Top 10 Worst US Airports
May 13, 2009

busyairports.jpgI spent the better part of the last three years of my life on airplanes and in airports. No really. For like three years straight I was on a plane almost every month (and multiple times a month) of the year. Some of it was business. Some of it was pleasure. All of it was annoying. Is it even possible to travel anywhere on earth anymore without suffering major annoyance at the hands of TSA? Maybe outer space? Nope. Even there you have people monitoring your bowel movements with biomedical censors.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those people who has issues with airplanes or airports in general. I'll hop on a plane in a heartbeat and with no trepidations. My parents made sure that by the time I was 12, I'd already racked up a couple hundred thousand miles. I used to thoroughly enjoy airports and the experience of flying.

Unfortunately, traveling is no longer the bliss it was once was. Post September 11th travel is an entirely different breed full of gratuitous hoops we're forced to jump through to sell us the idea that somehow flying is safer now than it's ever been so we will continue to buy plane tickets. Government, I'm on to you. As much as I'd like to think I have my airport navigation skills down to a science, there are some airports in this country that manage to mess up everything for everyone time after time. In my travels over the last few years, I put together my list of worst US airports just for kicks. I wrote this list one day when I was bored on the plane (which obviously means I was NOT flying Jet Blue at the time). Best airline ever. When I say "worse" I mean I truly DESPISE these airports and make all attempts not to fly in, out of, or through any of them. Enjoy!:

  1. ATL (Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport): Most people don't know that this is the busiest airport in the United States. Yes, it's even busier than blessed Chicago O'hare. I hate the fact that there are two entirely separate terminals at this airport in addition to the fact that you feel like you are walking FOREVER to get anywhere. The airport is freakishly huge. And if you're catching a plane from ATL don't even think about trying to get to the airport at the very last minute. It will not go well for you. Lastly, because ATL is such a hub, there is a much higher chance you will get stuck in Atlanta if something goes wrong weather-wise. Random fact: On two particularly bad experiences at ATL, I ran into Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King, III.
  2. ORD (Chicago O'Hare International Airport): Honestly, if it weren't for the umpteen delays, weather challenges and the fact that flying through Chicago means you have a 97% chance you will have a delay, I actually wouldn't mind O'Hare. As far as size and layout, it's not the worst ever. As far as reliability is concerned though, it earns an F. I avoid flying through O'hare like the plague. I'd even pay more money and layover in the cornfields of Iowa to avoid it. Also, the food courts are really really bad.
  3. IAD (Dulles International Airport): Dulles just plain sucks. It's far off the beaten path of anything near D.C., Virginia, or Maryland. It's a pain in the butt to get to, and they have this horrible tram, shuttle thing that is something out of 1965 to get you from one terminal to the next. The last time I flew into Dulles I swore I never would again. So far I've kept that promise. The DMV area has three major airports to choose from. Fly to/from Dulles as a last resort. Incidentally, DCA (Reagan National Airport) ranks on my list of top airports.
  4. PHL (Philadelphia International Airport): This airport has two main problems. One, it's overcrowded and desperately in need of a remodel. Like literally there are more flights coming in and departing than there are gates to park planes. It's a disaster and leads to inevitable delays. Two, it's the U.S. Airways hub. Need I say more? U.S. Airways is horrible on so many levels, I need not count the ways.
  5. LAX (Los Angeles International Airport): It's in L.A. Need I say more?
  6. JFK (John F. Kennedy International Airport): I'm not even sure if this place should be called an airport. Most days, it feels like Beirut on a really bad day. A series of endless outdoor construction projects combined with the fact that it's the convergence zone known as New York City just make it a nightmare. But hey, if it's your final destination, the breeze you get walking the streets of Manhattan can dry your tears. I will brave JFK anyday to get to the Big Apple. I love me some New York City.
  7. MIA (Miami International Airport): Flying into or through this airport is like a culture clash of epic proportions. Hanging out in the International terminal is pure comedy. Being that it's on the coast, MIA is wrought with vacationers coming and going to their choice Carribean or Mexican destination. It's just entirely too high traffic for me. High propensity for flight delays too.
  8. LAS (Las Vegas McCarran Airport): Las Vegas' airport might not be on a lot of other people lists, but it makes mine! It's not necessarily an airport known for massive delays, congestion or poor design. It makes my list because it's just plain sad. Am I the only person who finds it really sad to see slot machines along the walls of the airport as soon as you get off the plane? Besides the slot machines, LAS is a really old airport that needs some updating. All the restaurants look pathetic. Even the fine folks who work there look miserable. LAS is an airport that thoroughly depresses me every time. Thumbs down.
  9. SJC (Mineta San Jose International Airport): For starters, I can't believe this airport has the nerve to call itself "international" but whatever, I get why. This is probably an unlikely pick for most. Few people have even flown into SJC and usually opt for SFO. I thought about giving the 9th slot to Houston Bush International or St. Louis's airport, but I wanted to show that even small airports can be crappy too. SJC is just a poor excuse for an airport all around. Bad design, old building, nasty bathrooms, and horrendous parking lot. When you're that small, there really is no reason to be terrible.
  10. SEA (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport): This list is not complete without adding my home airport. Seattle is on many lists as having one of the best airports. I don't see it! This airport was my literal home away from home for two years and I still can't stand the place. Seattle's airport has been under construction in some way, shape or form for oh, the last 15 or so years. Honestly, it's never-ending. On any random day it can be totally packed and understaffed. The congestion has no rhyme or reason. One day getting through security is a breeze, the next day it takes 2.5 hours. I tried to figure out a pattern but it's hopeless. I find O'Hare to be far more consistent than Seattle. Seattle does have a good food court. But that's about it.
Later this week I'll also write up my opinion on the best US airports. I'm interested to hear what airports you hate! Writing about airport hatred is cathartic. It's addicting. Did I miss any?

