JFK Headaches Point to Inefficient Infrastructure

by Matt Ball on October 1, 2007

My trip to Berlin unfortunately passed through JFK Airport on both legs of the flight. On the outbound through Kennedy, I sat in a plane on the tarmack for three hours due to a runway shift that clogged the on and off ramps. On the return, I was shuttled down a maze of hallways for customs entry and waited nearly an hour for my bags, almost missing my connecting flight. On both routes my checked luggage missed the flights and needed to be delivered to me because of this airport’s bungling.

The aging infrastructure of Kennedy, particularly for Delta Airlines, is visible everywhere you look. From peeling paint, to sagging ceiling tiles, to some decorative elements actually zip-tied together rather than fixed. It felt like I’d arrived in a third-world country rather than the financial capital of the world.

When I finally got home I had to look into this to understand how this facility fell into such disrepair. After some searching online I discovered that a major renovation took place at the international Terminal 4 at this airport back in 2001, to much acclaim. Terminal 8 where I landed is scheduled to be torn down and will be replaced with a brand-new terminal.

I was gratified to learn that this was the case, but I’m mystified that this facility would fall into such disrepair before anything was done. Or that the rebuild didn’t include some budget for upkeep during the transition. Leaking roofs, stained carpets and decrepit surroundings are unacceptable regardless of rebuild in my mind.

Having traveled quite a bit through the years, I’ve got to say that New York and Los Angeles represent the bleakest examples of any airports that I’ve encountered. That they’re also in the country’s most populated cities and are among the busiest hubs makes sense, given the complex infrastructure that’s shoe-horned in with little room for expansion.

The creation of an offshore island to house a new airport in either of these markets, like Hong Kong did in the late 90s, doesn’t seem like such an outlandish proposal. In the case of New York, perhaps you could combine both airports in Queens, JFK and LaGuardia. Starting fresh can provide vast improvements on efficiency that don’t take long to pay back.

New York citizens aren’t ones to suffer in silence, and have recently forced the creation of Airline Passenger Bill of Rights. I understand the need for this consumer protection, but also question how the facility, which is much more responsible than individual airlines, gets off so lightly in the criticism.

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