Here’s a short list of U.S. Airports that stand out in my mind for good or bad. Obviously, this is my opinion based on my own personal experiences. If you have anything to add, please join the party and leave your own airport review in the comment section.
Favorite Airport: Jacksonville, Florida. This airport is small, clean, bright, and friendly and it has the cutest tiny little escalators you’ve ever seen. It’s easy to navigate, and there are similar amenities at each end plus a small food court in the middle. There’s a spa where you can get a quick chair massage or get your nails done, and you can buy a new purse at Brighton or a suit at Brooks Brothers. TSA has always been friendly here. Even when security was tight and they dusted me for gunpowder and disassembled the battery-operated candle that my mother gave me as a gift, they couldn’t have been more pleasant. My only complaint about Jacksonville is those messy bathroom sinks — it’s one big slab that is always covered with water, and you can’t get too close or set anything down. If you want to pre-arrange transportation, I recommend Airport Shuttle of St. Augustine. I’ve used them several times, and they are extremely punctual.
Cutest Airport: Santa Barbara, California. This Spanish-style red-tiled roof airport fits right into the rest of Santa Barbara’s decorating theme of everything looking absolutely perfect. It’s small, easy-to-navigate, and food is decent for an airport. The price of a taxi from this airport is astounding, so be prepared. I paid over $60 + tip to go 14 miles.
Worst Airport: I’m going with LAX in Los Angeles. It’s just such a huge disappointment. Knowing that celebrities fly in and out of here every day, I expected this airport to be really nice, but it’s grimy, ugly, depressing, crowded, and noisy, especially if you’re flying domestic out of the terminals that serve American or United. The food options in those terminals are slim pickings and very expensive for the junk you get. I’ve always hated how the TSA at LAX would start yelling at us the very minute we entered the airport. By the time I got through security I was a wreck after being constantly yelled at to hurry up, do this, do that. They would just bark at everyone, and it was so unpleasant. Even in the pre-check line where things tend to be more calm, they still unnerved me by yelling at every passenger for no reason. “Put your bag on the belt! Don’t take your shoes off!” Well, duh. However, on my most recent flight, there was a noticeable attitude change from TSA at LAX, and this made a huge difference. They were calm, and therefore passengers were calm. Imagine that…
Longest Security Lines: Miami. There are about a bazillion people in this airport at all times, so give yourself plenty of time to go through security. Confusion reigns, and TSA agents seem short on patience as they try to corral the crowds. This is also the one airport where I’ve seen a lot of people who don’t seem to understand why everyone is standing in line. They just march right past hundreds of people and squeeze in toward the front.
Worst Customer Service: Dulles International. For me, this is the most annoying airport. First, you have to dodge narrowly spaced cement barriers to enter the airport (they must have forgotten that most people need to bring luggage to the airport). Then, even if you’ve checked in online, you stand in an enormous line with everyone who hasn’t checked in to get your luggage tag. Most kiosks either don’t work or are too confusing for the people trying to operate them, so the line doesn’t move, and there are very few employees available to help the poor confounded people. Finally, after nervously checking your watch a million times, it’s your turn and you get a luggage tag. But they give your “checked” bag back to you and make you drag it back through the crowds and walk all the way to the end of the airport to bring it to the checked-luggage security point, despite the fact that there’s an empty baggage carousel running along right behind the employees. Thanks to Dulles, I feel like I’ve won the lottery every time an airline takes my bag off the scale and puts it on the belt. Before you even get to security, you’re exhausted. On top of that, I’ve received an unusual number of pat-downs at Dulles. I started to get a complex and became fanatical about not wearing anything that would set off the alarms — no jewelry, no zippers or any other metal, no bulky clothes, only sports bras that had no hardware whatsoever — and still, whether I went through the naked detector or the regular one, I would have to get a pat-down. I’m not done yet: Upon landing, you have to take either a bizarre “people-mover” or a train AND walk for what seems like miles to get to baggage claim. Up and down escalator after escalator and then a long hallway and then another escalator. It makes me so grateful for my health, yet worried about how others might be struggling. And for my last complaint about Dulles, I experienced an unbelievably egregious situation with a cleaning woman in the bathroom. It’s too weird to get into, but I got photographic evidence (including the name on her badge) and sent the photos along with my written complaint. I assumed she’d be fired, but the next time I flew out of Dulles, there she was again. That’s it. Whew … I have a lot of stuff built up about Dulles Airport!
Best Dining Experience: Terminal 5, JFK. This terminal has several pretty good options for a sit-down meal. We were salivating as we walked past La Vie and saw what appeared to be real restaurant-quality food on people’s plates, but we assumed we didn’t have enough time. The maitre d’ noticed our longing and approached us with promises that we’d be out in plenty of time for our flight. We had a delicious dinner of perfectly cooked salmon and asparagus with a glass of really good wine and elegant service. As promised, it came out fast and we had a little oasis of civility smack in the middle of JFK, which made all the rest of it better. Other options are 5iveSteak, AeroNuova, Piquillo, and Deep Blue.
Mixed Bag: Washington National. It seems to me that check-in at this airport is often a disaster, but security is usually a breeze. The best food choices are outside security; otherwise the airport is pretty easy to navigate.
Chillest Vibe: Denver. I’m pretty tuned in to energy, and as soon as I walked through the gate I noticed a totally different airport vibe here. People are seriously relaxed. No one seemed to be in a hurry. I’d even say people were lolly-gagging. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the legalization of marijuana, but the marked calmness was pretty refreshing!
Most Comfortable Airport: San Francisco. With as many people who travel in and out of here, they do a good job of spreading people out and providing small conversation pods for 2 or 4 people throughout the airport, so everyone doesn’t have to be crammed up at a noisy gate. There’s a pretty view too. The bathrooms in the domestic terminal have large stalls with two hooks and a shelf. It was as if they knew people might have bags with them at the airport! (The international terminal had smaller stalls, one hook, and a shelf, so even though it was hard to wheel my carry-on in there, I appreciated the hook and shelf.) One complaint: Too much carpeting makes it hard to roll luggage.
Scariest Airport Train: Houston International. First of all, this airport is just plain confusing. It is a large, international airport, but if you have to take the train that runs between Terminals A, B, and C, you won’t even believe what awaits you. A rinky-dink rickety little train shows up that looks like it came from the Haunted Mansion ride before Disney decided to go with the big chair cars. There are two, two-person seats that face each other in each car, so you are uncomfortably close to whoever else is in there. It’s also dark inside. And then it takes off — well, “takes-off” sounds like it goes fast — it just sort of starts shaking along the rail. So you’re in a dark, rickety car with what might possibly be a madman just two feet away from you, careening around this little circular track and feeling like you are about to be taken to your doom — or to the Haunted Mansion.