Flying has its obvious advantages and drawbacks but there’s probably one aspect of air travel that all passengers equally abhor: delays.
Airports are one of the least enjoyable places to spend hours on end with strangers, children and over-anxious travelers. According to FlightStats, a company that provides statistics on airline performance, major international airlines arrived within 15 minutes of their scheduled time at an average rate of 75.8% in June, down from 80.7% in May. North American airlines were on time 73.6% of the time in June versus 79.9% in May. The Honolulu International Airport (HNL) was the No. 1 airport in North America in the on-time departure category at 86.3%.
Greg Lindsay, author, transportation expert and frequent flier, says delays can be an enjoyable experience -- but it all depends on the airport. Lindsay, who flies three weeks out of every four, knows a thing or two about airports: in 2005 he lived in more than a dozen of them as part of a journalism assignment for Ad Age. Airports are “really, really lonely” places, he says; yet they can offer unique and refreshing respites. For instance, at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), travelers can wait out flight delays at the Aviation Museum & Library, which offers free exhibits and educational programs about the airline industry. What’s also cool: the museum lobby resembles a passenger waiting room from the 1930s. Lindsay says the food court at United’s San Francisco terminal may be the airport’s biggest draw: vendors serve locally sourced and prepared delicacies, a locavore’s dream.
“You hope you can get laid over in San Francisco,” he quips.
American Airlines’ (AAMRQ) terminal at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has also been described as a food lover’s paradise, with a wide selection of Tex-Mex and Cuban cuisine. And the newly updated terminal also has lots of play areas for children, a major plus for harried parents.
Lindsay strongly suggests that travelers facing long delays should splurge for a day pass at one of the airline clubs or lounges. For $25 or $50, individuals have access to free Wi-Fi, drinks, snacks, “humane” bathrooms and peace of mind, he notes.
“Airlines’ once exclusive clubs are now totally open for business,” he notes. “It’s well worth it to get off the main floor.”
Delta’s sky clubs at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) are Lindsay’s favorite airport lounges. Delta’s (DAL) JFK club recently opened after a four-year, $1.4 billion renovation and travelers may never want to leave it: six shower suites, a relaxation room, 400 seats, more than 50 workspaces, views of New York City and an outdoor terrace. (A new survey by research firm CoreBrand named Delta as the least-respected brand in business; Coca-Cola and Pepsi tied for first).
As for the worst airports to get delayed at, Lindsay immediately thinks of two: Kansas City International Airport (MCI) – “it was designed in a different era… the departure is tiny, cramped and really horrible” – and Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (ORD) – “some parts are mired in 1975 and you can smell the cheese popcorn in the hall.”
Remarkably, Lindsay says he doesn't have one horrible delay story despite all the time he’s spent in airports. But as an experienced flier, he knows how to avoid delays when possible.
“The worst airport to be delayed at is anywhere on the East Coast in the summer,” he says. “If you fly after 3pm, you deserve what you get.”
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