My last flight from New York’s JFK airport was pretty similar to the experiences recently reported by others who’ve been unfortunate enough to pass through this most hectic, delay-prone airport. Delta’s domestic check-in area recalled the train scene from Doctor Zhivago: a harried mass of humanity desperately clamoring to get out of town. There were no discernable check-in lines, just a mob that spilled out on to the street and pressed towards a desk manned by two frightened agents. A large overseas tour group had commandeered the three working self-check kiosks, unaware that the machines would never print their tickets. The madness increased at the gates: More than 50 short-haul flights were scheduled to depart from just two gates over the course of several hours. By evening time, the list of delayed flights had stacked up absurdly.
While flying from or through JFK isn’t going to improve drastically anytime soon, things may be easier for some passengers, thanks to American’s newly unveiled JFK terminal. As reported by USAToday, the $1.3 billion renovation is one of the largest and most innovative airport construction projects in recent memory. The check-in area, which features 84 individual ticketing desks and 44 self-check kiosks (which can handle both domestic and international check-in), was designed to ease crowding and speed up the check-in process. There’s also a separate check-in area for premium passengers, a more streamlined security area, greatly expanded retail space, and 36 gates that can handle flights for up to 13 million passengers annually.
At least for American Airlines passengers, these improvements will certainly ease part of the pain of flying from JFK. There’s not much American can do about delays caused by the airport’s heavy volume, however. Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, recently told SmarterTravel’s airfare editor Jessica Labrencis, “The airlines have scheduled more than 50 flights to depart in one hour’s time on weekday mornings at JFK. Yet the airport can only safely depart 45 aircraft when the weather’s good. The resulting overflow of delayed aircraft spills into the next hour, and the next, and so on.”
In this time of drastically lowered air travel expectations, I guess having an easier check-in and security processes and more places to shop and eat during delays is about as good as it gets.