Thursday, April 26, 2007

MIA: Tell us how you really feel

As I travel around the globe, it's not unusual for me to get an earful on Miami International Airport. And what I'm hearing is rarely good.

Lousy signage, poor food choices, boring retail, dingy lighting, cranky personnel are common complaints. And I'm sorry to say that it rings true for me.

I'm a frequent airport user ... of MIA, FLL and plenty of others as well. Like any frequent user, I know too well that nothing is perfect (just as no person is perfect.) But MIA may be less perfect than most.

Some of its drawbacks are with good reason: It's an older airport retrofitted to modern needs, and that's a tough magic trick for any facility. The land its built on -- once in the boonies -- is now practically mid-city, and there's no room for stretching.

But my laptop is filled with half-written columns on MIA moments: Poor food served up by rude people, cranky taxi-queue directors who bark at you, an appalling lack of mass transit, oft-broken escalators, baggage delays that make nearly every other world airport look like Roadrunners. When you find yourself cheering that the airport has finally opened an Au Bon Pain outlet -- and you reroute your drop-off so you can walk by it on your way down to check-in -- you know things are seriously askew.

This is not to bash the people who work there, who have made progress in recent years (like the Au Bon Pain, art displays, Starbucks.)

And there is a plus side: MIA is brilliantly located near downtown (whereas getting to LAX involves serious negotiation through traffic or the subway, which often doesn't go where you need to.) And MIA is the launch pad for flights to some incredible places, like Istanbul, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires.

But in my view, the progress made -- and that planned under the we-hope-it-opens-in-our-lifetimes expansion terminal -- doesn't move us into the world-class leagues.

What do you think? You can post a comment here, or go to our new Travel Hot Button feature. Each week we'll post a new topic there (don't worry, we'll get to Fort Lauderdale Hollywood Airport soon!) Good and ugly, we want to hear about your experiences -- and your suggestions for the future.

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