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Are America’s airports the worst in the world?

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Never mind that the U.K. submits connecting passengers to the same pointless passport control procedure as the Americans.

John Eh....

Bon soir!
Having stood in a busy departures corridor in an airport in Covington, KY, stripped to my boxer underwear, while watching a male security guard palpate my wife's breasts through her bra to see if he could cause her nipples to harden, I am not prepared to return to that country to see if, in an even greater America, they are prepared to go even farther.
If you enjoy watching the love of your life submit to sexual assault in order to allow her and yourself to exit the US, this is undoubtedly the vacation location for you. The Marquis de Sade could invent no better safety procedures than those we suffered. As for myself and my wife, the US Homeland Security folks succeeded in permanently securing their borders against us. I can only assume that is their part in making America great. I assure you they were tremendously successful!


This stinks of a privileged, rich, rotten foreigner going into "backward countries", complaining about the smell and feeling themselves all superior. Why is this considered a worthy subject for an article exactly?

Oreg in reply to eclayton

I didn't talk about immigration.
"Even if you've already been through security checks at another airport, we're obliged to screen you again before you fly from Heathrow."
Part of the screening is showing your passport. It's a pointless hassle that wastes time---exactly what the article is accusing the U.S. of. I've been avoiding Heathrow in recent years.

wolfyhuntsasmell in reply to Not_a_guest

Your comment is why I clicked on this, and with a free account limit to 3 articles a week, I am disappointed. I thought this was going to be a commentary on promises made to get elected that seem to be forgotten. Little did I know that this was a preliminary article, built until more feedback was made.

Evil Overlord

The USA wins the prize not for poor infrastructure, but for its ridiculously overinclusive and ineffective security measures. I travel frequently, for a living, and I would much rather take my risks with a moronic terrorist (they would have to be very stupid to be tripped up by the 'liquids in a ziploc' limitation) than waste extra hours on every flight. I've gone so far as to finally abandon my principles and pay more for Global Entry ($100 being beyond the means of any terrorist) so that I don't have to remove my shoes.
On crap infrastructure, though, my vote is for the Nairobi airport - no chairs, one coffee shop, and food available only if you know the secret handshake to the upstairs restaurant. Though the forced shopping experience in many European airports (e.g. Brussels) is a close second.


As Donald Trump said: "Our airports are worse than those of third-world countries like China and Saudi Arabia". I can attest that even "third-world" countries like India have much better airports.


In my humble opinion, the security check area stretched in the corridors of Newark's terminal A really takes the prize. The whole airport, with its 50's-style round gate hubs, cramped feel, abysmal transportation between terminal (a choice between the turtle-speed AirTrain in the non-secure zone, or bus connections on the tarmac that only work for some gates), is a good example of a bad design made even more obsolete by new requirements. But Terminal A security checks are really the icing on the cake. I particularly like the well thought-out ventilation system in this area: a bunch of dusty fans placed randomly in the mayhem of lineups, most of them not working, trying to help a few hundred passengers keep their cool in a corridor designed for anything but what it's now used for. Nice.

Frank of America

I'm based in the Los Angeles area and made five international trips in 2017, twice to Birmingham, once to London Heathrow, once to Italy (arrival Milan, depart Rome) once to Singapore. UK immigration (I'm a Yank) was excruciating, taking well over an hour each time. Coming into LAX is a breeze these days where the wait is rarely more than 15-20 minutes and that's usually after passport control at customs. LAX has automated passport kiosks now. Milan, Rome and Singapore were also a breeze.

LAX is undergoing a $4bn renovation and the traffic in and out of the airport can be pretty sticky but with some (T2&3) exceptions LAX is really coming along. Even those terminals are being redone.


This article is about as close to "click bait" as I have seen on The Economist. However, most of your articles are great so I don't see a problem with helping your advertisers a bit :D

The USA is too diverse to make such a general statement. It is fair to say that some airports are older or less well maintained than others.

The most disappointing airport I have visited, though, has to be Charles DeGaulle. And I say this as a huge fan of Paris.


Miami international has shockingly slow immigration procedures. Coming from Haiti I thought my 4 hour window before my connecting flight was more than enough time to ensure a drink and some food in the departure lounge. That was not the case. We arrived on time to find a queue of maybe 500 people before even reaching the machines, and then another queue to get the immigration agents to check your form and passport. It took over 3 hours, with no consideration for those with connecting flights. When I finally got through I was not at al surprised to see the queues of people at the rebooking desks, clearly so many people miss their connections due to immigration. I was one of the few lucky ones who managed to run onto my flight just before it closed.

Jooji R

I couldn't agree more. I have a long list of "not nice" airports around the world, from Sao Paulo GRU to Manila MNL including Paris CDG, London Gatwick, etc, but going thru American airports top them all.


If only just the dire facilities were awful... factor in the uniformly unwelcoming attitude of US immigration agents on arrival and the harried unpleasantness of TSA body checkers on departure, and American airports are the runaway winners of worst of the worst awards.

Reigate Quin

Many types of bias going on here!

3 things changed air travel: 9/11, oil price and increased competition from budget carriers. All resulted in a race to the bottom as costs soared and margins minimised.

Travellers leaving from home departure points will normally have a better idea of their airport and how to get the best of it but be harassed at an unfamiliar arrival port, especially if foreign with different mother tongue.

Frequent travellers learn to pick the right flights to miss queues: I used to fly to Houston a lot from London - the early flight arrived minutes after jumbos from Germany, France and The Netherlands arrived - 2 hour queue at immigration. Later flight from London arrived sometime after others - 20 minute queue. A little bit of planning always helps.

Worst airport? Depends where you leave from and where you’re going - it’s all relative.


Heaven forbid you miss your connecting flight in the USA, even if the reason is the airline itself. You're sent running from one line to the next, staff are completely ignorant and if you happen to get the 1 agent who hasn't given into the crushing depression that is working in the US airline industry, you will be re-routed through every airport imaginable. Airline vouchers either are not accepted at places supposedly accepting them or expired, or both.

What if you are on a shuttle flight between major cities? well you better be a godly person, because only the divine can intercede to ensure your flight from Boston to Toronto, which was supposed to crisscross from Miami to Chicago, Chicago to New York, New York to Boston before taking on a new crew meets every single timing otherwise it will get pushed back. I once waited 13 hours for that exact flight because the plane missed its takeoff slot. Every 15 minutes, the departure time would be pushed out by 15 minutes, until 10 hours later the plane showed up. But did this insanity end? No, the crew that was supposed to fly had already hit overtime so a new crew had to be requisitioned. And what of the meal vouchers or hotels that should have been provided? Any attempts to speak to the gate agent would result in a tongue lashing you would have expected in reverse, "the plane gets here when it gets here, does it look like I have radar?" The cherry on top would have to be spending another 4 hours talking to American only to be told, the best they can do would be 15% off the undiscounted fare for another flight. I would say it is American, but having flow on the rest of the demons, they are all the same.

Richard Lancaster

Let's hear it for the world's small airports, preferably ones where you can see all the gates from the comfort of the bar (London City). In terms of large airports, Zurich has their security procedure perfected (trust the Swiss), Munich has free coffee and papers in the terminal for all (it's the small things like this you remember - thanks Lufthansa), Istanbul's business lounge is exceptional (but their terminal is becoming increasingly overcrowded - too many shops not enough seats).