The Most Amazing Landing I’ve Ever Seen and How to Really Fix New York Airports

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Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The suggestion that New York’s airports are bad is because they are government managed is nonsense. The article to which you refer is an ideological screed with little hard evidence.

    Crappy facilities at JFK? Complaints should be directed at the privately run airlines, who own or run the terminals.

    LaGuardia is a disgrace? Yes, but given the capacity issues, and the airlines who rush to fly there, the problems are much more significant than just the Port Authority. And although you, Gary, don’t think their re-build plan is a good one, the complaints about the leaky terminals and lousy facilities will likely stop. Isn’t that the primary complaint?

    “Just build another runway” to increase capacity, like those other airports? Well, people actually live near LaGuardia. They have a say, too.

    Just like Heathrow? Wow, no thanks. In any way, shape or form. Maybe we should look at their privatized model. Excellent value for all, if you like paying ridiculous fees for a remote gate. I guess we can use the Heathrow Express as an example of such an arrangement. Oh, wait, no.

    Hong Kong? Well, that airport was built to bankrupt the Chinese, pre-handover. Is that a model we want to replicate?

    Or maybe we do! It’s government run, in entirety, and pretty well run, too!

    How about Sydney, that model of privatization that led to…shopping malls on the way to the gate, a gate that isn’t signposted because they’d rather you get lost in the duty free area? Overpriced meals? Or parking and taxi fees that cost the same amount as a mortgage payment?

    Bankrupt San Juan is paying “lower fees for a much better airport?” Oooh, let’s follow their model in the largest city in the United States. Why would it be different?

    There are many reasons why these airports are in the shape that they are. But please, don’t tell me that privatization or a public private partnership will solve New York’s infrastructure problem.

    When someone can show me a defined negative economic impact, and explain to me how it can be arrested, I’ll pay attention – especially if it’s about delays, which actually DO have an impact.

    But better shopping? Nicer lounges? Please. We have more pressing problems in this country.

  2. Better shopping is one of Governor Cuomo’s priorities, but truth is that the high end retail is how he gets private companies to pay for the renovations, since he’s selling them the future income stream off rents and a percentage of retail sales.

    You’ve got to admit that having the government, and the same government agency, operate all 3 major airports is a bad idea that eliminates competition.

  3. Honestly, exit controls don’t have to be a hassle. I’m thinking of places like Korea, where airport security provides a natural buffer to ensure that people aren’t fed into immigration for exit control faster than capacity — I’ve rarely waited more than 5 minutes after clearing security. The much bigger and more expensive issue with the US, of course, is re-configuring land border traffic (something like 4x the people cross the land border versus international airport traffic). If we hadn’t so thoroughly destroyed diplomatic relations with our neighbors, they might be more amenable to combined entry/exit clearance.

    My guess is that the twice-yearly reports on progress the EO requires will simply say, “still no money to rebuild border stations.”

  4. I’d say the JFK/LGA mess *are* caused by them being government-run. Run by incompetence & greed with no accountability whatsoever. Just look at the current David Samson fiasco. Sure, Samson got dragged into court, but no jail time, no repayments of bribes, etc.

    JFK’s always filthy when I’m there. Even T5 when it was new had the Port Authority-assigned union cleaners who’d walk right past spills and dirt on the floor and keep pushing their carts while texting on their phones. Look at the state of the old WorldPort before its demise! Tarps with pipes everywhere. C’mon now, it’s not THAT difficult to patch a roof. That’s just flat-out neglect.

    I’ve seen similar incompetence elsewhere, like an airport in Florida wherein they installed WALL tile as floor tile throughout the entire airport. It only took a few months before the tiles started to crack and they had to take up 500,000+ sq ft of tile and replace it with proper floor-rated tile.

    Could all of this happen in the private sector? Sure. But someone’s getting sacked for screwing it up and taxpayers aren’t holding the bag for the screwups.

    I like Gary’s idea — each of the 3 NYC airports should be run by different agencies, at least as far as the terminals go. A little competition could be a good thing.

  5. @Andy: We already have exit controls for land borders in place — you better believe CBSA, CBP, and the Mexican equivalent all share info between each other. When you leave the USA and enter Canada, you’ll only talk to a Canadian CBSA officer, but you better believe the US is made aware of your exit. The CBSA woman was able to see when I entered and left Canada, despite Canada not having exit controls.

    What’s always surprised me is how easy/lax land border crossings are vs. air travel. Yes, CBSA still thinks any Americans between the ages of 18 and 40 are there to steal their jobs & abuse their free healthcare, but it’s nowhere near as onerous as entering Canada by air. The last time I crossed the border, I even made fun of this saying, “Hello, I love Canada and hockey, but I’m not here to take a job or use your healthcare” as I handed over my passport. It worked as the usual grilling didn’t happen.

  6. (Insert comment about how closing LGA and relocating all traffic to JFK and EWR would massively clean up NYC airspace and reduce a huge number of flight delays not just locally but all over the country.)

  7. My $0.02:
    On top of the previous comments, I would like to add the horrible traffic congestion to/from JFK during rush-hour.
    It takes over 1 hour from JFK to Midtown/Flatiron District.
    Sometimes I take the LIRR train then Air Train. But the experience is still horrible compared to the Airport Express in Hong Kong (25 min from Central to the airport for about $13 one-way).

    We need a *fast* direct ground transportation from Manhattan to JFK.

  8. Most of the critical comments above have nothing to do with government management of the airports; again, the terminals at JFK are privately owned or managed, and while some people desire to have an express train into Manhattan, the reality is it’s just not of major interest to the public OR private sectors.

    I am much more interested in the idea of having some competition at the airports (and Gary’s suggestion that they be managed by different entities); but it begs the question: what will competition bring us? Maybe lower landing fees (and possibly more congestion); maybe better terminal facilities at Newark. But a new runway? Fewer delays? An express train to Manhattan? Competition won’t fix these issues.

    Keep in mind that all three airports are connected by public transport (I know that it’s not ideal, but it works, and if you really don’t want to spend $75 and 90 minutes in a car, these other options are all available and functional – I use them, and so does every local I know). These airports rarely use remote gates (unlike LHR, AMS, HKG); you rarely have to wait more than a few minutes for gate on arrival (I’m looking at you, SYD); and in most cases, a combination of Global Entry, MBP, and other options keep immigration lines shorter than in BKK, CDG, or almost anywhere else.

    The problems exist; I’m just not convinced that any will be solved by privatization OR competition.

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