Wednesday November 29, 2006

What's up with Miami International Airport?

MIA from overhead

My friend and co-worker Tiffany Hill flew home for Thanksgiving, and she told me about her terrible experience with Miami International Airport, which she says is the worst airport she’s ever seen. I should point out that Tiffany is a very experienced traveler, and that her criticisms are not particularly related to the Thanksgiving rush.

First, she was directed to an “Economy Park and Ride Lot” for long-term parking. This was by an attendant, after she’d entered the complex; there was no sign on the way in to direct one to the lot. So already she’s had to enter the airport, leave, and come back, just to park. Then there’s supposed to be a bus that takes folks from the lot to the terminal, but none was to be found. She eventually discovered that an MIA employee-only bus went to the terminal from an adjacent employee parking lot, and the driver gave her a ride. On her way back, another driver of the bus closed the door in her face without offering any other advice (and another one eventually gave her a ride).

As you drive around the airport, the signs that tell you what airline is in each area are almost impossible to read while driving by in a car. Inside, the information display terminals that tell you which gate to go to are nowhere to be found because they’re . . . at the gates!! Who designed this place?

The same thing happened in the luggage claim area — unless you recognize your bag, or people from your flight, you have no easy way to determine which baggage carousel goes with your flight. There are dazed and confused people wandering the luggage claim area looking for their stuff. This is insanity. Tiffany says, “It’s all about the signage!”

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  1. Duran    Wed Nov 29, 09:31 AM #  

    I’ve never had problems with signage at MIA, and I’ve flown out of there a billion times. Last time I flew out was in July, I knew exactly where I was going. Maybe it’s ‘cause I’m used to it and don’t know any better.



  2. Alex    Wed Nov 29, 10:13 AM #  

    The Economy Park is a pain in the ass. I use the regular parking garage if I’m going for two or three days, after that is better to use Super Shuttle or grab a taxi.

    I agree the signs for the airlines are hard to read, not because they aren’t big but I think they are too high. You have to lean over the steering wheel to read them. But teh part about the information display terminals is not true, there are several around the departure area, before you go through security. the locations are different on each concourse and they do not look alike, I’m guessing because of teh renovations etc, but they are there. I always have to look for them because I print my boarding pass at home and it doesn’t have gate information.

    The luggage claim it’s a mess. They have signs above the carousels but many times they don’t work or don’t have updtaed info. I always listen to teh flight attendnats announcements before landing, they tell you what baggage claim. or you can look for an arrivals information terminal as you are walking out and those have the carousel number also.

    MIA is the only major airport I know that doesn’t check bags against stubs. What’s up with that? You could just walk off the street, grab a fancy bag and take it with you.



  3. NicFitKid    Wed Nov 29, 11:08 AM #  

    Great idea! Maybe with few lucky grab bags I’ll amass my own collection of expensive consumer electronics.

    But I’ll probably just end up with a lot of dirty clothes.



  4. Rick    Wed Nov 29, 11:27 AM #  

    MIA is the only major airport I know that doesn’t check bags against stubs. What’s up with that? You could just walk off the street, grab a fancy bag and take it with you.

    They used to years ago but I suppose that has changed. I used MIA this summer, parked in one of the terminal garages and really had no problems, signage or otherwise.

    .



  5. Jonathan    Wed Nov 29, 12:39 PM #  

    The signs are missing or poorly done, making it difficult to pick up travelers by car. The parking system is substandard. The whole place reeks of politicized mismanagement.



  6. Miami Transit Man    Wed Nov 29, 12:40 PM #  

    Although MIA does have its faults, I find that it gets more than its fair share of negative publicity. I often sit in the airport waiting for arriving family and often find that it isn’t improper signage that gets people lost. Upon walking out of the terminals I’ve witnessed many passengers walk right past the signs which indicate where the luggage carousels are located because they are too involved in a conversation or are occupied by their cell phone, only to later wander around lost before asking where the luggage carousel is located (Which at nearly every major airport I’ve visited it has almost always been a level Below the level where I arrived, its just common sense…)

    The redevelopment mess isn’t helping the airport out much either, but once construction is finished and the South Terminal opens (2007), I think you will find much better and clearer signage all around the facility.

    I’ve visited my share of global airports and I can tell you MIA is far better than many, even some of the more popular ones like LaGuardia…



  7. Manola Blablablanik    Wed Nov 29, 01:34 PM #  

    I’m with MTM. I’ve never had any problems at MIA — the displays seem to be available in front of all the major airline counters as well as the gates.

    The worst airport experience I’ve ever had was recently, in Barcelona, for national arrivals. A total clusterf**ck. Made MIA look like a smoothly running machine.



