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Failure of the U.S. Airport

The horror of making an international connection at an American airport. Our airports are terrible, and our airlines are finding it harder to compete. We’ve done it to ourselves through shortsightedness, underfunding, and flyer-unfriendly policies... ( More...

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preacher1 16
Not much left to say, other than we did pioneer it all and now we must rebuild. As a quick start, we could modernize our connection and transit processes if everyone wasn't so afraid of losing a bureaucratic turf war.
Not much political capital to be gained either. 90+% of Americans could care less, especially about foreigners transiting. They might fly once a year.
joel wiley 14
Try posing the issue to a public that has an attention span not much longer than a 140 character twitter post.
preacher1 10
Some can't remember this morning, let alone yesterday or 911
You got it. All they will see is higher taxes.
linbb 5
First time dealing with the TSA and what a joke as they didn't have a standard set of answers as to dealing with aerosol cans and tooth paste tube size. I know its a little thing but beyond that how do they deal with large items then?
tracytearata 2
Also YBBN/BNE was building a third terminal it's now being scrapped. Instead a third runway has or is under construction over there.
Couldn't agree more. My three-plus decades of travel to and from Europe confirm your assessment.
Whatever happened to us? After 1950 our trains went downhill fast. See Europe/Asia's bullet trains.

Even our brand new terminals begin to show wear after three years.

Our highway system (Interstate) hasn't been maintained.

We seem to have lost our way.
paul trubits 3
Thank Eisenhauer and GM for the death of the trains. But, look at all the interstate highways we now have.
GM? Where did you get such a silly notion? Eisenhower instituted the Interstate system, it is true, but the Interstates had no large cause on passenger train failures.

Place blame on the lack of a transportation policy, and the ICC's demand for unprofitable passenger trains. After two decades of red ink, railroads could no longer afford to keep them. The ICC had to finally admit it's failed policies and allow train-offs. For some carriers however, it was too late.
paul trubits 5
Kenneth: They had everything to do with the train failures. They (GM) sold the American idea of having a car made you free. You no longer had to deal with other human beings to get from point a to b. Trains make money when they make sense. Cars made suburbs viable. A big chunk of the world has their population concentrated in small geographical areas. Not us. You are correct about our lack of transportation policy. That is the price of living in a democracy. You want someone telling you how you are going to get to work?
Up until the 1970's, transportation was (and for certain modes, still are) an uneven proposition. Trains used privately funded and owned property, whilst the Interstates and Airports were, and still are all public.

Airport facilities today are not required to turn a profit per se. They could not exist without tax subsidy.
joel wiley 3
It is getting off topic of airport infrastructure, but it is part of the deterioration of critical infrastructure in general. The GM reference may be, in part, referring to this:
and this:
I guess you could also add airport closure attempts which include the ongoing saga of KSMO
Joel, it is off topic, but I felt the need to quash the conspiracy theories.

Unlike Europe, which has a tax structure and public funding different than ours, finding the money in the U.S. when we cannot support the infrastructure we have now is going to be near impossible.

In looking at the problem in our small, mostly rural state, there is no support for increased taxes to repair our crumbling roads and bridges.
joel wiley 1
In our somewhat larger rural/urban split state the same issue exists.
You're right about that. Living in the swamp (or the country like me) will probably be even more of a blessing one day.
RECOR10 -3
Where I live they are hell bent on new - more - faster trains. Not long ago a train near me hit a school bus that was on the tracks and killed a dozen or so kids. What these train pundits seem to not notice is that "fast" trains never ever cross an open roadway at speed. And, our trains cross road after road after road...
btweston 4
Why was the school bus on the train tracks when the train was coming through?
I think the point here is the fact that there are still lots of level crossings in the USA, the school bus accident is just to show that. It's just another way to show that rail infrastructure, just like airports and highways, have not kept up with the times.
Exactly my point.

CHICAGO — A morning rush-hour commuter train struck a school bus stopped on a suburban railway crossing Wednesday, killing five high school students and injuring 28 others.

The violent impact of the 50-m.p.h. train wrenched the bus off its wheels, turning its crushed upper hulk 180 degrees before it came to rest next to the tracks. Inside, students who had clambered to the front of the bus to escape were tossed about like dolls.

"You could see the terror in their eyes," said witness Coreen Bachinsky. "You could hear the metal, the glass flying, the screams. It was very, very scary."

