Q: Which airports do pilots dislike most, and which do they enjoy?
Three things pilots don’t like are congestion, short runways, and complicated arrival and departure patterns. When it rains it pours, and in places like Washington National (are we really calling it “Reagan” now?), Boston, and La Guardia, we win the Trifecta. Chicago’s Midway is well known (which is to say disdained) for it’s compactness, as is San Diego. Newark and JFK, meanwhile, have nice long runways but often suffer agonizing delays and aren’t very popular either. I happen to love flying into Kennedy, but only because I enjoy its mix of exotic airlines.
Aside from flight operations, you’ve also got terminal access, facilities and restaurants, etc., to consider, which can be crucial during multi-hour breaks or when transiting to a layover hotel. Passengers and crew are generally in agreement here. Everyone hates Miami, for instance, but I’ve never heard a disrespectful word uttered about Amsterdam, Singapore, or even Pittsburgh (so long as shopping is your thing).
One of the more exciting exhilarating experiences in commercial flying was the old “checkerboard” approach to Hong Kong’s now-shuttered Kai Tak airport. Pilots would follow and ILS-style (see ATP number 7) beam toward a mountain on which a giant, red-and-white checkerboard was erected. With the board in sight, and now at less than 700 feet, jets would bang a 30-degree turn toward the runway, skimming along the hotels and highrises of Hong Kong, and rolling wings-level only moments before meeting the pavement.
This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.