  8. Robert    Wed Nov 29, 02:30 PM #  

    MIA’s biggest issues are its outdated terminal and concourse setup, which should be at least partially resolved with the opening of the South Terminal, as MTM noted. I’m not familiar with the economy parking issues, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s even worse than what’s been described.

    I think what most people react to are the dark and blah concourses, which look very uninviting and are often crowded with travelers. The lack of restaurants and cafes was a problem, but is slowly improving. I’ve also had a few minor issues with baggage claim, but have also had good experiences as well.

    I do agree with Jonathan. MIA could be much better if it wasn’t for the gross mismanagement and corruption.



  9. Manola Blablablanik    Wed Nov 29, 04:12 PM #  

    Michelle from MB411 has a complete list of airport restaurants here



  10. Rick    Wed Nov 29, 04:43 PM #  

    I flew out of Concourse D to Puerto Rico this summer and saw a Versailles down near the gates. They have an outdoor smoking atrium, too.

    [sarcasm alert]I don’t know why everyone is so down on MIA. If you don’t like it, I-95 is right there. Head north and use Lauderdale or Palm Beach. It makes MIA less-crowded for the rest of us. [/sarcasm alert]

    :)

    .



  11. Alex    Wed Nov 29, 05:16 PM #  

    LOL Nickfit. But no, all the expensive consumer electronics would have been stolen already by the baggage handlers. Ask my wife who made the mistake of checking her camera.



  12. NicFitKid    Wed Nov 29, 06:03 PM #  

    I know! I used to throw baggage back in the summer of ’01. The first day they let me load inside the hold of a narrow-bodied aircraft, I kept saying things like “Dude, what are you doing?“ and “hey, the casket says head towards front, this guy’s gonna reach Tegucigalpa with a melon full of formaldehyde.”

    Needless to say the supervisor never let me near a narrow body again, and I spent the rest of my short ramp rat career loading the modular containers that go into the holds of wide-bodied jets. My coworkers rarely tried anything with those, as they provide scant opportunity for plunder unless the whole crew is in on the caper and there aren’t any airline reps around. One of our contracts was with SwissAir and they were meticulous about always having one their guys watching over us when we loaded those containers.



  13. WHHOOa    Wed Nov 29, 06:07 PM #  

    The lady doth protest too much



  14. grog argh    Wed Nov 29, 06:31 PM #  

    My problems with MIA are other problems – I personally have never had problems with the signage getting around the gates, however the baggage claim is a pain.

    I happened to have flown in yesterday and didn’t hear the baggage claim carousel while getting off my plane… so I went the path like everyone else, went downstairs and could not immediately find my flight number – since there is no way to see all of them at the same time, I had to walk up and down the entire baggage claim area until I finally found mine with my flight number.

    As far as the baggage checking is concerned – you people obviously do not travel much, but I haven’t seen that in years – In all my trips this year alone – Houston G Bush, New York La Guardia, Phoenix, Atlanta – I have NOT seen any checking to match your baggage tags with your baggage claim. Not once. So its not just here.



  15. Alex    Wed Nov 29, 06:48 PM #  

    I go to New York a lot- nine or ten times this year alone. And they DO check your stub at LGA. Everywhere else I’ve checked baggage this year: LAX, Montrose/Telluride (altough the airline did lose one of my bags) and even Puerto Rico. I notice this because it has always struck me as odd in MIA.



  16. mkh    Wed Nov 29, 07:15 PM #  

    I haven’t traveled much this year, but Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, and San Francisco all let me take whatever bag I wanted off the carousel. The last place I remember having to show my stub to get the luggage was… Providence.

    But frankly, MIA has been enough of a pain the last few years I always go out of my way to fly out of Fort Lauderdale. Fortunately the distance to it and MIA is about the same.



  17. circuitmouse    Wed Nov 29, 07:16 PM #  

    SNAFU: Situation Normal / All F’d Up

    You’re talking about the only airport in America where someone actually tried to smuggle a goddamn tank on board.

    After 9/11 when they had the National Guard stationed all over MIA, machine guns in hand, it seemed oddly normal… as opposed to any other North American airport.

    The saving grace of MIA is that it’s also the only airport in the US where you can get a mamey batido and pan cubano (but I don’t think they’ll let you take it on the plane anymore).



