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The more you know, the more you don’t know

This content is a little crusty, having been with me through 3 separate platform changes. Formatting may be rough, and I am slightly less stupid today than when I wrote it.
01 Mar 2010

The number one worst airport in America

My wife says I’m too much of a cynic. That may be true, but this is one beef that, after 200,000+ flight miles, I simply cannot ignore any longer. Why should anyone suffer needlessly? I spent the last week visiting my sister out in Denver, thus necessitating the need to fly out and back into Philadelphia International (PHL). I’ve had bad experiences, but after this last trip, I’m going to do everything in my power to avoid this travelers’ hell-hole in the future. I flew out Monday morning, which is one of the most popular days for business travelers. That’s not necessarily a problem, as these types of travelers are experienced and jump through the check-in and security hoops with relative ease. However, PHL has recently made the genius decision to consolidate their security checkpoints in the various terminals down to a single checkpoint. Many airlines use this layout, but do so in buildings designed to handle that type of arrangement. The PHL terminals are like unique islands, without one main entry. None were intended to handle all the passenger traffic, so to force everyone go through one is pretty shortsighted. The space they chose, outside Terminal C, can only accommodate 3 scanners, and the inevitable line extends across a walkway back towards baggage claim at Gate C. To make matters worse, they decided it would be a great idea to break convention by redefining the security lines. Most airports have a separate, faster line for first class passengers and employees. Everyone else gets into a general line. PHL breaks up the “general” line into two subdivisions: “expert travelers” and “newbie/families” (my terms). The difference here? Absolutely none: anyone can get in either line. However the “expert” line layout is shorter, so it typically goes faster, but you can’t see that until you’re in line, since the expert one sneaks around back of the snaking, Disney-ride-like “newbie” line. I learned this the hard way. Let’s put this silliness in perspective: My destination, Denver International Airport (DEN), has a massive entrance atrium with no less than 12 security positions, and they separate the waiting lines into the usual “Employees/First Class” and “Everyone else.” I fail to see the efficiency improvement, how about you? Fast forward to my return flight, which was completely painless up until we landed on the tarmac at PHL, at which time the pilot told us that our gate was “occupied.” He put it best: “I don’t even know what to tell you about that, folks.” Anyone who’s flown anywhere other than PHL knows that this is a prime situation for a fancy technique called the “gate change.” We were slated to go into Gate C28, but I could see from my window that C27 and C29 were available. I’m pretty sure they can make the same observations from the control tower, seeing as how it’s, y’know, a tower. With huge transparent windows. Instead, we cruised the tarmac, past untold empty gates, for about 30 minutes. Again to put it in perspective, 30 minutes after my arrival in Denver, I was in the car, out of short term parking, and on on the highway with my sister. Oh, but they saved the best for last. If PHL is generally lackluster, they become out-and-out incompetent when it comes to baggage claim. Let’s start with the comparison up front: Denver had my bags on the carousel within 15 minutes, including oversized ski gear. And I had to take a tram to get to the baggage area. PHL made me wait 70 minutes for my bags. Let that one sink for a moment. Fun with math: My entire flight was 3.5 hours, or 210 minutes. That means my bags essentially “flew” an extra 1/3 of the flight I just finished. It seems almost non-sequitor to even mention the fact that the newly-installed LCD’s over each baggage carousel weren’t updating the flight numbers, instead showing flights from hours earlier. Hey guys, that fancy new technology is only cool if it’s actually working. Oggling flat screens simply because they are flat stopped being cool 5 years ago. It’s a damn shame that natural market forces are unable to correct this problem-child of an airport. In a sane world, PHL would be bankrupt and/or under new management. Instead, regulation and lack of competition have allowed this wreck of a business to limp along, disappointing passengers and providing a horrendous first impression to Philadelphia visitors. Between this place and Newark, an airport located in South Jersey or northern Delaware would do awesome business.

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