GAIA holding its own
Barbados’ Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA), one of the Caribbean’s newest and busiest airports, has some amenities New York’s LaGuardia Airport lacks.
And that’s true despite the fact that the Barbados facility is in the “Third World” and LaGuardia is a major gateway in one of the richest and most sophisticated nations on the planet.
While the differences in amenities at airports in developing or emerging economies and at one of America’s most used take-off and landing sites shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, what caught some people off-guard and made news in the United States were the results of a quick survey by Global Gateway Alliance, a non-profit group of business leaders who want the state of New York to bring all of its airports into the 21st century.
Shortly after US vice-president Joe Biden created something of a storm when he told an audience in Philadelphia that “if I took you (blindfolded) to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you must think, ‘I must be in some Third World country’. I am not joking”, the Gateway Alliance was asked by the New York Times to assess airport amenities in different countries.
What the Alliance reported caught some people and airport managers off-guard. According to the group: GAIA offers the travelling public free wi-fi, access to post office facilities and a fast track customs service, but LaGuardia doesn’t. Actually, the New York airport handles at least 25 million passengers annually, and doesn’t have any customs services at all. Travellers from, say, Toronto or Montreal to LaGuardia go through US Customs in those Canadian cities before they board the aircraft.
Peru’s Jorge Chavez International Airport boasts a hotel, spa and access to a post office. If you land at Malaysia’s international airport in Kuala Lumpur, your children can enjoy the play area set aside for them and, depending on their age, can have access to the Internet.
Travellers can also use an express rail train at the airport that takes them into the centre of the capital in less than half an hour. That’s about the time it takes to travel from Grantley Adams Airport into Bridgetown.
In the African nation Liberia, aircraft passengers are greeted by singers and dancers at the airport in Monrovia. Among 15 countries surveyed recently, the most common amenity was the day spa while the least common facility was a shower, although even those were available at seven of them.
“New York City airports continue to lag behind their international competitors when it comes to providing a range of passenger amenities at terminals,” stated the Alliance.
The Biden “Third World” quip drew conflicting reactions, much like what travellers tell Barbadian authorities about their airport.
“I agree with him,” said Patrick J. Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia and Newark/Liberty.
But Bill de Blasio, New York City’s new mayor didn’t go along. “As a proud New Yorker, I didn’t like that comment and I think it was not the right way to talk about it,” said the mayor. However, even before the vice-president blasted LaGuardia, Andrew Cuomo, New York State governor, said essentially the same thing.
“LaGuardia ranked the worst airport in America, believe it or not,” said Cuomo. A Bajan in Ohio who uses LaGuardia regularly understands the criticisms.
“LaGuardia isn’t the best place from which to depart. It’s cramped and usually a hassle to get through security,” said the Cleveland resident, who left Barbados a quarter of a century ago.
But improvements are in the works for LaGuardia. The Port Authority is planning a major makeover of the gateway and intends to spend US$8 billion to upgrade it in the next few years.
Passenger complaints about LaGuardia run the gamut from long security lines, expensive luggage cards and inadequate seating at departure gates to no hotels within the airport grounds and a lack of day spas and free Internet access. Barbados, too, gets mixed reviews from passengers, as seen on its airport website. The attitudes of customs and immigration officers are labelled as anything from polite, friendly and professional to persons with “appalling attitudes”. “Our arrival was smooth,” said Michael D of Toronto about a recent trip to Barbados. “Long line but it moved quickly. Separate line for citizens, but this seemed to move just as quickly as the one for us tourists. People were always helpful when we seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.”
But Nigel and Elizabeth of Britain thought otherwise.
“One of the worst countries visited and bad experience already starts at the airport,” they wrote. “Our luggage was damaged and there was nobody in the arrival hall to lodge a claim with. Unprofessional and unfriendly immigration staff and even less helpful customs officers.”
Rashell of Luxembourg didn’t spare Barbados: “Worst airport ever, racism against white people, impossible to visit Barbados again.”
But Jennifer, a Barbadian living in the US for 20-plus year, had some ideas for those who complain. “When you arrive in other people’s country, check your attitude at the door. Stop with the sense of entitlement. You’re on vacation – relax. Show courtesy and enjoy your life.”