  18. alesh    Wed Nov 29, 07:42 PM #  

    Hey, y’all, thanks for the thoughts. It’s pretty cool that I can put up almost any subject and get a bunch of interesting perspectives. Good times. Here’s a bonus airport link, by way of thank-you:

    Ken Rockwell’s funny write up of the Oakland airport



  19. Jonathan    Wed Nov 29, 08:03 PM #  

    MIA has signs but they are like the street signs in Coral Gables, or worse. If someone is coming to pick you up and tells you to meet him at D3 or wherever, it is difficult for you, the person exiting the airport, to determine where D3 is without walking out into traffic to look at the signs from the driver’s perspective. It’s been that way for years. It’s also difficult for drivers to determine where they are in the downstairs pickup area. Someone will probably now tell me that the signs are there if I look for them, but the point is that there should be EXTRA signs — the airport should err in favor of making everything obvious, particularly for people who aren’t familiar with the airport. I think it’s the same management attitude that you see in cities that don’t post street signs — they expect everyone to know the main streets, because everyone who lives there does. They should privatize the whole damn airport, except that they would probably give it away to American Airlines in exchange for $1 million on a 100-year payment plan.



  20. Miami reader    Wed Nov 29, 09:15 PM #  

    Hey, what do you expect from an airport that went without luggage carts for something like 10 years while corrupt local politicians argued over which corrupt local politician’s buddy would get the contract?



  21. Tere    Wed Nov 29, 10:26 PM #  

    I personally don’t care for the argument that it’s too expensive to use MIA, because the last few times I’ve flown out of MIA, it’s been WAY cheaper than similar flights out of FLL. That argument just doesn’t seem to apply anymore.

    The best thing I can say, as a former employee with total airport clearance, is that they’ve got their shit together as far as safety’s concerned. It may not always appear that way from that clusterfuck TSA screening line, but behind the scenes, they don’t fuck around. And I mean “safety” both from the terrorist perspective to the broken-down plane one. The situation with the ramp rats is sucky, but at least they’re constantly investigating and dealing with them the minute they suspect or get word that something’s up.



  22. alesh    Thu Nov 30, 04:08 AM #  

    Tere~

    Give me a fucking break. MIA may have “their shit together as far as safety’s concerned” relative to other US airports, but the TSA is a pathetic joke.

    Confiscating PB&J sandwiches? Forcing me to put all my makeup and liquids in a baggie and regulating the size of the baggie? Calling a Threat Alert because someone has on a pair of sunglasses? A “Do not fly” list which is designed to make it look like they’re doing something but demonstrably not making anyone safer?

    “Don’t fuck around” is ominous, Tere. It reeks of harsh and arbitrary “safety,” indicative of the sort of world GWB has turned this into.



  23. Rick    Thu Nov 30, 07:32 AM #  

    You wear makeup, Alesh?

    .



  24. grog argh    Thu Nov 30, 07:55 AM #  

    Well – it looks like we have differing experiences regarding whether or not they match your bag to your claim tickets – I say they didn’t the last time I landed at LGA (August ’06 – 2 or 3 days BEFORE the liquids fiasco) – another person claims they did when they were in LGA... I guess we will chalk it up to simple randomness – sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t – maybe it depends on the carrier, flights coming inbound (morning better chance for those international flights maybe?)...

    QUESTION FOR THE GROUP: Have people searching for cheaper fares online found that much of a difference in prices versus flying out of FLL? I would love to fly out of FLL for the simple options of taking Spirit or Jet Blue (not options at MIA) – but its a pain for me to get there (42 miles) – so 99% of the time I usually take AA or Delta to get where I am going than drive up there.



  25. alesh    Thu Nov 30, 08:07 AM #  

    Rick~

    Hey, nothing serious. A little powder. A little shadow. You know. A boy’s gotta look presentable.

    Nic~

    Anytime you want to go down to MIA and try to score a few suitcases let me know — I’m in!

    grog~

    It seems like it really does depend on the flight. Supposedly the per-passanger fees at MIA are much higher (one of the highest in the country, in fact), but it doesn’t seem to trickle down. Check out farecast, too.



  26. NicFitKid    Thu Nov 30, 09:13 AM #  

    The higher fees MIA charges a carrier to operate hasn’t impacted ticket prices that noticeably, but it does keep the smaller airlines, like JetBlue, from running flights out of MIA. So for those bargain-bin NY weekend getaway tickets, you’ll still have to go to FLL.

    Alesh~ Hey, maybe next month, depending on how short I’ll be on the rent.*

    *For the more literal minded, please note that Alesh and NFK are not plotting a criminal conspiracy over the teh interwebs to steal your luggage. Seriously, I’m not that interested in your dirty underthings.



