Report Card of Visited Airports, July 2006-2007
Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)
Ruinously renovated to turn it into O’Hare Junior, gracelessly connected to the CTA, and advertises wireless internet availability. Not advertised: Wireless internet access at Midway costs $9.
O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
I hate the United Terminal, the pickup area half-pipes of my childhood have speed bumps, and wireless internet access is not free.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
In a misguided display of civic pride, CNN blares out of every speaker and television in the place. I don’t understand how they get away with this. If SLC blared Mormon teachings at “The Red Zone is for loading and unloading ONLY” volume, there would be a national outcry. Why must I be marinated for two hours in the teachings of the Church of Current Events? I just want to read my book and wait for my flight. Wireless internet access costs $9.
Palm Beach International Airport (PBI)
Apparently designed to not be an airport, but something more like Woodfield Mall but with unusual entrances. Not enough windows. Too many shops. Inconveniently located in West Palm Beach. Security guy that got suspicious and cranky with me when I asked how the compressed-air security checkpoint machine worked. The only pro: Free wireless internet access.
Miami International Airport (MIA)
Has expanded gracelessly. I think I ran two miles there on the last trip. Plus the rental car procurement system is difficult to figure out and an unpleasant experience once you do. The only pro: Tammy’s Bakery, a mile north on LeJeune Road. My God…the arroz con leche. The empanadas. The eclairs caramello. You owe your D to Tammy, MIA.
Logan International Airport (BOS)
Impossible to get to by any form of transportation at all and filled to the brim with Bostonians. The only pro: Legal Sea Foods.
McCarran International Airport (LAS) (Departing):
It’s not just because you’re leaving Vegas. It’s because you, and everyone else, are exhausted, hung over, unshowered, filthy, raw-throated, poorer, fatter, headachy, stiff, reeking of smoke and liquor, grubby, greasy, nauseous, coughing, and ill-packed, as you stand in Terminal D’s Space Mountainish security line trying not to pass out and watching the security video in which prominent Vegas citizens urge you to stop behaving like you’re in Las Vegas. The reward for getting through this line is to get on a tram that drives you out into murderous blinding sunlight and eventually drops you off at a place where you have to get on a plane and go back to the real world. The only pro is that you have not been left in the desert to die. In McCarran on Monday morning, that begins to feel like an accomplishment.
Tampa International Airport (TPA)
The nicest of the recently-built airports. Pluses: Multiple Starbucks, the most efficient airport security I’ve encountered, an amazing view of the runways, and my absolute favorite feature of modern airport design, open gates. Minuses: The term “Remote Parking” does not nearly convey the remoteness of the Remote Parking at TPA. It’s very easy to drive into the airport itself, provided you are a 36th-level Freemason, and thus entitled to know which UNMARKED EXIT off of 275 is the one for the airport. (TPA may be upgraded after they finish the airport extension and put the sign back up.)
Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (MHT)
Pros: Small. Coffee readily available. This happened there. (Scroll past the bullet points.) Cons: Rental car people breathtakingly inept. Security personnel touchy about people throwing a football around the gate area.
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
Pros: Nothing stands out. Cons: Nothing stands out. Evaluation: No airport in America is more deserving of a C.
Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ)
Spartan decor, generous windows displaying gorgeous scenery, free wireless internet, and the air show that is Kirtland Air Force Base make ABQ a nice place to kill ninety minutes. Denied an “A” because it took the airport staff forty-five minutes to get someone to come clean up the vomit generously distributed by the child who had been sitting next to me at Gate 8.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
Almost a perfect airport. Reasonably priced long-term parking, a location convenient to everything, a complete SWA terminal smaller than any four consecutive gates at O’Hare, and the nicest rental-car depot in any airport I’ve ever been in. Denied an “A” because there is only one place to buy coffee in terminal B, and because the free wireless internet is unreliable.
Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
A two-hour layover at Sky Harbor is like visiting 1978. Everybody is older than me, the decor is that of the old terminals at O’Hare but with desert browns replacing the red-white-blue theme, and virtually every vertical surface that can be a window is. Clearly a product of the golden age of airport design, PHX does not attempt to be anything other than an airport, nor does it attempt to give the impression that a flight bound for Mars will be departing from the next gate over. A pleasure. High-quality snack options and lightning fast free wireless internet. Bonus: Westbound flights provide a terrific view of Phoenix, especially Chase Field’s retractable roof.
McCarran International Airport (LAS) (Arriving):
Walking off the jetway at McCarran, one is greeted by the sounds of slot machines, the glow of increasingly extravagant advertising, the smell of greasy food, liquor, and smoke, the kindly visages of Rita Rudner, Wayne Newton, Penn, and the Top glowering down at you from every turn, and the striking difference between the anticipatory grins on the faces of those deplaning and the bedraggled weariness on the faces of those waiting to board. It is an absolutely perfect table-setter for your trip. McCarran is, to borrow a phrase once deployed in similar context, a gross physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of the next ninety-six hours of your life.