Monday, December 6, 2010

Flying the sometimes friendly skies and airports

Whew. Just returned from a whirlwind trip to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, Mexico and at the moment, the frustrations of flying are stronger than the memories of beautiful surroundings and fun friends.

Given my Jacksonville, FL, home base, Miami International Airport is a frequent gateway.

The good news is the American Airlines terminal is finally in operation.

The bad news is that whomever designed its connection to passport control and customs, also a bit rearranged, must never have flown internationally.

It's a mess in which you find yourself walking endless corridors and negotiating a number of escalators to reach passport control. Then, having gone through that you have to circle around and cross through those coming in, take an escalator down to baggage claim where you are immediately dumped into milling crowds trying to retrieve bags. Try finding your way to the exit through that!

It is particularly frustrating if you have no checked luggage; there is no direct way to avoid those who didn't pack light. Then it's following different colored dots on the floor and, if connecting with another flight, going through security again.

Tips: If you have any trouble walking, ask for assistance when flying internationally through Miami. You'll never make it otherwise. Unless you are a world-class sprinter, you'll never make the average one-hour-long gap between connection if you have to switch terminals or go through customs. Insist on at least two hours between flights.

If you are flying this holiday season, count on full flights, crowded airports and hunts for free tables in the food courts not unlike the hunt for parking.

Not all is bad, however. Some airports are festive and fun. Cancun's facility had spectacular trees covered in colorful Mexican hand-crafted ornaments and a "delegation" of angel (or Mary and Joseph, I couldn't be sure), two devils in horns and red devil suits and a Santa Claus wandering around. Combine that with the "Let's keep the party going" atmosphere in the large and open Margaritaville and you can have a jolly good time.

Warning: Mexican security is capriciously serious about the 3 1/2-ounce limit on liquids. My searcher took exception to the almost empty 4-ounce bottle of contact lens solution but let pass a larger bottle of perfume. Guess he didn't want to tempt an international incident.

Kudos to Jacksonville International Airport, too. Decorated trees are everywhere and each one is done by a different group: there's a contest to see which is most popular.

The raise-your-hands-and let-the scan-reader-see-your-altogether machines are installed in Jacksonville, which pretty much eliminate pat-downs, a boon for those of us with joint replacements. Not so Miami although TSA staff is professional and thoughtful. Still a frustrating hassle.

In short, forget that extra shirt. Pack your patience and sense of humor instead.

Let me know what you encounter. Which is your favorite airport when returning from abroad?


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