The crash site in suburban Fox River Grove, 37 miles northwest of Chicago, became an outdoor emergency room as paramedics, fire personnel and volunteers struggled to remove screaming youths and carry them to waiting ambulances.
Not to mention the infrastructure for fast trains is astronomical and has no market flexibility. Point a and b remain the same forever. Airplanes can change markets in an hour. Think a plane is a terrorist target; a fast train would be a dream come true (easy pickens). And 150 mph isn't really fast except for a train or boat. Lol
honza nl 5
If you have to be at the airport 2 hrs in advance, need 1 hr to get there, need 1 hr to reach your destination, then a 300 mls trip city-centre to city-centre costs you 5 hrs by your fast plane, by a fast train it costs you only 1.5 hrs. So yes, a 200 mph train (like the French TGV or German ICE) often is faster than a 500 mph plane....
Unless you live at an airport and your destination also lives at an airport....
You're kidding right? It would only serve 2 cities first of all. People come from everywhere to a large city. Second, I'm sure TSA would invade a fast train so getting there 2 hrs early would probably apply. Germany and France only have a couple major cities and not far apart. USA has a hundred and they can be thousands of miles apart. Watch the flop happen in California.
honza nl 1
a flop in the US is usually because it is US :-) In the rest of the world fast trains are doing well.... It also has to do with the role of the government and tax: in the US people seem to think tax and government = bad. So you can see (New Orleans / Katrina, New York / Sandy) US logic: not invest in safety as it costs tax dollars, when then there is an emergency you a) can spend billions for the damages, and b) then again need to spend all the billions to prevent it from happening again. In the rest of the world they think it is better to spend the dollars first, so you won't have to pay the damages as well....
If between many cities a plane is better it doesn't mean it always is better. But just as US people are addicted to cars (even for a short ride where a walk or bicycle is better and faster) they also seem to be addicted to planes, even when a train sometimes is a better choice.
I agree that Americans are not gonna ride trains for the most part. You mention autos. In most cases I drive to avoid airlines. Airline terminals have become shopping malls and art statements INLO of concentrating on effiency(your bags ought to beat you to claim area every time and should be no need to arrive 2h early). Technology and politics have changed business in US. No need to be located in a major city. So regardless of efficiency of trains I just don't see the infrastructure or appeal ever "getting off the ground", so to speak. Lol
honza nl 1
I fully agree with you on this. But people can change; there are enough commuters who take metro/train to city-centre work, so even US citizens sometimes can see the advantage of rail transport :-). It just needs to be fast, reliable and safe. The US can buld fine planes, surely they also then could build fine trains :-))
Peter Russell 4
I used to travel to the US on business prior to 9/11. The US immigration staff were without doubt the most unfriendly, rude & arrogant people that I ever met whilst in the States. They must pick them specially.
Martin Allan 4
I won't travel into US even on transit if I can avoid it. First time travelling via Houston to McAllan from London Gatwick I was held in a queue in the corridor for just over 2 hours after my flight landed (AT 4:20pm) Then the main Immigration hall which has many desks only had 2 of them staffed although about 25 officers were just standing watching. A further 40 minutes later I presented the immigration card I had already filled in and then was asked the same stupid questions. If I was a terrorist I am hardly going to admit it am I? After calling the supervising officer over and telling him I was disgusted a couple more desks were manned and I proceeded to collect baggage claim. Although I had said my main reason for landing was to transit towards Mexico quickly my immigration officer tried to be nice and said "Hope you have a nice stay in USA" The last thing I wanted was to stay!(Friends were coming across the Rio Grande to meet me at about 7:30 in McAllan and take me back to Reynosa by car)
First i had to remove belt and shoes etc then collect my cases. Then i had to remove belt etc and open cases again to get onto the plane to McAllan. All had huge queues.
I missed three connecting flights! The final days flight was delayed for myself and a couple of others who transited via Houston - Thanks continental)
Finally arrived in McAllan at about 00:20! five hours late to be met by some very patient Mexicans who said it was a common occurence!

that was about 6 years ago, hope it has improved. However still will not travel via the paranoid US Immigration halls. They should come to UK we are far more civilised and try to treat people properly and as if we are humans not cattle. MIND YOU TEXAS IS CATTLE COUNTRY, THEY PROBABLY TREAT COWS AND STEERS BETTER THAN THAT.
Although I agree with your feelings about how immigration handled things, they were correct in that you did necessarily enter the US by virtue of not getting on the next flight to Mexico. You flew domestic to McAllen and then drove. So yes, you were not in transit (although I do agree we don't treat such visitors as civilly as they deserve).

