MIA: A User's Manual

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

Then coming back through Miami was as disastrous as going in, Bender continued. "We had to stand in line again at immigration for a very long time. Luckily an Iberia employee allowed us to cut in the 'U.S. citizens only' line. Afterward, we had to run from Concourse F, Iberia gates, to Concourse A, to catch our Air France flight back to Paris! I think the airport management does this on purpose! I turned my ankle, running to catch the Paris flight, and ate it badly on the carpet in Concourse B. I got right back up and was able to check in at Air France, though I was winded and tired from all the running. When we got to Paris, we didn't have our luggage again! It didn't make it to our connecting flight! The connection in Miami is like going to hell and back!"

Going through U.S. Customs was no picnic either: "You don't want to get me started on the customs officers, who gave you the feeling that they wanted you to miss your connection," she said exasperatedly. "One of them tore up the declaration form I filled out incorrectly with a big fat happy smile on his face! The bad memory of this godforsaken airport will burn in our memories for a long time. We will definitely make sure everybody around us is aware of it, so they don't have to go through this lovely experience!"

Customs treatment of U.S. citizens at MIA is no better, if you ask Walter Bustillos, a Brooklyn native on his way home from the Dominican Republic: "As I was waiting on line to have my bags scanned in the U.S. Customs section," Bustillos snapped in his thick accent, "this Spanish female customs agent with curly black hair and marks on her face asked me if I purchased my tickets and if the passport was mine. She ordered me in Spanish to come to a counter [where she could] search my bags. I asked her 'Do you know English?' because I only know a little Spanish. She said 'No.' She told me to place my bags on the table and as I was complying, she said that 'si tu equipaje me toca, te voy a dar un cocotazo!' [if my bag touched her, she'd hit me!] Her co-worker, a guy named Garzon, was standing next to her and threatened to throw me in jail if I kept asking questions! Fucking unbelievable!"

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

Airport log, 1/15/2003: A disheveled 54-year-old man in a cowboy hat and a blue sport coat with frayed and tattered cuffs stands outside the airport's Metro-Dade bus terminal. He's lugging a black suitcase and black and green Jansport backpack stuffed with papers and notebook binders. He introduces himself as Lewis Vandenberg and says he's been waiting for the Owl bus for nearly an hour and a half. According to the schedule posted in the terminal, the Owl runs every 40 minutes, going from the airport to Biscayne Boulevard, and NE 36th Street to Lincoln Road and Washington Avenue, then back to the airport. Vandenberg tells me he lives on South Beach and pretty much relies on public transportation when he travels out of MIA. "Which is a problem," he says, with one eyebrow cocked. "The public transportation in this town is deplorable. The Owl is always more like an hour and a half [or longer]. Sometimes three buses come at the same time, and then you won't get another bus for almost two hours! It's also a little threatening to stand out here between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. because of the homeless population and other unsavory characters milling about here." Manny Palmeiro, spokesman for the county's transit agency, asserted smugly that his department hadn't received any complaints about Owl service, but that he'd take care of them if he did.

Travelers should also be alert for unsavory machines lurking in the terminal. On two occasions, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue had to respond to calls for passengers who'd passed out after being hit with a mysterious white powder issuing from one of the prepaid phone card vending machines in the greeter's lobby on Concourse E. Apparently the individuals had fainted from shock, thinking they'd been hit with anthrax. The powder turned out to be cornstarch, which the vendors use to keep the phone cards from sticking together due to static electricity. "We've asked the vendors to stop using the starch," said Fire Lt. Jim Seefield. "We're getting run ragged on these and other bogus calls."

Larry Coston, an Atlanta businessman, tried to use two of the Triton ATM machines in the terminal, but got jacked for his money. The first machine, in Concourse G, and the second, in Concourse H, Coston remembered, took a long time processing his transactions to withdraw $160. "Both ATMs flashed an error sign and I didn't get any money," he said, clearly irate. Then Coston trudged to Concourse D and tried the Triton ATM machine there, but this time the contraption flashed him a message that read: "Insufficient Funds." "I called my bank soon after to check my account and the automated system told me that $160 plus the $5 ATM fee had been withdrawn. I was dumbfounded. There were no 1-800 numbers on the ATMs to call for service problems!"

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