NEW YORK (
wanted help finding the ugliest airports in America, so we polled our readers.
It's safe to say that readers don't much like flying to and from New York City. The 5,718 folks who responded selected LaGuardia Airport as the ugliest airport with 24% of the votes, while Kennedy International was second with 17.5%. Moreover, in comments on two recent stories, several readers said they don't really care for Newark Liberty International, either.
In general, readers seem to agree with the six choices on the ballot we presented. We made that list with the help of comments on our earlier story,
The Four Most Beautiful U.S. Airport Terminals and included it in our survey,
What is the Ugliest Airport in the U.S.? We also spoke with sources in the industry.
We requested comments on other airports as well. In this regard, we awarded honorable mentions to Chicago Midway and Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport. "McCarran looks like it came right of the low-ceilinged, shag carpeted, wood-paneling '70s," a reader wrote.
We tried to stick with major airports because so many people are familiar with them. About 400 U.S. airports have scheduled service and we don't pretend to know something about all of them. Also, we fully realize that many airports have some ugly terminals and some beautiful ones -- Kennedy comes to mind.
When we say an airport is ugly, we mean cramped and dark and lacking vista views. We aren't referring to delays. Some airport critics want to factor in delays. But we can't blame airports for a 60-year old air traffic control system when Congress refuses to view an upgrade as an urgent matter, even though the upgrade would enhance safety, reduce fuel consumption and save time for millions of people, among other advantages.
In general, what makes airports ugly is that they are old and haven't raised the money to make improvements. We realize that airlines, which historically lose money, have to buy in because they typically fund the construction by paying fees. But ugly airports can always be fixed.
Here, then, are our picks for the five ugliest U.S. airports.
No. 5: Los Angeles International Airport
LAX received 14% of the votes. In the words of one frequent user, it was "built for a different time" and no doubt was attractive in that time. But the number of passengers kept growing. The space required for security kept growing. The airport did not keep growing, although it now seems to be trying to catch up.
LAX has nine terminals including an international terminal, which is currently undergoing a $1.5 billion expansion. Some terminals appear old and decrepit. Commented one reader, "most of LAX is like a Turkish prison."
Another reader claims to have "noticed mushrooms growing out of the ceiling" in an underground airport passageway.
Because it is one of the principal U.S. gateways, LAX is only
becoming more important given the increasing cooperation within the three global alliances and the increasing competition between them. So improvements are badly needed.
No. 4: Philadelphia International Airport
Philadelphia, which received 16.4% of the votes, is the only airport on this list where a single carrier operates a major hub. Typically, at such an airport, cooperation between the hub carrier and the airport is close, and constant improvement seems easier to maintain.
PHL has seven terminal buildings. Concourse A West, opened in 2003 as the international terminal, is generally applauded. As one reader commented, "In Philadelphia,
International A terminal is gorgeous, but walk over to the domestic side and one truly does wonder if
he is at the same airport."
In Terminals B and C, the principal US Airways domestic terminals, the carrier spent several million dollars in 2006 to upgrade its gate areas. It painted them, added new seats and lights and enhanced the display boards. Now, a $117 million improvement project is planned in Terminal F, which is occupied by regional carriers. "We're happy to call Philadelphia home," said US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr.
Nevertheless, step out of the gate areas in B and C and elsewhere, and the corridors are old and narrow and wholly inadequate for the heavy passenger traffic. Terminal E, used by
, is similarly inadequate for the amount of passenger traffic.
No. 3: Lambert-St. Louis International Airport
Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is old and cramped, but rich in history, and is currently undergoing a major renovation.
The airport's sad appearance reflects the disappearance of
, which once operated its principal hub here. A little over a decade ago, the airport served more than 30 million passengers annually. In 2009, the number was 12.8 million. Because its surcharges are spread over fewer flights, the airport has less ability to raise capital. Southwest is now the leading carrier at STL.
Still, the airport said that the ongoing $70 million improvement project is "the largest interior renovation in its history." Airport spokesman Jeff Lea said Lambert "is one of the most significant airports as far as architectural history in the country, a forerunner of modern terminal airports like JFK and Charles deGaulle." The designer was Minoru Yamasaki, who later designed the World Trade Center.
Lea added: "Your survey isn't very scientific: You offered limited choices (after) pre-choosing which airports were the worst."
The other airports chose not to respond to requests for comments. We should also mention that one reader of our most beautiful airports story commented: "Another nice one is St. Louis, with the Spirit of St. Louis replica hanging from the ceiling." Lambert Field received 16.5% of the votes.
No. 2: Kennedy International Airport
At Kennedy, two of the terminals, occupied by
, made our most beautiful list.
But the terminal occupied by
, considered to be gorgeous when it was occupied decades ago by
Pan American World Airways
, makes the ugly list. JFK received 17.5% of the votes in our poll.
The disdain for its terminal is not news to Delta, which plans
a $1.3 billion renovation. As one reader commented, "the Delta terminal at JFK is an embarrassment for the largest carrier." Another said Delta's JFK terminal is "hands down" the ugliest. "They are hamstrung by an incredibly inefficient operation from the passenger point of view, and the terminals, alleys and passenger spaces are largely to blame. T4 can't come soon enough!"
No. 1: LaGuardia Airport
LaGuardia was clearly built for a different time, and it is easily the winner in our ugliest poll, with 1,385 votes or 24% of the total. But like most airports, it has nice areas and horrible ones.
"I don't think one can say, with any degree of accuracy, that this or that airport is the worst because for the most part it all depends on where one's particular airline is on the airport and in what terminal," one reader commented. "At New York LaGuardia, take American's old terminal and compare it to the relatively new Delta/NWA terminal." This reader added: "Let's not forget
own C Terminal compared to their horrid A Terminal in Newark."
Said another reader, "LGA is the worst by far,
with ancient facilities. ... They need to knock the whole thing down and start over." That's a big challenge, with 23 million passengers using the airport each year.
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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