JFK Airport Hassles: Why I Now Call JFK The New Laguardia Lite

JFK Airport hassles
Written by Terry Gardner

Travel editor Terry Gardner flies from Heathrow to LAX and somehow finds herself in a JFK airport nightmare. Never again, she says. Here’s why. Commentary.

aNewDomainterry-gardner-anewdomain — Three things are unavoidable in life: death, taxes and connecting flights. Typically you encounter these unavoidables in reverse order, but some connections are actually worse than death.

I had to connect through JFK in New York City recently. And let me just say: Never again.

You’d think JFK airport would be a great place for a layover. Um, no.

You’d think the JFK airport would be an awesome layover spot. So wrong. In fact, terminal three (where I fly into) is ranked as one of the worst in the world.

I found out the hard way. You see, I knew Virgin Atlantic flies nonstop between the UK (Heathrow) to LA (LAX). So when my friend booked my flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to the UK, I never expected I’d be on a connecting flight that passed through JFK airport. So many airlines fly nonstop to LAX that I just assumed my flight home would be nonstop.

Yes, it’s true that when you assume one makes an ass out of you and me. Man, how I hate it when my brother is right.

Anyway, I braced myself for the pain of connecting. I saw I was connecting through JFK and thought, how bad could it be?

Now usually, JFK and I get along just fine. JFK always scores higher on airport polls than Laguardia, you know. But after my experience coming back from Heathrow on Virgin, JFK Airport now is Laguardia Lite to me. Here’s why.

You’ve arrived at JFK Airport. Enjoy! Hope you like tarmac.

JFK airport hassles: On the tarmac

My Virgin Atlantic flight was  swell. And because no passengers were next to me, I was able to stretch out across three seats and actually sleep for a couple of hours.

But there was no welcome, warm or otherwise, from JFK.

We were stuck on the tarmac for about half an hour waiting for our gate.

First you get nickel and dimed by the JFK Airtrain

I love the JFK Airtrain, but its $5 fare has always is steep compared to the good and affordable public transit that other major destinations offer.

It costs $2.25 to ride the “L” into Chicago from  O’Hare and Midway. Boston actually welcomes visitors to town with a free ride from Logan Airport on the  Silver Line express bus to South Station.

Next time I can’t fly nonstop from London, I think I’ll try to connect with a one-night layover in Boston or Chicago.

The endless JFK customs line.

And then, when we finally got off, I saw the Customs line. A sign advised that the wait was one hour for international travelers.

Luckily I have Global Entry so I headed over to find five kiosks were available. Whew. But wait: I didn’t press hard enough on the fingerprint reader so my form printed out with a giant X on it.

So then I had to go see a Customs officer anyway because now he needed to look me over. I should’ve taken all this as some kind of macabre sign. But I didn’t.

Not yet.

Bend over if you want a Smarte Carte.

JFK Airport Smarte Carte ripoffThen I zipped over to the luggage carousel.

The only downside about Global Entry is you wind up standing around at the luggage carousel. Typically I do carry on only, but this time, for various reasons, I had to claim a checked bag. Oh, joy.

Well, my bag arrived at JFK within about 25 minutes after landing, so I won’t gripe JFK’s luggage handling.

But OMG:  if you want a cart to haul your luggage out to recheck it or grab a cab into the city, the Big Apple will take a bite out of you:

Welcome to New York, now bend over if you want a smaht caht …

The cost of a Smarte Carte at JFK is six dollar. Six dollars! I kid you not.

Really, JFK?  How can you allow this?

Almost every other international airport now offers complimentary cart rental to international passengers. Even LAX offers you free Smarte Cartes in its Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT).  And TBIT now offers great shopping and food options, too.

Um, how can you almost miss your connection during a two-hour layover?

Good question.

JFK Airport HasslesThere were long lines to recheck my bag for my connecting flight to LAX, but at least the line moved quickly. Plus the airline made frequent announcements to help guide passengers to the recheck area. That was cool.

But my JFK experience was miserable nonetheless.

I mean, I had a two-hour layover. But after waiting on the tarmac and waiting for customs and luggage, then racing across the terminal to my Delta gate, I got to the gate only to find that my flight was already boarding. It’s true I did make one error while I was racing to the gate. Weird signage and a loudspeaker announcement suggested I needed to change terminals to fly to LAX,and I didn’t realize I was still in the same terminal until after I got on the Airtrain.

My fault was in believing the signs and announcements. But please. This is JFK, people. I expect better.

I travel a ton. But I’ll give no second chances to JFK. Next time I’ll connect through somewhere else. Anywhere else. So long, JFK.

For aNewDomain, I’m Terry Gardner.

Cover image: By pheezy (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Inside images: Terry Gardner for aNewDomain.