Are airports trying to kill their customers?

by Christopher Elliott on October 20, 2008

Airports are trying to kill their passengers. I came to that unlikely conclusion after spending a quiet afternoon at Continental Airlines’ “C” terminal in Houston.

As I sat at Gate 36, waiting for my flight back to Orlando, I had an epiphany. They want us all dead.

You call that food? Sure, there are restaurants here. But they might as well open a gun store in the C terminal. Because for those of us who are trying to eat healthy, there are almost no options. There’s a barbecue place, a burger joint, and a place that serves deep-fried chicken. Just writing those words is enough to stop my heart.

Dangerous golf carts. You know what I’m talking about. These courtesy shuttles that zip between the gates, clipping the occasional passengers along the way. An intelligently-designed terminal would either be a) more compact, so that people didn’t need to walk miles from gate to concourse or b) offer some form of train or moving sidewalk. The golf carts must go.

Where are the power plugs? I see several passengers with open laptops and PDAs, but not a single plug. Either the battery manufacturers paid them to not install enough plugs, or they just don’t care. You don’t have to be an airline expert to know the answer.

No free Wi-Fi. The Boingo signal is coming in loud and clear. It wants to charge me for something that forward-looking airports have recognized passengers want for free. After all, we pay a Passenger Facility Charge. Can’t that include the cost of a wireless network? Yes, it can.

I suppose it could be worse. Before smoking was banned in the late 80s, we had to breathe second-hand carcinogens while dodging these murderous buggies while sustaining ourselves on artery-clogging fast food. No one cared about plugs and Wi-Fi was just a dream.

But I also think it could be a whole lot better. Free the Wi-Fi, add power plugs. (Hey Houston, if you want to know how it’s done, visit my home airport of Orlando.) And for goodness sakes, lose the golf carts. Find a better way.

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  • Ron G

    Ahh, come on Chris, the airports aren’t that bad….. They have our best interests at heart. The carts are there to increase our agility. The Olympics are looking into making cart dodging a new olympic sport.

    And lets not forget the aerobic workout we get when the airline reshuffles our gates and our connection is leaving from gate C-139 when we land at gate A24….with a 45 minute connection time and a delayed arrival of the incoming flight.

    As for the power, who really wants something like that? If my phone dies, I cannot be bothered by those pesky customers who only want to take more of my time. Same goes for wifi. If it costs money and my accounting department will question the bill, why bother? Those emails are almost as pesky as those phone calls.

    And about the food…..sorry, the jokes been on us for years, I can’t add anything funny there.

    Ron

  • James Falsedo

    Chirs, I agree for the most part. At LAX however, there are plenty of power stations. Yes, sometimes you have to wait, when the airport is really full, but usually, if you need to charge your cell phone, etc. you can find one. I’m sure it does vary from airport to airport, at the same time.

  • Karen

    Maybe the choice of food options is just another way for them to get more money out of us in that if we weigh too much we have to pay for an extra seat.

    And, yes, I hate those carts, too, At least have a designated lane down the middle of the aisles.

  • http://www.adamnroberts.org Adam Roberts

    It’s nice to see this in writing for once!

    I lived and worked at IAH for 2 years and have nearly been maimed by the cart drivers on more than one occasion. You’re right. Without those carts it’s a loooong haul between C and E. Now you have to worry about the Houston Police Department on their Segways. I think this is a recent addition because I haven’t seen one until only this year.

    Many lunch meetings were held at the Pappadeuxs in Terminal E. If it’s not deep-fried, covered in gravy, or been boiled in butter, it’s not “real” food. But hey, it’s the “Texas way”. Live large or live somewhere else.

    We played a game wherein we counted all the people huddled around the outlets near the Presidents Club “borrowing” the leaking WiFi. Things would get nasty sometimes; poised in anticipation of someone leaving their spot so the next person can pounce.

    You’re right. Put in a salad bar and run an extension cord. Anything would be better.

  • Jim

    I understand the carts for the disabled, but why do they have to go faster than the flow of (pedestrian) traffic? It is the difference in speed, combined with being silent, that causes accidents. Put a 2 mph governor on them and they’ll cease to be a hazard.

    Terminals should be designed with carts in mind if they’re going to be used frequently. I’d love to see a cart-only path that can be cleared in the event of a real emergency to get someone out of a terminal quickly.

    PS. I know the answer to my question is to garner bigger tips. I just consider it unreasonable to jeopardize my safety for someone else’s wallet.

  • Jo

    I buy a healthy meal (salad, sandwich or burrito) the day before flying and bring it with me to the airport. I save money and eat healthy too.