The same thing would happen to me should I land at Gatwick and "transit" to Brussels via suburban train and Chunnel train, although more civilly.
Not really. We kill them and eat them. Lol
Paul Smith 1
Unfortunately they do not treat cows and steers better... They end up killing them. But then again that's probably better than dying of a heart attack because of the stress going through TSA.
I dread MIA and ORD and LAX connections from abroad.
HKG is FANTASTIC for connections.
Article is spot in.
Ian Lancaster 3
Never mind the transit at US airports (which is awful), just try getting to the airport. I just flew KUL-LHR; hotel to Sentral Station - 10 minutes; Sentral Station to KUL - 28 minutes @ 160 kph on a clean, comfortable train. LHR to Central London - 20 minutes on Heathrow Express, also clean and comfortable at 100 mph. Similar experience at most European and Asian airports. Access to US airports has improved with extensions to metro systems (SFO/BART; Dulles/Metro etc) but these are stopping commuter services. Much slower and unreliable.
Mark Wardle 2
Is it all about money? Surely it is organisation. Where else in the world requires International transit passengers to go through immigration in order to board another plane to leave the country again? Keeping passengers airside saves airports and airlines a lot of money, oh and requires fewer TSA people, so its not going to happen.
Patrick Smith's article hits the nail on the head. At the end of 2013, I flew from Boston to Johannesburg via Heathrow Terminal 5. We deplaned from our Boston flight, walked down the hallway, went through a brief security check, then took the escalator up one level to our departure gate. Total time from arrival to departure was 90 minutes and no lines or waiting. In 2003, I flew with a group from Johannesburg to Guatemala city with plane changes in Paris and Miami. Our African delegation presumed they could transit Miami as easily as Paris. No such luck. After a two-hour wait in the arrival hall/immigration, and missing the connecting flight to Guatemala city, they were placed under armed guard for a unwelcome night in an airport hotel. What an embarrassment. America's international airports need to get their acts together. The current situation is just down-right stupid. The world's international airports can show us how it should be and can be done.
I wouldn't come back. :-))
Andrew Bunker 1
After reading this I need to change a flight, I'm flying Auckland to Montreal in June and the out bound leg is through LA and I really do not need that hassle which is totally un-neccessary in the world today. I'm quite baffled why the US does not have a transit system. Before anyone asks having travelled to the US many times this is the first time I have not had a stop over so was unaware of the situation.
That's exactly what they want you to do.
Andrew Bunker 1
Well that works then, sadly!
Sadly, if they intended it to be pleasantly hassle free it would be so.
Andrew Bunker 2
I have always found American security, not police, unpleasant and aggressive I'm always helpful and compliant to help ensure its a safe flight but they seem to treat everyone as a problem but maybe that is also part of system to put people off?
As a whole, dealing with government employees is unpleasant. They see others as a pain in their ass. Police are generally the most pleasant of the bunch if you're not a criminal or acting like one. Lol
Andre Vanha 1
I don't agree with the article as a whole. I agree that ICE at US Airports is horrible (I'm a US passport holder). Usually much worse than anywhere else I've visited. ICE border enforcement has a way making me feel more like a criminal than any other government interaction. But it's not universal, I've have had a few experiences that weren't horrible, and one or two that were actually pleasant (Or maybe they just seemed that way compared to all the other times)

However, if you factor out ICE, as far as transfers go I think it's really a mixed bag. I've encountered some long lines transferring at Narita and Heathrow. Beijing Capitol airport is huge, new and modern, but security and luggage wait times can be lengthy. Plus the T3->T1->T3 transit takes a long time. Last two times there, we had to bus between the terminal and the plane (Domestic Air China 777).

Last year I transferred from Delta to Air Europa in Madrid. Maybe it's better in one of the newer terminals, but I experienced quite a mess.

On the other hand, arriving internationally and connecting at SFO or SEA is convenient, and both have fairly nice terminals. International arrivals at DEN aren't bad either.

I've never transferred at HKG or ICN, it's always been an endpoint, so I can't talk about just the transfer. However, they're both amazing. New, clean-slate engineering marvels built reclaimed land at massive cost. It would be great if we could do something like that here the US. But with our funding environmental policies? I don't think so... And in a way, there's no need... Gimpo and old HKG couldn't really expand, they had to do something radical. Here in the US, our airports have been growing with us, so they're not quite as constrained or outdated as those were.

There's a lot we can improve on. A lot of our airports are indeed upgrading. Will we ever fix ICE and TSA? Cynically, I'd say no. But maybe there is some hope (for example security at LAS)
Bob Anderson 1
I found Seoul Incheon airport to be equally inconvenient. The inbound flight landed at one terminal with 60 minutes allowed for a connection at another terminal. The transit included using the people mover during rush hour and going through security. The security check-point required unpacking and re-packing the carry-on. The doors were about to close by the time required transit activities were completed.

In defense of Delta and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, the carry-on was force checked in Panama City, but didn't require retrieval in Atlanta before continuing onto another international flight. The immigration episode as a transit passenger was much simpler more seamless than the normal entry when coming home to Atlanta as the final destination.
Peter Berner 1
Spot on. Not only do our airports make me feel ashamed for the impression they givet to each and every foreign visitor that I host for my company, but I feel onlihated to advose them to advise them to avoid US carriers if at all viable
Doug Zalud 1
2013, wife and I came through LHR from ORD enroute to RUH, and it was a nightmare. When we arrived, we had to run through the terminal to the tram to get to the other terminal for our flight. Then through security and run through that terminal. Fortunately, there were so many of us transferring, they held the flight. It was all guesswork because no one gave us any info or directions. Found out from monitors and the gang of people.

