I spent far too much time in a number of different airports over the last few days, including a number of visits to the single worst airport in the United States: ATL, the Atlanta airport.
I was thinking about this in the context of our recent article on ongoing improvements to the Memphis Airport, a starkly different article in the New York Times today about delayed and canceled improvement projects at many other airports nationwide, and the steady and perhaps ominous (for Memphis, at least) replacement of Northwest Airlines signage with Delta signage that I saw during my trip.
Atlanta is the worst US airport I’ve ever used. It’s not for a lack of amenities: there appear to be a nearly unlimited range of dining, entertainment and retail options throughout the airport. The concourses are architecturally interesting. The high windows offer beautiful, panoramic views.
The problem is that I’m never able to use or enjoy any of these apparently wonderful options or features because, in Atlanta, I’m always sprinting from Concourse A to Concourse D, bag in tow, frantic because, as always, I’ve arrived late.
In all my years traveling, I’m not sure I’ve ever not been late arriving in Atlanta only to find that, after sprinting across the airport, my flight is delayed, be it an official delay that leaves you wandering around the gate hoping for some news or explanation of what’s going on, or the unofficial “we’re 19th in line to take off” delay that gets you in your seat on time but leaves you rolling across the tarmac at a somewhat sub-supersonic 2 MPH.
On one recent trip, the pilot actually announced, “It’ll take longer to get to the runway today than the flight itself will take.” I thought it was an expected but welcome bit of irony from the pilot. It wasn’t. I fell asleep on the plane, woke up thinking we must be in the air, but then realized we were still only number 3 for takeoff.
All this makes me hope that Memphis does in fact benefit from the Northwest/Delta merger by taking some flights from the obviously overburdened Atlanta airport. I’m sure Delta will make its decisions about cutbacks or expansions in service at the Memphis airport entirely on cost and profits, which is fine. But one has to think — or maybe it’s just hope — that all those delays in Atlanta must result in some sort of additional cost, some diminishment of profit, that could be addressed by utilizing Memphis more, not less.
Memphis is an imperfect airport — a number of truly surreal delays in getting luggage from baggage claim come to mind and the airport lacks the amenities and architectural grandeur that swept through so many airports over the last decades. But it’s a perfectly pleasant, thoroughly manageable airport that, for the time being at least, will get you anywhere you want to go. Let’s hope it stays that way — or even gets better.
Posted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, The Memphis News and Chandler Reports.