If you think you have gripes about air travel these days, consider the pilots and flight crews who deal with extreme delays and harried passengers every time they go to work. We asked one pilot, a first officer with a major U.S. airline for 19 years and counting, to dish exclusively to AOL Travel which airports he most dreads. Read on for which one has the rudest passengers, and which one he would rather shove sticks in his eyes than call it his home base.
1. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
I hate flying into any of the New York airports because air traffic delays are miserable. All three airports in the Tri-State area handle a massive volume of planes. JFK. LaGuardia. Newark. And Newark, for me, is the worst. Even on a nice clear day you can run into a two-hour air traffic delay taking off. Everyone coming up through the east coast, say from Florida, gets funneled through the same pipelines and split off into different airports. It’s a traffic jam. That’s all it is. You can guarantee it. And with this new three-hour rule, where passengers can’t be stuck on a plane for more than three hours, our airline and most others won’t even board people if they know the flight has an estimated departure time two hours out. We get assigned an expected departure clearance time — when the wheels are up — and if it’s more than two hours out, we won’t board. It’s air traffic, it’s ground traffic, it’s everything — there are just always a lot of airplanes on the ground and in the air. And Newark was never meant for the volume of traffic that comes and goes there. No airport was really meant for that. So I avoid it like the plague. I’m pretty senior with my airline, so if I don’t have to fly a route that’s going there if I don’t want to.
Anything that has to do with me and being on an airplane full of children is just a nightmare. And pretty much any route to Orlando — doesn’t matter where it’s coming from — is going to be full of kids because of Disney World. We’ve had kids on airplanes who are all excited about where they are going, they’ve got coloring books with the characters, and the next thing you know they are drawing on the walls of the airplane. And the parents? They just let them do it. They say, “Oh, but he’s so excited to be going to Disney World.” It’s quite obnoxious. And the parents are in some ways more to blame than the kids. They will feed them sugary snacks and get them all hyper, then the kids have to sit in a seat for three hours. So they bang the seat in front of them, pull the tray table, repeatedly press the call button. We hear about it from the crew. It’s not a lot of fun for them. And sometimes I’m back there flying with the passengers, too, when I have to commute to and from Orlando from New York or something. I’ll find myself in the middle seat between two kids, and it’s an awful way to start the day. I’ve had the option to be based in Orlando if I wanted to, but I would rather shove sticks in my eyes that commute to and from that airport every week.
3. Charlotte Douglas Airport (CLT)
Charlotte is just another air traffic control mess, especially in the afternoons. I avoid stops in Charlotte as much as possible. It’s US Airways’ biggest hub, and all airports that are a big hub run into delays from time to time. But Charlotte is just one of those airports that always seems to be delayed. There have been trips I could have opted to fly, but I saw that they had a Charlotte turn at the end of the day, so I turned them down. Even on good weather days-or perfect weather days — it doesn’t matter. Especially in the afternoon, coming and going from Charlotte, chances are I’m going to be facing a delay. No thank you. I’ll opt for a route that takes me elsewhere instead.
4. Palm Beach International Airport (PBI)
West Palm Beach’s airport is the home of the entitled passenger. We’ve had flight attendants be told “I don’t talk to the help.” We’ll have passengers who don’t feel like they should have to walk through the airport, so out of 100 passengers, at least 25 of them will request wheelchairs. And then by the time the plane lands, of course, a good percentage of them just up and walk off. They are unbelievably demanding. They’ll ask for a soda from a flight attendant then put it in their bag and immediately demand another one. They’ll walk off the plane with six or seven drinks and a pile of snacks in their bag. And if you’re delayed, you can be sure you’ll hear some smart comments. They expect to be on time regardless of everything else that might be happening on any given day. One time, we were delayed arriving at PBI from another flight, and we walked past the passengers to board the plane and one actually said to us, “Glad you could join us.” As if we were sitting around the crew lounge and just didn’t feel like being on time. These people are unbelievable. I can pretty much keep the cockpit door closed and not have to deal with it except for the flight attendants coming up and being enraged because the passengers are so rude. Events like these happen a good 80 percent of the time at PBI. It doesn’t make for the greatest day of flying.
Atlanta is another heavily delayed airport, but the problems I have with it go beyond that. The terminals are pretty much circa 1950s. They are slightly cramped and there’s not a lot of room for people to move around. It seems like not a lot has been updated. If you compare a brand new terminal like Terminal Five at JFK to Atlanta, Terminal Five is like checking into a five star hotel and Atlanta’s airport is like one of those pay-by-the-hour motels. I’ve traveled through on a few different airlines and all the terminals I’ve seen are pretty bad. And the delays in Atlanta compound the negative experience. There are busy airports where things run fairly smoothly (Chicago O’Hare, for example). But Atlanta is a high-tension environment. It’s one of the most highly trafficked airports in the world. And even on a good weather day, you run into delays.