Airports Aim for Terminals To Ease the Wait

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As federal officials and airline work to reduce airport delays around the country, the poor passenger might as well get used to them. Airports are trying to design terminals that aren't such bad places to hang around in for a few hours.

: Expect continued delays and waits at the airport. Some cities have tried to upgrade their facilities and make the wait less painful, but can you ever really enjoy the airport?

We intentionally left NPR's Robert Smith at the newest terminal at JFK in New York and he sent this audio postcard.

ROBERT SMITH: So I have about four hours to kill at JFK, which normally wouldn't be a problem. I'm at the beautiful new American Airlines terminal 8, big soaring architecture, giant windows, lots of amenities. But there is one challenge.

CLARA: Daddy.

SMITH: That is my 1-year-old daughter Clara and they - oh, she actually kind likes the airport. But it gets old after a while. The good thing about being with Clara is that she's entertaining all of the people here at Gate 41 where the flight is already delayed for hours. Then I go back to see our friend here.

SCOTT: My name's Scott.

SARAH LEVY: Sarah Levy.

SCOTT: We're sitting here waiting. We've been here for five and a half hours already. Just laying down and I got a bad headache. I'm trying to relax. I'm drinking as much beer as possible.

SMITH: Can it ever be an enjoyable experience to be at the airport? Can they add enough amenities, comfortable seats, or is it just tolerable?

SCOTT; I think it could be more enjoyable. I think if there was better quality food, more seating.

LEVY: No, it will never be enjoyable having to wait at the airport. You always have to wait.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPORT ANNOUNCEMENT)

SMITH: Okay. We are well into our second hour and I think we've been up and down this concourse like 10 times. So I'm going to call Marco Lopez, who writes the airport survival guide blog on Farecast.com.

MARCO LOPEZ: Your main priority is to definitely plan ahead. Check out what's in the terminal, if there are any toy stores available, if there are any - a kid's playground available.

SMITH: Yeah, but it seems that stuff only works for just a few minutes, no matter how many Starbucks and bookstores and massage parlors. It just seems like staying at the airport is inevitably this dreaded experience.

LOPEZ: You know, I think it's because you see yourself as having to do it. It's not really something where, you know, you're going to a place and you're choosing to sit there for three hours of relaxation. I mean you - people go to the park to relax and sit there for three hours and remain calm. You can't really do anything about a delay so take advantage of the time.

SMITH: Thanks, Marco. I appreciate it.

LOPEZ: You're welcome.

SMITH: The good thing about pacing the airport with a kid is at least you get sympathetic looks from other parents.

STEFAN MOSS: Stefan Moss from Mountain View, California.

ANDREA: I'm Andrea and this is Sebastian. You want to say I'm Sebastian?

SEBASTIAN: Sebastian.

SMITH: You know the amazing thing is this is a - pretty much a brand new terminal and it's supposed to be state-of-the-art everything, but you know, after the first hour of being here, that doesn't matter at all.

ANDREA: Yeah.

MOSS: That's right. I mean the food's maybe been upgraded a little bit here. But you're right, at the end of the day, everything's the same when you're delayed. It doesn't matter what it looks like. It's the same old seats you have to sit in. And for him, it's just a matter of at least there's more space to run around. That's the only thing I can say that's a plus.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING CHILD)

SMITH: When things get desperate in our floor, we can always go to the moving walkway, which is kind of a like an amusement park ride for a kid. There's this video art on the wall and you can see a giant bear, a sumo wrestler moving back and forth. All of our friends from the San Francisco flight have left so there's pretty much nobody left here in the terminal. And Clara's almost asleep so I could finally read that magazine I brought.

Robert Smith, NPR News, JFK Airport Terminal 8.

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