A fine JFK mess

Tonight I went with the flow in a reminder of how exasperating US air travel is for most travelers, and wondered if it is even possible to fix JFK.

Yesterday I flew into JFK for the second time this week and 22 hours later was back to depart again. I got out of work with enough buffer ride the A train/AirTrain combo, arriving at Terminal 3 an hour prior to departure. I sauntered over to Terminal 3 to see a security guard close up the entrance, blocking passengers but unable to hinder a hot-tempered Delta agent returning from break.

The security guard in near panic tried to calm confused and frustrated passengers. He had no idea why the entrance was to be closed, no security issue, perhaps due to crowding. Some passengers really freaked out at his instructions to go the alternate entrance, so he kindly rode the elevator down and point the route, which is familiar to AirTrain riders as the route from Terminal 2/3 international arrivals to the AirTrain. Over the river and through the dale…people struggling under their luggage.

JFK Terminal 3 alternate departures

Searching for departures

The departures area was mayhem and no Delta agent stationed for Sky Priority, so it was a free-for-all. I slipped into the ropped-off line with no one noticing, but a few minutes later some desperate passengers late for flights pulled the rope down and a flood of people went to Sky Priority, starting arguments with people in the general security line. Still no Delta agent. The TSA agent screening IDs just shook his head in frustration and started down people trying to push past.

My flight was at a bus gate, never fun, though boarding started early and the gate agents managed the confusion pretty well. Boarding was completed in time for departure, then the captain got on the PA, “We have some bad news. We have some equipment behind us and because of our remote location, no one is willing to come move it.” An hour later we were in line for takeoff. With the schedule padding we will just be a few minutes behind schedule and for all appearances it will be a well-run flight.

I fly NY airports enough that this was quite unremarkable to me, worth a few smiles and knowing looks to other frequent flyers. Yet I think to the recent WSJ article discussing Delta’s plan to dominate NY through LGA and JFK, turning LGA into a hub, an act seemingly of folly. Connecting with anything less than 2-3 hours at such a hub would be running tremendous risk. Delta hopes its new JFK Terminal 4 and LGA expansion will change things, but is there a point in organizations where it is simply not possible to significantly improve? LGA and JFK have been such mediocrity for so long, how do you begin to change the culture?

Well, gotta’ go, landing soon and now they are looking for a medical professional to help a sick passenger…just keep smiling, I tell myself, I am doing this for the fun I have when I land.

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  • aptraveler

    A nice reminder, on how it’s important to keep cool and collected when faced with adverse situations. Hopefully folks will remember this when the holidays roll by!