  • Deb

    Try having special dietary needs (whether for health or religious reasons) while traveling! I say, let’s all of us with religious food prohibitions sue the airlines and airpots for discrimination! For exmple, Continental throughs nasty little meat sandwiches at domestic travelers but doesn’t allow those of us who can’t eat them to order something acceptable or give us a food voucher instead. (I always pack a spare PBJ, banana, and crackers just in case.) I know where I can get religiously appropriate food that is not hi carb at most airports where I travel….unfortunately DTW, my current home base, is the WORST for food…..makes the Texas places look like heaven. And as far as lack of internet access is concerned, I am all for it. It gives me a GREAT excuse to zone out for a little while, something I can never do any other time, and my oss can’t do a thing about it.

  • Tim

    Deb,

    You complain because the airline throws food at you but you don’t have a choice? You’re lucky at any other airline to get a bag of pretzels. I guess you would feel that is fairer?

    When is everyone going to realize that air travel is no longer a luxury. It is just bus service that is usually faster. Do you expect Wifi, power outlets, and fine restaurants in bus stations or the bus itself? Why would you expect anything when taking the air bus? If you do find any of those things, feel lucky. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised.

  • Bruce InCharlotte

    I’m in Houston now and (after dodging a cart) I just walked past Wendy’s, which offers their salad menu. I think there’s also a Taco Bell here – ask for it “fresco style”.

    Charlotte has excellent power and the awesome rocking chairs. It’s my home airport, so while I don’t ever get to use them, loads of people do.

    As far as the dang carts go, hit me and I’ll sue. Let’s see that passenger fee pay to settle my lawsuit.

  • eBob

    I once saw two of those carts hit each other. A lot of those cart drivers seem to think that they are in the Indy 500.

    Moving walkways seem like a good idea until you start to realize how stupid some people are. It seems like every time I use one, someone stops in front of me at the end of the walkway requiring me to either run into them or make some sort of evasive maneuver. If you are not walking, please get out of the way at the end of escalators and moving walkways. I am sorry if I ran into you, but you need to understand that people coming off a moving walkway cannot stop, especially if it is crowded. That doesn’t just go for airports, either.

  • MoNgo

    Huh? Sounds like typical high fat Southern food. And what do they need plugin high tech gadgets for?

  • Frank

    Sheesh, everyone complains about unhealthy food……but are the first to line up at McDonalds, Sabarro’s pizza or Ranch 1. And they end up being the same people who occupy the golf carts, instead of disabled passengers.

    Ironic, huh?

  • DN

    I just visited IAH last week (Terminal A, US Air – yes, I know but they were surprisingly pleasant and helpful!!!) and was amazed that the nice open common areas have many columns with power plugs but the closest tables were about 10′ away. No airport lounges except for a Laptop Express style one (or whatever those things are called), but they did have a healthy snack food vendor next to the Food Court…

    The nice thing about LAX is that Samsung sponsored a number of recharging stations in each terminal for use by Samsung phone users that usually have 1-2 laptops plugged into it instead.

  • Frank

    Where are the power plugs? I see several passengers with open laptops and PDAs, but not a single plug. Either the battery manufacturers paid them to not install enough plugs, or they just don’t care. You don’t have to be an airline expert to know the answer.
    ====================================================

    Just when were most of the nation’s airports built? IAH is not a new airport. And, why should they spend money to retrofit the airport for more power plugs? Who’s going to pay for that? Who’s paying for the electricity now? And, who do they ultimately pass the increase on to……….

  • Cypress Bear

    And heaven help you if you want to eat after 8 p.m., then NOTHING is open in Terminal C. There is a cacophany from the gates being slammed down over the eatery entrances.

  • Les Wilder

    Hi, Chris,

    While I can’t speak to the absence of food choices in most airports I can say that in the matter of power outlets all is not lost.

    Waiting to fly SW from San Antonio last month we spotted nice stool-height tables with ample outlets that actually had power! My wife was able to charge her cell phone AND the laptop at the same time. Someone’s trying.

    Then there was the night when, after running our own personal Grand Prix across Orange County to catch a flight from LAX, my colleague and I found ourselves struggling to race to our gate. At LAX that can be a long run. One of those leadfoot cart drivers pulled up beside us and said, “You boys look like you’re in a hurry. Hop on”

    We did – and while I won’t say he gave us a fast ride I can swear I felt g-forces a couple of times. We hit him with a couple of fives and made our flight. No humans were harmed in the experience and I remain grateful to that porter.

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