Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How I spent a lifetime at JFK’s Terminal 3

A trip is often about the journey and not the des- tination, and sometimes the journey is just plain awful. That certainly sums up at least part of my getting from here to there and back during my most recent journey to Israel.

Finding a pigeon resting inside an airport terminal isn't
all that usual; that is of course unless you're travelling
through JFK in New York.
As often as not, the entire traveling experience is an adventure for me. Truth to tell, there’s no question that air travel has become onerous in recent years. But with the proper attitude and the right drugs the lines and delays, security checkpoints and pat downs all become, ah, fun and funny, part of some sort of cosmic joke.

But the joke this time around was pretty much on me after I managed to pull together a travel itinerary that had me spending close to 16 hours – eight hours going and eight hours on my return – at New York’s JFK International, one of the worst airports in the country.

Not that long ago I could have flown directly from my little corner of the world to Israel. For some yet unexplainable reason Delta, my hometown airline that sloganizes it’ll always be ready when I am, canceled its one daily flight from the Land of Cotton to Tel Aviv. Go figure!
So to get from here to way over there I had to travel through at least one other airport. New York seemed the logical choice. Unfortunately, the two flights offered up on Delta’s website when I started finalizing my plans came with challenges.

One flight only allowed me 90 minutes to make my connection. The other fell at the opposite end of the waiting spectrum, offering up a whopping eight hour delay in the Big Apple. Making my way back home came with pretty much the same challenges – dash and pray or cool my heels at JFK; say that just right and it sort of rhymes. That said, there was nothing pretty or poetic about my decision!
I came down on the side of caution, worrying that if there was any kind of delay – bad weather, bald tires, drunken pilots or deranged flight attendants – I’d miss my connecting flight and then have to wait, ahhh, many extra hours in New York. Okay, I know I ended up waiting many extra hours. But at least that was part of my plan!

And it would have been okay if JFK wasn’t a seedy little rat hole, filled with the devil’s spawn who work as ticket agents, baggage handlers, security guards and fast food clerks and cashiers. Apparently I’m not the only passenger in the last year who has taken note of the disaster called Terminal 3.

A little background and context might be helpful. JFK began life in the early 1940s when the city of New York began filling in the marshy tidelands of Idlewild Golf Course. Initial plans were to create a modest airport of about 1,000 acres. But by the time construction was complete, Idlewild Airport had grown to five times the original size.
Commercial flights began in 1948. Today, John F. Kennedy International Airport – it was renamed in memory of the nation’s thirty-fifth president in 1963, a little over a year after JFK was assassinated – is the nation’s leading international gateway, with more than 80 airlines operating from its gates.  

Unfortunately, city and airport officials have paid little attention to the mega-airport in recent years and apparently haven’t noticed that the world is moving at warp speed now that we’ve entered the twenty-first Century. JFK is difficult to fly into; it’s a jarring blend of terminals, pieced together with dismal walkways and miles of sidewalks. Buses, mini-vans and light rail will move you about from place to place; but service is often slow and sporadic.
Most of the terminals are suffering from neglect, real fixer-uppers with holes in the roofs, water stains spilling across the walls, broken tiles, ratty carpeting and birds flying about. The folks at Frommers.com have taken note. They ranked JFK’s Terminal 3 as the worst in the world.

"Terminal 3 is known for endless immigration lines in a dank basement, an utter lack of food and shopping options and three crowded and confusing entry points,” Frommers.com said. "There's also a sense that the cleaning crew gave up in despair a while ago."
I’m thinking Frommers got it right. Oh, did I mention that it was Terminal 3 where I spent 15 of the 16 hours waiting at JFK? In short, a lifetime!

1 comment:

  1. A bit about the "once glorious" Pan AM Terminal:

    Designed by Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, the 1960 Terminal 3 is famous for its flying saucer–like shape and rooftop parking, and for receiving the Beatles for their historic arrival in America, though a 1972 expansion has marred its original character and led to numerous complaints about it being the worst of JFK’s eight terminals. The Port Authority and Delta insist the building is beyond repair, arguing that its replacement with taxiways and plane parking will improve efficiency at JFK, by some measures the most congested airport in the world.

    John Morris Dixon, the former editor of Progressive Architecture, said he remembers Pan Am’s Terminal 3 fondly, from when he wrote about it for the magazine when it first opened. “You had this great statement, this canopy, with the planes nuzzling in beneath it,” he said. “But it was outdated almost immediately” due to the trend toward ever larger planes. He agrees that the 1972 addition has made the terminal “miserable,” akin to what Robert Moses did to Penn Station, and noted that mounting a case for its salvation will be difficult.

    Retrieved from: http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=4762