RANT: Airports Have Become Every Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Show Come To Life

Airports started out close to the city center but the need to expand for more travel and bigger jets, combined with NIMBYism of local residents, pushed airports out to the exurbs.

Entire cities built up around the commerce of the destination airport, from shopping to dining in newly planned communities. The aerotropolis was born.

But far from the futuristic vision of perfection, there’s a darker side. Sure you can go to the dentist, a chapel, or pharmacy at some airports. But they are also a lawless land much like every post-apocalyptic sci-fi show ever. They are Mad Max: The Road Warrior combined with Last Of Us, Jericho, and V, all rolled into one.

Chicago O’Hare

Washington Dulles

Frequent flyers may feel at home in the airport, anonymous amongst a sea of people and seeing order in the chaos.

But make no mistake there is chaos, as this rant describes: Civilization breaks down at the airport, it’s like a lawless 1800s border town. There’s price gouging, nine dollars for an Auntie Anne’s pretzel. TSA makes up rules and you have to do whatever they tell you to. Random people are lying down taking naps, and it’s worse if you’re stuck there overnight.

People are getting hammered at 7 a.m. at the Chili’s. And then they lose it as soon as their flight is delayed. They’re gate lice shoving women and children in line who have a better boarding group than they do.

And that’s before you stick these people next to each other, just inches apart from each other, inside of a metal tube hurtling at over 500 miles per hour for several hours at a time with nowhere to run.

Despite more law enforcement per square foot than almost anywhere on earth, they tend to be more interested in searching out drugs and confiscating cash from people who haven’t committed any crime (civil asset forfeiture) than protecting and serving. When you do need help response time is longer than dialing 911 in rural Idaho.

Airports are both order within the chaos and the breakdown of all civilization, rolled up into one. Just like in fictional sci-fi worlds there are people who manage to hold the group together, and groups where everyone is out for themselves. Pick your side, and don’t get eaten by zombies.

About Gary Leff

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. And yet you love it all, Gary. Because, without them, you would have nothing left to write about, lol.

    Welcome to the world you helped create. Crowded lounges, everyone can fly for free, and idiots across the world treating an airport like a local strip club.

  2. I’d borrow from a long-time observer of human behavior and say that the environment at an airport is not different from society as a whole, it’s exactly the same . . . but amplified.

  3. The TSA is the clogged toilet of travel, but you read accounts of ship loadings back to the ancient Greeks and they sound just as chaotic as today. Smaller in those days of course, but travel for all its excitement and adventure (and yes, you can still find that) remains for many people a stressful experience. You see films and pictures of the “golden age” of air travel the ’30s and everybody is dressed up and waited upon, but those trips were far more expensive and much less safe than today’s system. It’s a tradeoff like anything else, and if you’re lucky you get what you pay for. (But I still agree, in many places both the airlines and airports are lousy and for domestic flights I’d rather be someplace else.)

  4. I don’t think airports are that bad at all. Heck, even Newark is better, and that is saying a lot.

    As for price gouging, I see prices staying the same if not slightly lower because of the use of technology. PHL is a great example… ANYWHERE in the airport you can use a kiosk to get a drink in 2 minutes. And the food is decent.

    As for those people.pounding beers at 7am… Maybe they are afraid of flying? Maybe that’s their ritual? Or maybe they are celebrating the start of a well deserved vacation? In my experience, these people don’t start problems, they solve problems by being literally laid back, lol.

    I feel sorry for this reporter. I travel a lot, at least 2-3 times month, maybe not as much as some but more often then the average person.

    I don’t see problems, I see a Community, and more often then not, the community works it out.


  5. @Jon Gary barely travels at all anymore. Trip reports are random family vacations a few times a year. Most of the time he is speculating on things he hears and sensationalist things he loves to report on to keep the clicks coming. That was understandable during the height of Covid, but those days are over. Now it’s getting old and he believes that he can sit in is armchair at home and tell us all what it’s like out there. He is clueless. And you are right, it’s not as bad as he would like to tell everyone. It can be bad. But it’s not THIS bad.

  6. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to take this blog seriously. Not a good look for a “thought leader.”