  27. Miami Transit Man    Thu Nov 30, 09:41 AM #  

    Nic-

    Actually I got a cheaper flight to NYC for a weekend getaway out of MIA rather than FLL. AA beat Jet Blue by over 20 bucks per ticket, after taxes and fees…

    Alesh-

    The TSA is a ridiculous and pathetic waste of taxpayer money. All their security measures are purely reactions to the measures “terrorists” have taken while attempting an attck on the US. Someone brought a gun, now we walk through metal detectors. Someone tried to light their shoes, now we all have to take our shoes off for inspection. Someone tried to make an explosive out of a liquid, now we carry our liquid products in baggies. What’s next? Someone with a bomb up their rectum, forcing us all to go through cavity searches?



  28. NicFitKid    Thu Nov 30, 09:55 AM #  

    MTM~ I stand corrected. I will not, however, stand in line for body cavity searches.



  29. alesh    Thu Nov 30, 11:15 AM #  

    Don’t worry, Nic: since it’s all about making people FEEL safe, the idea is to be as inconvenient and conspicuous as possible, but they can’t go over the line with something people would find actually offensive.

    I mean not to the general public. Whisking away the occasional Canadian citizen to Syria for a few months of torture is OK.



  30. circuitmouse    Thu Nov 30, 05:13 PM #  

    Not to mention a carload of medical students on their way to FIU... but former Latin American torturers and OJ? Bienvenidos a Miami…

    I’m surprised no one remembered that little design boo boo with the new control tower a few years back. The one that blocked the view of planes for the traffic controllers? THAT doesn’t happen anywhere else (yet).

    I kinda miss the signs that used to guide the visitors on the “safe routes” from the airport that (presumably) kept them from being carjacked. Of course, that’s not what the Greater Miami CVB called them…



  31. Tere    Thu Nov 30, 07:37 PM #  

    Alesh, I did call the TSA a clusterfuck in my comment, you know. But the aviation dept. (run by the county, not federal like TSA) has its own safety division, and they’re in charge of the airfield and dealing with planes that take-off or are landing and have mechanical problems (along with airfield/gate control staff, which are county employees).

    There’s a reason you don’t hear about suspect people or tragic situations on the airfield or in cargo areas, and why planes with mechanical problems (which occurs an average of 5 to 6 times a day) don’t turn into tragedies. And it’s because MIA, though county staff, has its shit together and does a good job of keeping access to the airfield tight and secure.

    And circuitmouse, you’re referring to the FAA tower, a project run by the FAA, not the county. Considering that the FAA runs a tower in every airport, they could have easily fucked it up anywhere else.



  32. alesh    Thu Nov 30, 09:25 PM #  

    OK, Tere. My most humble apologies to to the good folks at the MIA aviation department. And compliments to you.

    Point well taken~ an organization as large as MIA cannot be painted with one brush, however broad, and incompetence in one department seldom implies incompetence system-wide.



  33. Honza    Fri Dec 1, 09:56 PM #  

    Hey Alesh,

    Gimme that brush! (as you know) I’ve flown all over Asia, Africa, Middle East, etc. etc., so I say the following with some “authority”: MIA is one of the top 5 worst airports in the world (the other 4 being CDG in Paris, JFK, LaGuardia, and Sheremetevo in Moscow, in case you’re curious). Seriously, the airport in frigging Dhaka, Bangladesh is nicer & better organized! I would rather drive for 10 hours to have dental surgery performed without novocaine, than fly through MIA. Even the spanish-speakers are screwed, because now you have to speak creole to get anywhere. It is a exquisitely grotesque mixture of third-world chaos and the worst of TSA incompetence and arrogance, all directed by signs that are wrong if they’re present at all. Nothing like observing shell-shocked foreign visitors staggering from the customs area (“Water-boarding. It’s not just for Guantanamo anymore!”) to search for their luggage for 20 or 30 minutes, only to discover that what wasn’t stolen from the bags that weren’t lost in transit has been shredded and scattered all over the baggage area by the antiquated conveyor belts. Welcome to Miami!

    The best thing about MIA is that FLL and MCO are within driving distance of it.

    Other than that, it’s great…



  34. alesh    Sun Dec 3, 06:33 PM #  

    Yikes, dude. That is some serious shit.

    A particularly vivid memory of mine is my first arrival in Miami as a 6 year old. Everywhere I’d been for the last four months had been heavy-coat cold, and I remember my parents telling me I’d have to take off everything except my undershirt and I’d still be hot once we got outside. “Outside” turned out to be the arrival level of MIA, that semi-underground loading dock looking area with a very distinctive smell, and I was shocked to learn that they’d been exactly right.

    Ever since then, every time I go to MIA I smell that smell and remember that moment fondly.



  35. Johnny R    Tue Dec 19, 02:24 PM #  

    So much money has been spent on the cost overruns for the new terminal that maybe they could have afforded to place some signage in the airport. Just maybe…