MIA: A User's Manual

Is our airport the most user-unfriendly in America? No, just one of four really unhappy landing sites.

At British Airways I met Shirley Lau, a typesetter from Singapore, who was returning home after a week-long Caribbean cruise. Lau, who probably weighs 90 pounds wet with change in her pockets, made it to Miami from Singapore via London's Heathrow Airport. Her impression of MIA: "Terrible! You have no signs tell you where to go! In Singapore we have signs in our airport for everything.

"When I got here, I need to take Super Shuttle to friend house, but Miami airport have no signs telling me what shuttle look like or where I can get it!

"I don't know ..." Lau continued, her tiny voice bubbling with frustration. "So I ask people, where can I take Super Shuttle? They tell me go there! I say where? 'Over there!' they say, pointing to an escalator. So I go up [to the third floor, where the terminal's moving walkway is located] and I get lost. I come back down [to the second floor] and go outside and someone tell me go downstairs [to baggage claim]. I ask someone else, who pointed me to bus station [across the street from the baggage claim area in front of Concourse E]. But I still no see shuttle. Then I ask guy in blue uniform [our old pal, the passenger embarker!] who pointed out the Super Shuttle on other side of bus station. Was very confusing experience."

Steve Satterwhite
A merry-go-lucky schoolgirl hops down the moving walkway in the Dolphin garage, which has been shut down for months in a cost-cutting move by the county's Aviation Department
Steve Satterwhite
A merry-go-lucky schoolgirl hops down the moving walkway in the Dolphin garage, which has been shut down for months in a cost-cutting move by the county's Aviation Department

In front of the LanChile counter, Jude Rosen, a 28-year-old mental therapist from Olympia, Washington, traveling to Lima with some friends, was hyper-critical of MIA's services and employees. "Where do I start?" sneered Rosen, a cynical smile informing his lips as he chewed a chocolate chip cookie. "This place is for the birds. No one really knows which end is up." Rosen recounted how, the day before, he and his friends missed their connecting flight to Lima after being given the runaround by airport employees on how to get from Concourse H, where they had disembarked, to Concourse A. "One guy told us to go upstairs and we wound up back at the gates in H. Another guy said we had to go downstairs to the baggage claim, and go straight. But somehow we ended up outside, where a cabbie harassed us, trying to force us into his taxi. So we go back up to Arrivals in Concourse E, and ask another person for help. But he only speaks Spanish! We just looked at each other."

Making matters worse for Rosen and company was that they only had twenty minutes to make the connecting flight. They finally made it to the LanChile counter in Concourse A, only to have Sy, a thirteen-year-old boy with a brain injury who was under Rosen's care, suffer a seizure from exhaustion. Rosen said the LanChile employees panicked and called Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. "But there really wasn't a need to call the paramedics because we knew how to deal with Sy's condition without medical assistance," Rosen explained. "So we ended up missing our flight and had to spend the night in the airport hotel. We spent an extra $350 and 24 hours of aggravation, because people couldn't point us in the right direction. And that blows."

Airport log, 12/25/2002: Christmas. MIA, usually messed up, looked like Saigon airport when the Americans were scrambling to get out. In Concourse B, the ticket counter for Grupo Taca, a Central American-based airline, was jammed with hundreds of Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Costa Ricans, and Guatemalans, all with suitcases way over the weight limit. The line to Grupo Taca snaked all the way around the circular, Plexiglas gift shop. Ernest Urday, a Brickell Avenue doctor, trying to get by, was steamed at the lack of direction at the immigration checkpoints. In other U.S. cities, Urday observed, immigration personnel actually direct citizens and foreigners on where to go for processing. "The lines here are chaotic!" he fumed. "I am a U.S. citizen, been a resident of Florida for 21 years, and I stood in line for 30 minutes today in the 'U.S. citizens only' line. I was surrounded by hundreds of tourists! Nobody told them to go to the visitors' lines. That is unfair to us!"

Kerensa Flowers, a St. Louis traveler, was also disgusted with INS at MIA. "At approximately 5:45 a.m. an older gentleman, around 45-50, working the 'U.S. citizens only' line, snapped at me to hang up my cell phone," Flowers snarled. "Then he yells, 'Go to the back of the line now!!! And take your passport with you!!!' When I came back, he yelled at me again, 'Put your phone away!' I [wasn't talking], I just had the phone in my hand! He stamped my form and told me curtly, 'You're finished!' I'm finished? I have never experienced someone so rude before! I feel this was unnecessary, and I hope something will be said to him about his 'customer service' [manner]!"

Monica Bender, a French citizen passing through MIA after a vacation in Costa Rica, got all riled up over the treatment she received from "La Migra," too. "If our vacation in Costa Rica was pleasant, we can't say the same about our short stay in Miami!" Bender said sarcastically. "I'll let you be the judge: We waited a long time in INS, where we were forced to rewrite our green entry card three times before we got any help! As a result, we missed the Iberia flight for San Jose. We had to take another American Airlines flight at seven in the evening that had a layover in Panama for refueling. We didn't eat or have a [blanket] for the whole trip! We finally landed in San Jose after five hours, tired and hungry. Of course our luggage didn't make the flight, and we had to wait 24 hours before it ..."

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