Five Places Pilots Hate to Fly

by Terry Ward 
Posted Sep 8th 2010 03:09 PMUpdated Sep 8th 2010 03:10 PM




If you think you have gripes about air travel these days, consider the pilots and flight crews who deal with extreme delays and harried passengers every time they go to work. We asked one pilot, a first officer with a major U.S. airline for 19 years and counting, to dish exclusively to AOL Travel which airports he most dreads. Read on for which one has the rudest passengers, and which one he would rather shove sticks in his eyes than call it his home base.

The Mystery Pilot's Top Airports
Not all airports are bad. Here are our pilot's five favorite airports to fly into.

Reagan National Airport (DCA): "Flying the approach when landing to the south along the Potomac is just very cool."

Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD): "It's hectic, fast paced, but runs smoothly -- an airport that keeps you at the top of your game."

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT): "This airport has one of the nicest terminals anywhere, it's like a shopping mall. There's a huge variety of places to get food and anything else."

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA): "The scenery is incredible -- Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and you often fly over Mount Hood enroute. It's beautiful country up there."

San Francisco International Airport (SFO): "Again, great scenery: Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, the mountains, and the bay."
1. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
I hate flying into any of the New York airports because air traffic delays are miserable. All three airports in the Tri-State area handle a massive volume of planes. JFK. LaGuardia. Newark. And Newark, for me, is the worst. Even on a nice clear day you can run into a two-hour air traffic delay taking off. Everyone coming up through the east coast, say from Florida, gets funneled through the same pipelines and split off into different airports. It's a traffic jam. That's all it is. You can guarantee it. And with this new three-hour rule, where passengers can't be stuck on a plane for more than three hours, our airline and most others won't even board people if they know the flight has an estimated departure time two hours out. We get assigned an expected departure clearance time -- when the wheels are up -- and if it's more than two hours out, we won't board. It's air traffic, it's ground traffic, it's everything -- there are just always a lot of airplanes on the ground and in the air. And Newark was never meant for the volume of traffic that comes and goes there. No airport was really meant for that. So I avoid it like the plague. I'm pretty senior with my airline, so if I don't have to fly a route that's going there if I don't want to.

2. Orlando International Airport (MCO)
Anything that has to do with me and being on an airplane full of children is just a nightmare. And pretty much any route to Orlando -- doesn't matter where it's coming from -- is going to be full of kids because of Disney World. We've had kids on airplanes who are all excited about where they are going, they've got coloring books with the characters, and the next thing you know they are drawing on the walls of the airplane. And the parents? They just let them do it. They say, "Oh, but he's so excited to be going to Disney World." It's quite obnoxious. And the parents are in some ways more to blame than the kids. They will feed them sugary snacks and get them all hyper, then the kids have to sit in a seat for three hours. So they bang the seat in front of them, pull the tray table, repeatedly press the call button. We hear about it from the crew. It's not a lot of fun for them. And sometimes I'm back there flying with the passengers, too, when I have to commute to and from Orlando from New York or something. I'll find myself in the middle seat between two kids, and it's an awful way to start the day. I've had the option to be based in Orlando if I wanted to, but I would rather shove sticks in my eyes that commute to and from that airport every week.

3. Charlotte Douglas Airport (CLT)

Charlotte is just another air traffic control mess, especially in the afternoons. I avoid stops in Charlotte as much as possible. It's US Airways' biggest hub, and all airports that are a big hub run into delays from time to time. But Charlotte is just one of those airports that always seems to be delayed. There have been trips I could have opted to fly, but I saw that they had a Charlotte turn at the end of the day, so I turned them down. Even on good weather days-or perfect weather days -- it doesn't matter. Especially in the afternoon, coming and going from Charlotte, chances are I'm going to be facing a delay. No thank you. I'll opt for a route that takes me elsewhere instead.

4. Palm Beach International Airport (PBI)
West Palm Beach's airport is the home of the entitled passenger. We've had flight attendants be told "I don't talk to the help." We'll have passengers who don't feel like they should have to walk through the airport, so out of 100 passengers, at least 25 of them will request wheelchairs. And then by the time the plane lands, of course, a good percentage of them just up and walk off. They are unbelievably demanding. They'll ask for a soda from a flight attendant then put it in their bag and immediately demand another one. They'll walk off the plane with six or seven drinks and a pile of snacks in their bag. And if you're delayed, you can be sure you'll hear some smart comments. They expect to be on time regardless of everything else that might be happening on any given day. One time, we were delayed arriving at PBI from another flight, and we walked past the passengers to board the plane and one actually said to us, "Glad you could join us." As if we were sitting around the crew lounge and just didn't feel like being on time. These people are unbelievable. I can pretty much keep the cockpit door closed and not have to deal with it except for the flight attendants coming up and being enraged because the passengers are so rude. Events like these happen a good 80 percent of the time at PBI. It doesn't make for the greatest day of flying.

5. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Atlanta is another heavily delayed airport, but the problems I have with it go beyond that. The terminals are pretty much circa 1950s. They are slightly cramped and there's not a lot of room for people to move around. It seems like not a lot has been updated. If you compare a brand new terminal like Terminal Five at JFK to Atlanta, Terminal Five is like checking into a five star hotel and Atlanta's airport is like one of those pay-by-the-hour motels. I've traveled through on a few different airlines and all the terminals I've seen are pretty bad. And the delays in Atlanta compound the negative experience. There are busy airports where things run fairly smoothly (Chicago O'Hare, for example). But Atlanta is a high-tension environment. It's one of the most highly trafficked airports in the world. And even on a good weather day, you run into delays.

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Greg Andrews

Perhaps the pilot or flight crew should speak to his/her airline management about dropping their absurd opposition to the passenger facility charge PFC)--then perhaps ATL would have enough revenue to improve the terminals. Infrastructure doesn't last forever. Remember, the last new terminal @ LAX before the new Bradley International terminal came on line was built prior to the 1984 Olympics.

September 02 2014 at 3:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just flew into DFW from Orlando on a 757. I'm usually nervous and grateful to the wonderful pilots that I have had since I'm still alive to thank them. I do have a question, however. Right after we took off, the plane made the scariest sound. The engines changed pitch. I was convinced something terrible had happened. Obviously not, since I'm here to ask about it. But any ideas of what it could have been? We had to circle and wait for Thunderstorms to get through Dallas and the pilot was great about explaining that but I'm still wondering about that scary sound.

October 25 2010 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love flying out of Reagan National. It's a small- big airport. AirTran has a non-stop flight to RSW (Ft. Myers, FL) so we drive 2 hours from the Hampton Roads area to take the flight.
AirTran is a very good ariline- no complaints- usually on time and the crew is professional and friendly.
Another two really good airports are Newport News and Richmond (both in VA). We use them too but there are usually no flights that do not connect in Atlanta, so we avoid them and fly out of DCA or Dulles (another nice airport).
RSW is fairly new and very clean, attractive and we don't see too many wheelchairs there (maybe we are really happy to be in a sunny place instead of the wintery NE, and are in a daze when we get there?).
BTW, flying into Reagan is so beautiful- the monuments, etc- what a view. Same for San Francisco- flying in and seeing the bay is awesome!
We've flown out of Newark and it's not so bad.
These are the times- it's just like the roadways- traffic. Make the best of it and be thankful we have the choices: driving, Amtrak or Greyhound or flying. I pick flying!
Mid- 50's happy female (happy to live in the USA- best country in the world!), no matter what some people think.

October 13 2010 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a LONG Time Airline employee I can certainly AGREE with the writer's list to an extent. Orlando and Charlotte are NOT that bad but Palm Beach.........NO Freakn' Thank You. No Way, No How. I'd rather have a root canal. And let's not forget Boston......lots of arrogant Rude people that speak some F'd up dialect....and they all want to be part of the Kennedy clan. Washington DC has plenty of ATTITUDE too.

October 13 2010 at 8:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mark Roland

I live in Palm Beach Gardens and always use PBI. I don't see that many wheel chairs at the gate when I'm there. I also know one flight attendant for Delta who owns an apartment above the parking lot where I worked on Palm Beach. She is nothing like the "entitled" people mentioned and none of the people I know on Palm Beach act that way, its actually the people who act like they are entitled and don't even live on Palm Beach who display this behavior.

September 29 2010 at 8:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've never had a problem @ Charlotte-Douglas...don't know who wrote this, but they are wrong.

September 09 2010 at 4:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

After reading these comments and opinions, I'm thankful to live near and frequently fly into PWM, the way life should be. Never forget our fallen brothers and NEVER forget who was responsible on 9/11/01.

September 09 2010 at 6:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


September 09 2010 at 5:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pastor Loren

I agree about the Orlando flights. TOO MANY KIDS. Frankly I am from the Orlando area and wouldn't care if everyone would go away. Tourism has ruined my home town. We got along just fine before Disney, Universal and Sea World. At least we used to be able to leave our windows and doors open. We didn't have to lock up everything. You didn't have to wait 2 hours for a seat at the resturant or get stuck in traffic. Also, whats up with all these people bringing their animals on the plane. LEAVE THE DAMN DOG AT HOME!!!! Babies crying, cat meowing dogs barking and rud flight attendants. Don't you just love to fly?

September 09 2010 at 5:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I feel pretty confident from your piece that you've never actually been to any of these airports.

September 09 2010 at 4:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply