In my first year as a Road Warrior Glenn Fincher and I were I were in the Rental Car Shuttle heading to the terminal at Charlotte International Airport. It had been another successful delivery, and except for the fact that he threatened to leave me at the diner where we had breakfast unless I ate grits, it was a very successful week and one that led to a casual friendship with a respected colleague. There was a woman on the shuttle with us who proclaimed for all to hear that ‘…this has to be the absolute worst airport in these United States.’ Glenn and I looked at each other and smiled… he had a lot more miles under his belt than I did, but I wasn’t quite new. I suspect we were both thinking the same thing. ‘Then I suppose you’ve never flown out of Chicago O’Hare?’ I asked. ‘Oh dear Lord no… I have but never traveled north of the Mason Dixon Line… I am a true southerner!’
In the seven years or so since that interaction my horizons have expanded greatly. I have traveled a lot more extensively, across six continents. Let’s just say that I have come to appreciate O’Hare, for having seen much worse airports.
Saturday afternoon I flew in from Seattle, Washington. Now I should mention that of the myriad airports around the world, I have a real appreciation for SeaTac… especially after the recent renovations that have made it even better organized, and even more efficient. It truly is a well planned and run airport. As I waited at the baggage terminal I heard two younger gentlemen talking next to me, complaining about how long it was going to take our bags to come out. I was the first passenger off our plane to arrive at the carrousel, and I had not been waiting more than three minutes. ‘Don’t make any plans, we might be here a while. This is absolutely the worst airport I have ever been to, especially with regard to baggage handling.’
I looked at them for and smirked. ‘You’ve never been to Bogota, have you?’ Of course the answer was no.
I thought back to the day that I got off the plane in Colombia. I had been in transit for what felt like a hundred hours, and because it was the first leg of three weeks in South and Central America I had the appropriate amount of fresh clothes, not to mention my personal laptop and my Mobile Datacentre – two 17” HP laptops that ran my servers, along with the switches, cables, and power adaptors. I was standing at the appropriate baggage carrousel and somehow came to discover that the man standing next to me and I shared a common language. We struck up a conversation in Hebrew, but he told me that even while we were chatting to keep an eye on the carrousel. ‘If your bags go around once and you don’t grab it, they take it off the carrousel in the back… immediately. You might get it back later… once they have rifled through your things and decided what they like and what they don’t.’ Nearly an hour later when my luggage finally came through (in one piece) I was relieved… and thanked my Israeli friend who was still waiting for his.
I do not remember the exact story of what happened when I got off the plane in Sao Paolo (Brazil), but I do remember that it took close to two hours to get out of the airport from the time I got off the plane until I was in line for a taxi… and that was just after midnight local time. I got into my hotel room at 2:45am.
Toronto’s Pearson International Airport (YYZ) has its good days and its bad, and I am not saying that it is perfect… believe me, far from it. But when we call something out we should put it into perspective. I understand why these guys were badmouthing the service there… I have done it too. But how bad is it really? Probably somewhere in the middle of the pack. For years I badmouthed Vancouver International – in the years leading up to the Olympic Games there is was a disastrous madhouse. Now? Much better. Is O’Hare really as bad as some of us say it is? It is certainly a madhouse, and compared to the busiest airport in the country (Atlanta) it is a bit disorganized, but it also has a lot more snow days that does Hartsfield-Jackson would.
What those airports have going for it, Toronto does not. YYZ is the home base (and hub) of a single major carrier – Air Canada. No other airport calls it home. Sure, it is the entry port to Canada for a lot of people and goods, but for an airport as singularly important as it is it does not get a great deal of respect. Important how? According to Wikipedia it is the world’s 35th busiest airport by total passenger traffic, 23rd busiest by international traffic, and 18th busiest by total flights. For those of us in the IT industry, imagine a company of ten people being tasked with running Microsoft IT. They do the best with what they have, and sometimes they succeed and sometimes they do not. Yes, I have gotten off a long flight and waited 45 minutes for my bag to come out… on the wrong carrousel.
…Not bad for an airport that was never meant to be the main hub of Canada – when it was originally planned it was Montreal that was Canada’s primary airport.
Can Pearson improve? Sure. Can we all? Probably. Is it good enough? I think so. Would I be happy paying $20 more per flight for that improvement? No. I really do think that they do a pretty good job… even though you do hear me complain about it from time to time.