time, if they do a decent job with that security and don’t delay my flight unreasonably, we’ll all get along fine. A decent pub is always welcome, as is somewhere to plug in my laptop and get online, but they’re nice also-rans to an airport that works.

JFK doesn’t work. Unlike many major airports it lacks any kind of dedicated transportation to the city. Instead it relies on enormously overtaxed highways and a multi-stop local rail line to shuttle passengers to and fro. Getting in and out of this airport takes forever, and is expensive to boot. It’s bad enough that I have more than once bypassed New York City altogether just to avoid dealing with the hassle.

Bali’s Ngurah Rai

I don’t blame a city for not having a lot of money to spend on their airport. Places that can’t, or don’t, choose to invest in a skyside shopping mall are just fine by me. (Although, to be honest, I don’t mind killing time by browsing overpriced Toblerones, perfume, liquor and watches.)

That’s no excuse for letting someplace go to complete shit though.

Bali is an incredibly popular resort island, as such there is money here to spend, and it could be invested in expanded capacity and a larger janitorial staff, or at least one that bothers to show up for work… at all.

Traveling through on my last trip to Java felt like my worst moments at the DMV, with crowds of people sitting on the terminal floor, tumbleweeds of greasy fast food packets and multiple flights often listed at the same gate simultaneously because the entire place is overbooked. To solve this problem the airlines periodically change the gates for departing flights in an elaborate ad hoc system that can leaves room for little or no notice.

Paris’ Charles Du Gaulle may deserve much of the criticism it gets, but I’ll say this for them: I’ve never sprinted across that terminal to catch a plane because the airport changed my gate without notice.


Eric Reed may be the only living travel writer who's afraid to fly. A freelance journalist, reformed lawyer and accidental expert on economic policy, he launched Things Dangerous as a place to tell the ups and downs of a beat writer's life on the road.

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