Finally, I would like to link to one of my favorite most hilarious essays written about a bad TSA experience (warning: some bad language, but well worth a read): My Penis May Be a Terrorist (from the blog "Witt and Wisdom")

(Image courtesy of Forbes magazine)

Posted by Ambra at May 13, 2009 1:45 AM in Lists
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I will give Seattle-Tacoma International Airport this: the food court is really good. But I agree with you that overall it gets a failing grade, because security wait times are just plain ridiculous. You'd think that the reason they built 40 security lanes was to speed things up, but for some reason they refuse to staff them! Dumb. And really annoying. Half the time when I am flying out of Seattle, I don't have time to enjoy the wonderful food court, because I just spent 45 minutes waiting in the security line! (BTW, the panini sandwiches at the Italian deli next to Ivars...out.of.this.world with yumminess).

Very good list, but of course, I have some differences. I travel for a living (sales).
ATL - I like ATL. Its big, but I make my flights 90% of the time. PERFECT for people watching.
CVG - I've met the most "celebs" there. The son from Orange County, Lynn Swann, Juan Williams, plenty of NCAA coaches, etc.
SEA is an alright airport and I can think of others that are worse.
DTW - Sucks. Especially during its remodel a couple years back. There was no seating in this one terminal at all.
AGS - How this even qualifies as an airport beats me. 3 gates. 3 gates. And they handle Masters traffic.
Hobby- Sucks. Must...drive...to...IAH.


Yes, O'Hare (one of the two main airports in my hometown) is a hot mess. Unless I absolutely MUST go through O'Hare, I fly out of Midway and keep my insanity. However, Midway is starting to aggravate me too as it can take forever to go through security there.

I experienced Dulles for the first time last summer. I will not make that mistake again.

JFK airport is a zoo, even worse when you're coming from an international flight as I did upon my return from Brazil once.

Las Vegas Airport...they have the slot machines along the wall now? When I was there a decade ago for a conference, I don't think we travelled 15 feet coming off our flight and BAM the slots were in the MIDDLE of the airport floor.

i'm surprised you didn't mention Ithaca ;-)

ATL has been very good to me, and I've traveled through there a lot! Sucks that you had a bad experience with it.

Btw have you flown through Indianapolis lately? Great new airport there!

@Waqas

Ithaca does not qualify as an airport. It's more like....a community center. Seriously though, it's not so bad, it's just really really podunk.

I've not been through Indianapolis in 2009. I'll have to check it out. That city sucks big time so the best thing going for them might be their airport (and the ubiquitous presence of Cracker Barrel).

Also, you Atlanta people are biased.

Aw man, you missed your chance!
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