  7. @stuart my segment and mileage totals are as high as ever, most of my trips are short and medium haul domestic (as they have always been) which mostly aren’t worth writing about. And what, am I gonna do a trip report on this week’s Hyatt Place? Or do you want *another* trip report on Park Hyatt Paris coming up or another report (I have done several) on Park Hyatt Sydney and Tokyo? I’ll be in Fiji though soon that may warrant it.

  8. You are not wrong. The larger hubs have gravitated toward the “mediocre American mall” vibe – with underwhelming chain food options, uninspiring designs, and filthy surfaces. While smaller airports near vacation destinations like Montrose in Colorado or any number of Caribbean outposts are completely insufficient for the volume of passengers. I was at Montrose recently and baggage retrieval was done in a torn up parking lot. Inside the airport was a mad-house around the only 2 “restaurants” onsite. It wasn’t surprising to see overpriced food, but the sheer mediocrity and basic options left the hundreds of patrons with choices you might expect at a high school track meet- a wrap, a pretzel or a hotdog.

    It isn’t necessarily Spirit, Frontier or Southwest fault – but the passenger volume they bring are putting pressure on smaller airports that were not designed for it

  9. Whatcha talking about, Willis? Flying through the airport now, massive clean new Terminal 3, price for coffee and big breakfast at a boutique coffee house $12, same as in town…

    Oh, wait- on a second reading, you are talking about American airports? I’m at the new terminal in Jakarta. Flew through Hanoi, Bangkok and of course Changi multiple times in the last couple of weeks- all very civilized, clean and well managed. Yeah, US airports are a shitshow- took me 45 minutes at LAX just to get around the circle to get dropped off at Bradley- reminded me of the worst Manila traffic.

    There must be some endemic issue as to why US airports are so bad. Maybe US is unfair- Heathrow and Frankfurt were taken over by the zombie apocalypse when I went through last summer… I think it’s a combination of nimbyism and greed- what’s the last major airport built in the US? Denver, over 20 years ago? US airport vendors get charged massive fees, which are just passed on in the pricing- someone’s ending up with a lot of money…

  10. For over 20 years i have taken 6 to 8 flights a month all over the world. Do Americans ever stop to think why their airports, staff there and airlines are so bad??

  11. How does this “rant ” address the problem?

    To quote Theodore Roosevelt:
    “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

  12. All this is sadly true but the worst part is the inconsistency. One day you go to the airport and everything is smooth and orderly with friendly TSA and gate agents and the next day you have rude agents, drunk passengers and all sorts of mess. Even at the same airports many times. You can’t plan on most of the problems or even delays. Thunderstorm in NYC, well your flight in Denver is delayed. You have TSA pre, well too bad get dumped into the regular lone where you didn’t plan to take out liquids and such.

  13. So Gary’s complaining that TSA isn’t intervening to stop a fight? I have a feeling that Gary would complain just as loudly if TSA did intervene, so it’s a win-win. Remember that TSA personnel at the airport aren’t cops. They don’t have any powers in that area, and the most they could do is make a citizen’s arrest like anyone else. They are not armed. They are not trained in arrests or use of force.

  14. My pet peeve of airport behavior: when people lining up to board a flight extend the line out into the concourse walkway, blocking traffic. All you have to do is bend the line a little to keep it out of the way, but people just don’t seem to notice or care that other passengers trying to get to other gates are having to fight their way through the scrum.

  15. @ Gary

    Maybe nobody cares about your total mileage or sectors.

    Mate, you could try staying at a different hotel when you revisit cities such as Sydney – there are hotels other than the Park Hyatt and Hyatt Regency…we know you are a rusted on Hyatt fanboy, but seriously, have you no curiosity about the new Fullerton, why folk like the Langham, the various new boutique hotels openings, etc.

    FWIW thankfully, I didn’t come across any issues whatsoever at the 13 airports (2xUS and 11xnon US) I’ve voted in the last couple of months.

  16. U.S. Airports are the last outpost of capitalism in a society fastly approaching post apocalyptic totalitarianism. I am on a restricted diet, but I count on the 75% morbidly obese Americans to spend on food and beverage to keep the airport bottom line afloat. Videoed fisticuffs keep TMZ and tabloid journalism profitable. TSA is a wardrobe malfunction melodrama. Precheck/Clear doesn’t matter in small airports or overseas. That, and I get respect because no matter what clothes I wear, I am better dressed than 99% of the passengers.

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