JFK’s International Terminal One is a nightmare, here’s why you should avoid it

I guess I’m a pretty lucky traveler since throughout all my years of being on the go, there was never a major setback by an extreme delay or flight cancellation … that is, until now. Yesterday, a whopper of a flight delay occurred and ended with last minute flight cancellation. Through the process of it all, I learned to dislike JFK’s Terminal One, forever – especially the post-security part of the terminal which is the focus of this critique.

In general, when booking flights, it’s best to avoid JFK because of the air traffic congestion. Also, primarily because, if anything happens, like a flight cancellation, getting to or from the airport and into the city can take loads of time and is costly. In short, there’s no easy and direct way to get from the airport to downtown. Moreover, decent hotels in the vicinity of the airport are few and far between.

When a massive storm system struck the region around the airport last night, dumping torrential rains and lighting up the sky like a pyrotechnic show with lightning strikes galore, the flight was continuously pushed back with delayed. Eventually, the worst case scenario of a flight cancellation took place.

But in the meantime, I saw some terrible things about JFK’s Terminal One that made for an overall, extremely poor customer experience. In my mind, when you choose to fly through an airport, you are essentially a customer of that airport. Last night has me swearing off JFK for pretty much eternity as a point for International departure or arrival – that is, unless some major changes, renovations, or updates are made to the terminal ­– like a billion dollar worth for starters.

Quality eateries are few and far between

I took a seat at one of the only small eateries in the terminal, and wait and watch for a while … employees were sitting up on the counters, chatting over loudly playing music. I actually had to go up to the counter to get their attention because no one seemed overly enthusiastic to serve. There was nothing professional about listening to the wait staff speak to the other customers – not in the least. The rest of the food offered in this terminal is mostly fast food that is tantamount to junk food. Sure, you have some healthy snacks sold here and there, but that’s little consolation when you’re looking for an overall good experience. I picked a small handful of healthy things, like a banana, yogurt, almonds, and some fruit and the total rung up to almost $26.

Bathrooms and water fountains

After scanning the halls of JFK’s International Terminal One, I almost couldn’t believe it upon realizing there are only two sets of men and women’s bathrooms in the whole wing. The bathrooms do not consist of dozens of stalls, but a mere seven of them in fact! When things get busy and the place gets crowded, long lines start to queue. People seemed almost ready to urinate on the floor when the wait became worse. Unfortunately, the same story is true when it comes to public water fountains: there are only two of them once you getting past the security check point. In a day and age where we know it’s important to limit the purchasing of disposable plastic water bottles by bringing your own, it’s sad to see. Long lines, yet again, started to queue to indefinite lengths just to fill up water bottles.

Airport and airline employee communication with passengers

Things may run rather smoothly when the weather is good and everything is fine, but when the going gets rough, airport communication was the first thing to break down – it was pitiful. Breaks my heart to say it, but it was a veritable nightmare. Passengers were packed like sardines from wall to wall, as long as the hall was wide. Roaming and pivoting and asking each other for help and information that the neither the airport nor agents could provide with regard to the flight delays, diversions, and cancellations. Of course, no one has any control over the weather, but customer experience and service on the other hand, is something totally within an organization’s control.

It was the closest thing to pandemonium and madness that I’ve ever seen in an airport – the ultimate of disorganization and confusion …. Passengers were literally disoriented without instruction or direction from employees who are supposed to be in competent and in charge. I thought to myself … if this is the beginning of the Apocalypse and I’m stuck in JFK’s Terminal One, well then I’m pretty much screwed. I kid you not when I started thinking of an escape route – just in case because one never knows, right?

Departure Screens and bad WiFi

The informational departure screens are located right after going through the security line (oh and by the way, the TSA agents are among the most rude I have ever encountered). Be sure to make note of your flight’s gate and other departure info, because if you forget, you’ll have to walk all the way back to the beginning of the wing to ascertain if a flight is on time or if there’s been a gate change … this is especially frustrating during a bad weather event when all the information surrounding the flight is constantly being updated and changing. In fact, one of the few screens kept going blank. It was almost so bad that it became funny.

Then there’s the airport’s free WiFi issue. There’s really nothing worse that hyping up the Free Airport WiFi with omnipresent advertisements, get people excited about the fact that they can actually work or socialize, and then take it away from them by there really not being any in the end. When it’s time to get connected, and the connectivity is shoddy, poor, slow, non-existent, one can imagine the disappoint felt. It was also enervating when trying to get flights rebooked on the fly.

Mysterious Gate 12

Mysterious Gate 12 is the kicker (which happened to be where my flight was marked for departure). Once through security, you only see signs for gates 1 through 11. Logic tells you that 12 comes after 11, but without proper signage, one must assume (and correctly so, that’s the case. Gate 12 can be found all the way down at the end of the wing, hidden behind a pylon. But, there’s no actual Gate 12: it’s like a floating gate that is moved around on a whim. Last night, passengers affectionately dubbed Gate 12, “purgatory” – and it really felt that way. Gate 12 is basically a holding tank for passengers on flights that are in limbo – but once again, no agent, ahem, if you can call anyone seriously an agent, can give you an answer. It was the equivalent to a rung in Dante’s inferno.

In Conclusion

The training of all employees at JFK airport is something that should be taken seriously, not lightly. They must handle huge numbers of passengers from around the world. Terminal One at JFK’s International Airport is my least favorite airport in the world at the moment.

To be fair to the airlines and to JFK Airport, I had conversations with fellow travelers so as to confirm that my experience was rooted in reality: that it wasn’t just misperception or a byproduct of frustration and rage. Really, I just wanted to run and hide in the Express Spa in the concourse.

Lastly, the airport really needs to be renovated. Airports are like the bodily extension of a city – they are the first experience travelers from all over the world taste of a place or city. Good airport design amenities, good airport employees, and thus a good airport experience speak volumes about a destination. The airport made one good step in the right direction at least with the recent update to Terminal 5.