JD Powers, the consumer survey people, recently reported that Philadelphia International Airport’s customer ratings for terminal facilities, food, retail, and other amenities improved slightly in the past year.
The Curmudgeon would like to know what the people who participated in that survey were smoking.
Philadelphia’s airport is a throwback (and yes, The Curmudgeon would like to throw it back): the people who run it do so as if 9/11 never happened.
The Curmudgeon isn’t much of a flyer, but he’s found the TSA staff to be far surlier and the security set-up to be far worse in Philadelphia than at any of the other airports he’s visited. Need to undergo a security check before you fly? Your wait will be interminable.
Retail? Food? They’re only for passengers. If you’re at Philadelphia’s airport to pick up a passenger – something The Curmudgeon finds himself doing with some frequency these days because Mrs. Curmudgeon does some traveling for both work and family – the only food you can get is out of a vending machine. All of the food establishments are on the terminal side of the airport and off limits to those without a ticket.
Rest rooms? At some terminals, if nature calls while you’re waiting for a passenger, well, good luck. You may need to go to a lower level to find a rest room.
A place to sit while waiting for someone? In some areas there may be a few seats, but it’s strictly first come, first served. The Curmudgeon has learned from experience that if you’re picking up someone at their terminal, you need to be prepared to take a seat on the ground.
Parking at the terminal for less than an hour? You can do that on the ground level rather than driving up through the parking garage but you have to know how to do that because there are no signs. Nada one. And once you leave that garage you’ll find signs pointing you to the exit to be few and far between and poorly lit. You’ll also have to drive through several adjoining garages.
Looking to see which carousel will eventually spit out your luggage? Good luck with that: in some terminals there’s no directory and you have to walk by the luggage carousels until you find the one for your flight.
The road signs leaving the airport are awful – and poorly lit. If you need to take I-95, odds are about 50-50 that you’ll see whether the next exit is for heading north or south in time to pick the right one. The last time he dropped off Mrs. Curmudgeon at the airport The Curmudgeon took a magical mystery tour through southwest Philadelphia and may even have momentarily crossed into the next county.
The same survey rates Orlando’s airport as the most passenger-friendly “mega-airport” in the country. So what’s Orlando’s secret? The Philadelphia Inquirer explains.
Orlando, which handles 44 million air travelers, was rated best among “mega” airports, those with 32.5 million or more passengers. What sets Orlando apart? The airport uses sign technology to tell passengers how long TSA waits are. During TSA crush times when lines are long, the airport administration, “the people in suits and ties, come down to help direct traffic through the TSA,” Taylor said.
Orlando moved baggage drop-off from the curb to inside, so families with young children can drop off luggage and not carry it through security. “It’s an application of new technology and old-fashioned ‘what do our passengers need?’ ” he said.
In the “large” airport category, among the top-rated facilities are the airports in Tampa and Orange County, California. For a guy who doesn’t fly much and avoids doing so whenever possible, The Curmudgeon knows those airports well: he’s flow into and out of Tampa probably 30 times and at least ten times into and out of John Wayne Airport, in Orange County. Both have the same problem as Philadelphia’s airport, with limited food and beverage access for those without tickets, but Tampa’s airport is a pleasure. In those and other airports through which The Curmudgeon has passed, the people who run them clearly aren’t holding their breath and waiting until security checks go away. They’ve updated their airports to the new reality with ample seating, rest rooms, access to refreshments, better signs, more customer-friendly security systems, and more. Philadelphia recently unveiled a renovated terminal and while the carpets may be fresh and the graffiti gone from the bathroom stalls, none of these improvements were introduced: it’s just the same old/same old airport, unfriendly to users and pretty much guaranteed to get your trip off to an unpleasant start or end it on a sour note.
The folks in Orlando get it right by asking their passengers what they want. They exhibit a service-oriented, customer-focused approach. Maybe someday the folks in Philadelphia will care enough about their passengers to do the same.
But The Curmudgeon isn’t holding his breath.