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Avoid Kona and Frankfurt Airports
Copyright © 2009, 2012. 2015, 2017 by David E. Ross
In a half-century of flying on business or personal trips, I have flown from, through, and into 29 airports:
AMS Schiphol (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
BUD Ferihegy International (Budapest, Hungary)
BUR Bob Hope (Burbank, USA)
BWI Baltimore/Washington International (Baltimore, USA)
CDG Charles de Gaulle International Airport (Paris France)
DEN Denver International (old location) (Denver, USA)
DFW Dallas/Fort Worth International (between Dallas and Fort Worth, USA)
ELP El Paso International (El Paso, USA)
FRA Frankfurt (Frankfurt/Main, Germany)
HNL Honolulu International (Honolulu, USA)
IAD Washington Dulles International (Washington, USA)
ITO Hilo International (Hilo, USA)
KOA Kona International Airport (Kona, USA).
LAX Los Angeles International (Los Angeles, USA)
LGW London Gatwick (London, UK)
MRS Marseille Provence (Marseille, France)
MUC Franz Josef Strauss (Munich, Germany)
OAK Oakland International (Oakland, USA)
OGG Kahului (Maui, USA)
ORD Chicago O'Hare International (Chicago, USA)
PHL Philadelphia International (Philadelphia, USA)
PHX Sky Harbor International (Phoenix, USA)
SFO San Francisco International (San Francisco, USA)
SJC Mineta San Jose International (San Jose, USA)
YEG Edmonton International (Edmonton, Canada)
YUL Trudeau International (Montreal, Canada)
YXE Diefenbaker International (Saskatoon, Canada)
YYC Calgary International (Calgary, Canada)
YYZ Pearson International (Toronto, Canada)
One airport stood out, however, for poor design and passenger service — Kona International Airport (KOA). Returning from a week in Maui, my wife and I changed planes at KOA, which is located on the west coast of the big island of Hawaii (USA). With a long layover, we had plenty of time to study KOA and all its deficiencies.
- As with many airports, the road past the terminals is a one-way loop road. All directional signs are oriented towards vehicles driving by. Passengers walking opposite the flow of cars from one terminal to another have to pass a sign and then turn back to read it. Terminals have no signs oriented towards persons who are walking.
- Because of our long layover, we could not immediately check our luggage (a federal rule). Thus, we could not immediately go through terminal security. There are no seats outside security. We had to sit on a low rock wall, rough and very uncomfortable.
- The only eating facility outside terminal security was across the street. Think of a lunch wagon, the type sometimes called a "roach coach". This so-called restaurant did not meet that standard.
- When we finally checked-in and our luggage tagged for our flight, our luggage was then returned to us. We had to carry our luggage to the federal inspectors. At all other airports, the airlines handle this.
- After clearing terminal security, we went to the one restaurant within the terminal. Think of McDonald's. This restaurant did not meet that standard.
- Being in the tropics but with refreshing trade winds, the terminals are roofed but without any walls. Flies are annoying and even aggressive. (I saw no flies on Maui.)
- KOA is an international airport, with service to various other places in the Pacific, including French Polynesia. Neither the airport itself nor the airlines are prepared to deal with foreign travelers who do not speak English. A woman from France who spoke little English could not get any help from airport and airline employees. She had to plead with other travelers for assistance.
- Within the terminals, gate numbers are not visible until you are at the gate. There are no directional signs indicating where gates might be found.
- Travelers to the mainland of the U.S. must have their luggage inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prevent the transport of insects and other pests. There are actually two inspections: one for checked luggage (to-be-checked luggage) before you check-in at the ticket counter and one for carry-on luggage at the boarding gate. The inspection station for carry-on luggage does not open until shortly before boarding begins, which means the line for inspection is longer than the line for boarding.
When I told my wife that KOA is the "arm pit of airports", she smiled and agreed. In the future, we might change planes in Hilo (ITO) or Honolulu (HNL). We will never fly from, through, or into Kona (KOA) again.
5 March 2009
For different reasons, Frankfurt Airport (Rhein-Main-Flughafen, (FRA), Frankfurt, Germany) might be placed only one step above Kona. Flying from Los Angeles (LAX) to Budapest (BUD), my wife and I had to change planes — both for the same airline, Lufthansa — at Frankfurt.
The plane from LAX landed at a different terminal than the plane to BUD. This meant we had to go through security a second time, having already cleared security at LAX. The lines at security were very long, and four security stations were closed. This meant standing in line for at least a half-hour before we reached a security station.
After clearing security, we entered the terminal for our connecting flight at gate #1. The concourse was approximately a mile long, and we needed gate #38. After walking about 15 minutes, we flagged down an electric cart, which sped us along but still required another 5 minutes to reach our gate.
Because of the delay at security and the long walk to the gate, the plane delayed take-off for 10 minutes to allow passengers to board. Even then, some passengers were left behind because they could not reach the plane in time to board.
Several things were quite wrong, the fault of FRA and not the airline:
- All international flights for a given airline should use the same terminal, avoiding the need for passengers repeat the security inspection to which they were subject at the start of their trips.
- When there are lines at security, all security stations should be operating. No passenger should miss a flight because it took too long to pass through security.
- There is no excuse for having a very long concourse in an airport. LAX does not have this, Franz Josef Strauss ((MUC) Munich, Germany) does not have this. Schiphol ((AMS) Amsterdam, The Netherlands) does not have this.
If your trip involves boarding a plane or changing flights in Europe, avoid Frankfurt (FRA).
18 July 2012
Updated 13 May 2017
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