Same thing happened to us last month at BKK. Arrived from CMB going to MNL. Airport rep was standing at the end of the gate waiting for thirteen of us. Once she had accounted for all of us, she said "follow me, please." and took off running. We were literally doing the old OJ Simpson from one end to the other to make our flight.

At US airports, it hasn't been overly bad. The worst was when we arrived at JFK in 2013 just after a thunderstorm. Most delayed flights were cancelled and re-bookings were for the next morning at the earliest. I drove from there to CLE and arrived long before the time of my re-booked flight. I'd say that was probably the worst so far.

HKG has so far been the best. Regardless of how much time we've had between flights, someone has been there with a sign to point us in the right direction. Quick and efficient every time.

I think because I try and plan a decently timed layover, and map out the terminals that we will be going through, it has made all of the difference.
michael kenny 1
Note that it isn't just American airports. Toronto/YYZ hasn't figured out "in transit" either. As for security processing, YYZ and Montreal/YUL rank right up there for completely rude, utterly inconsistent (shoes today, belt tomorrow) security processing.
cmp5n -1
Hartsfield and O'Hare are the busiest airports in the world.

You're entire argument false apart when you assumption regarding passenger preference is negated.

Also you are forgetting about the difference between free economy business and state run monopolies abroad. Profitability and sustainability are not comparable. American airlines have and continue to set competitive standards across the world. Ex: two pilot instead of three. ETOPs certification to reduce need for 2+ engines. And of course Boeing always leads the way with innovation and new aircraft technology - 747,777, 787...
jcsjcs 2
Haha... and I thought it was Airbus with A340 (fly by wire), A380 (double deck all the way) etc...
Ric Wernicke 0
LAX could be a wonderful place if design and function were wrestled from the hands of security managers that had to struggle to finish high school. Between airport police, customs, and TSA there is incompetence at the highest level. Throw in the bumbling of our former mayor (the pot hole king) and the current half lad (yoga boy) LAX will remain perfect for forty flights a day with DC-3's and a few Connies.

It is time to allow a private group to operate the airport, and allow planning and construction that moves passengers to there destinations without picking their pockets to further agendas unrelated to air transportation.
LAX is the worst international airport I have transited.
You must never have had to go through Heathrow. I sadly have to transit LHR several times a year and, while US airports are far from pleasant, I would take LAX or ORD over LHR any day (perhaps not JFK though). I hold an EU passport, so immigration is not an issue. Nonetheless, transitioning to an intra-EU flight involves 3 or 4 security checks (including intra-airport biometric checks) each with associated queues. Add-in seemingly infinite hallways, multiple poorly-linked terminals, and obscure confusing signage, and transfers can be a nightmare. Returning to the U.S. via Heathrow is similarly not recommendable. It's not just the US that needs some work.

My favorite airport on the other hand is Seoul Incheon, I even quite enjoy a couple of hours layover there. Taipei, and Beijing also are modern, efficient and pleasant places to spend a couple of hours. We already are behind Asia.
Privatization of something taxpayer owned and funded. Yeah.. I can't see any problems with that. none at all.. /s

Seeing that HKG, SYD, and all of the other airports (with possible exception being DXB) are all funded by the people, the problem we have is bureaucrats and those wanting the best for the cheapest, and sacrificing quality for barebones. We've been doing that for the longest time, and we are reaping what we sewed.

This has nothing to do with the mayor of Los Angeles; this has to do with the FAA, DHS, and proper funding and support of all of our infrastructure. You know.. something that the POTUS has been wanting for the past 8 years, that no opposition party in Congress has been wanting to touch, because of costs?

Lack of attention to our infrastructure leads to lack of service and income from people abroad. Deal with our infrastructure, and they will come. Until then, they won't.
And why is there no money for infrastructure without raising taxes? I submit "entitlements" at all levels. Some earned entitlements are just way to lucrative and I best not even delve into unearned entitlements. Lol
tracytearata -2
Try YBBN in Australia when the G20 was there. What a let down it was revelled later there were loop holes in security there. Now wonder AF1 decided to go to RAAF base Amberley.
My answer to this is, The US was attacked on 9/11, no one else! No airport or connecting procedure is perfect, but I'd rather be alive and inconvenienced than conveniently dead.
Many other countries have had terrorist attacks, both Europe and Asia. Your comment shows how little awareness you have about the world.
jcsjcs 3
Transit in the US was stupid before 9/11 and it didn't prevent 9/11. The whole procedure of putting all transit passengers through immigration does nothing to increase security. A standard security screening can be done between arrival and departure, and if some passengers seem suspicious, they can be picked out before or while boarding the plane.


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