The Worst Airport in the World

I haven’t been to every airport in the world, and I’ve had good and bad experiences just about everywhere, but let me just cast my vote for Miami International as being THE worst airport in the world. Superlative? Hyperbole? Nothing like an irritating experience with luggage tugging at your neck and arm to make a mountain of a mole hill, but this might be more like making an Everest of a Kilimanjaro. 32.5 million travelers passed through here in 2006. Woe be to the connecting flights.

Granted Miami has been undergoing renovations and expansion since the dawn of flight, but the current project was originally set for completion in 2005 but will now be (possibly) complete in 2011.

As I fly in from Chicago I am sitting with crossed fingers, all of them on each hand, and crossed ankles: PLEASE let me arrive and depart from the same terminal! If you have ever walked from D or E terminal to the other end of A terminal you know the drill. Consider exiting security and taking a taxi to the other end which seems about one mile closer than Disneyland (that’s in Orlando, in case you are new to the planet).

The flight attendant alerts me that I am arriving in Terminal A. (Great!!) Moments later my ears prick up at the announcement of my final destination…. Terminal… (an interminable pause)… D, like a Death verdict. As expected, when everyone is unbuckling their seat belts and reaching for the overhead bins — even as we are warned to stay seated until the seat belt light is turned off — the two people between me and the aisle decide 2.5 hours wasn’t enough time to review the inflight magazine and safety instructions, and they settle into their seats to wait for the aisle to clear a bit. I check the time. 45 minutes to get to my connecting flight. I stand with my head bent at an angle under the overhead bin so that the virtuously patient passengers become uncomfortable and decide to move to the aisle and let me out rather than risk witnessing a head coming off.

We shuffle along like a line at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles until finally I make the jetway where no one who is not actually worried about a connecting flight is thoughtful enough to step to the right for the gasping passengers about to embark on the full tour of Miami International.

I head into the terminal and consult a map. It appears as though there is a moving walkway now. I am positively gleeful. I follow some arrows that point up to the mezzanine and I take the escalator there only to find the Admiral Club lounge. And windows looking down on the terminal below… and across to what appears to be the walkway. So I — and a steady stream of other bewildered travelers — head right back down the escalator to the main floor. I look up at the other side wondering how to get up there. A crowd of rubberneckers forms behind me at the bottom of the red herring escalator. Down the terminal in the distance is another escalator and I head for it at a half run. Up we all go and sure enough there’s the moving walkway… on the other side of a glass wall extending back beyond where we had started. Several of us drop our bags to the floor and plant both hands and face to the glass, staring with forlorn faces like kids at a candy store window. Travelers are whisked past, reading magazines, chatting on cell phones, smiling on their way to a beach somewhere perhaps. I’m checking the time again wondering if I will have time to grab food on my trek to D or even if I will make the connection at all. What if I get tired? Start to cramp up? Wear out a shoe???

I gather my carry-ons and continue along the glass, casting hateful scowls at the Forbidden Walkway riders. Then I descend another escalator and am resigned to hoof it halfway to Cleveland, following a drab corridor that bends and twists like a cardboard rat maze with a sign or two about halfway along the journey that says “next terminal 15 minutes.” Not next train or tram or bus. Next Terminal.

I pass a couple feeding their infant in a stroller in a dim corner of the passageway. I imagine finding someone bedding down for the night for the second half of Miami’s version of the Inca Trail. To make a long ordeal short, I arrived as the last groups were boarding. No doubt I was less than fresh and suddenly regretted not having packed an extra shirt in my carry-on. Five days later, I’d be sure to do so.

(Want a laugh? Read the summary of the Miami terminals and see if it doesn’t sound like customer service instructions on how to get an actual human being on the line.)

Got other contestants for Worst Airport in the World? I’d like to hear them. Email me or post a comment!

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