It’s time for another installment of Airport Tales, where seasoned travelers share some of their favorite (and not so favorite) moments from airports around the world. Next up is Jeffrey Roehr, better known as JR. He has racked up at least a bazillion miles (that’s the official number) jetting to various corners of the globe. Seriously, if a mere mortal were to attempt to match his distance record, he/she would have to start traveling today and continue on for… well, practically forever! As you might imagine, JR knows a lot about a lot of different airports and he has some pretty interesting tales to tell.
Tell us a little about yourself, how you got the travel bug and give us an idea of where your travels have taken you (locations, miles, etc).
My name is Jeff, but everyone calls me JR. During my life I have lived in 7 different states, and overseas in the UK, Singapore, and Taiwan. I am 56 years old and have been married 29 years to a wonderful lady. I love to laugh, and I try (I try!) to get along with everyone. However this specifically excludes you if you start kicking my seat halfway between Houston and Tokyo, or if I ever see you giving a flight attendant or a gate agent a hard time.
I started my international traveling in 1970 when our family moved to the UK, and the travel bug bit me hard as a teenager with weekend trips from the UK to all sorts of cool places in Europe. By now, I can count visits to over 40 countries with an estimated 6,000 hours in the air as a passenger. In terms of total travel I have documented over 2.5 million actual air miles, including 1.2 million just on United. Just for fun, I also have a WordPress website with some of my travel experiences/tales, tips, and tricks. http://www.paxview.wordpress.com
Favorite airport to fly into/out of (in terms of approach/departure) and why:
I do not think there is any finer approach to see than SFO, and that left-turn and bank just in front of the Golden Gate bridge on a bright and sunny winter morning after finishing a TransPac flight. It is just the nicest way possible for America to say “Welcome Home” (although I still have hours of flying ahead). Yes, the DCA approach is also nice and scenic, but it is not SFO.
Prettiest airport and what criteria did you use to make that decision?
Probably like everyone else who has been there, I am going to say Singapore/Changi. And unless you have been there, it is so hard to describe. Yes, they really do have indoor butterfly gardens. Yes, indoor amusement park. Yes, waterfalls, trees, gardens. Yes, a 6 story high open atrium. Yes, smiling friendly staff, great shopping, and so clean… They even have a Dunkin Donuts in Changi (I mean talk about perfection)
Favorite airport to visit (in terms of facilities) and why:
Surprise!!! Not Changi. And I only say that because I have seldom (never ?) used any facilities at Changi other than the SQ Silver-Kris lounge. I do love Narita, the stores there are fun, but the best overall facilities might actually be in Hong Kong (the new airport). Special mention goes to the somewhat hidden casino in Frankfurt (FRA).
In your opinion, what qualities make for a good airport?
Let me start with what is bad… Tight, cramped, dirty, noisy, smelly, dark & dingy, too crowded. (Yes La Guardia, I’m talking about you…) So when I find an airport that feels roomy, is bright and well lit, is not annoyingly noisy (no echoes) and is not too crowded… Love it. There are several that fit that description, but here in the USA they are all small airports. Among them are T.F. Green in Providence R.I. (PVD), Greensboro N.C. (GSO), and my former hometown airport of Portland Maine (PWM) where they even provide wooden rocking chairs by sunny gates.
Airport you’ve been to with the best coffee? food? Other amenities? Best coffee is tough. I am going to exclude Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts at any airports, since they are so universal. I do not remember the name of the restaurant, but it was in Zurich, and it was the best tasting cup of coffee I have ever had at an airport. So it’s Zurich airport for coffee. Food is a toss-up tie between Legal Seafoods in Boston (Logan BOS Term C), and here in my new hometown with Pappadeaux’s seafood in Houston (Bush IAH Term E).
Strangest airport-related incident: It was 1999, I was flying from Singapore to Jakarta (my first time going to Jakarta) to meet my sister and her family who had recently moved there. Coming out of immigration, I see her, but her back is facing me. So I start to rush forward with my arms outstretched to give her a big surprise hug. About 2 paces away from her I am intercepted and stopped cold by her bodyguard, complete with his pistol jabbed into my ribs. Welcome to Indonesia.
Best airport-related moment:
Anytime I finish a flight and I see my wife waiting to pick me up. Second best is if I have luggage and I win the baggage claim lottery after an International flight because my bag is first off. Fun game – only played by very seasoned Frequent Fliers.
Worst airport-related moment: Three weeks after 9/11, I am doing a hand carry of some new silicon wafers from our test facility in Boston to an assembly house in Korea (BOS-FRA-ICN). I have all the paperwork I need, the name of the customs broker to meet up with in Incheon (ICN), and the wafers are carefully packaged inside a hermetic carrier. Problem is… all the instructions are in English and nobody at Korean customs appears able to read English. And they don’t understand my reaction when they try to open the container. End result was two rifles and a pistol being pointed at me while someone else was screaming at me in Korean. I ended up with a Korean soldier’s knee pressed into my back, keeping me face down and immobile on the floor.
Easiest airport to navigate and why? Domestically, I think SFO has done a great job since they remodeled back in the 90’s. Orlando’s MCO is also really easy to get around in, and the short train ride is actually a nice feature. At both airports there is a good amount of walking, but they have gone to lengths to add in some entertaining features (Yes, I mean the stores in Orlando) and good signage. The ever changing ‘museum’ exhibits in SFO on the walk between security and the gates are actually fun, I often bypass the moving walkway so I can wander through.
Most difficult airport to navigate and why? Ohhh boy… This is not easy. I have never liked trying to connect in JFK from International to Domestic, so much so that I have avoided JFK for the past 15 years. Completely 100% avoided it. It’s just a nightmare. When considering only domestic flights, it is Chicago ORD – which is probably my least favorite airport anywhere. If you ever run the mile needed to connect from a late arriving regional jet at terminals E/F to catch an on-time International flight out of terminal C, you will know why I hate ORD so much.
What’s your best advice for travelers on navigating airports? First: Calm down. Seriously. Calm Down! It seems like every trip I watch somebody just losing their mind in an airport. Stop. Take a breath. Look around. Even ask someone, there are plenty of airport workers and security/police around. Most of them actually like to help. It is not rocket science. Second advice is travel light. Don’t try to get thru security and navigate an airport with a tight connection on a busy day while carrying too much. That is asking for trouble and stress. Pack light, wear comfortable shoes (NOT slippers or sandals), and you will move fast and easy thru every airport.
Is there anything airports can do to better assist travelers? It sounds silly, and obvious, but SIGNS. In some cases there are too many, too distracting, too much to read. In other airports there are too few, or they are too small, and you easily can head away from a gate in the wrong direction. If I could design an airport, as you walk out of every gate there would be a BIG RED ARROW pointing either left or right so you know which way to the exit and/or baggage claim.
If you could operate any piece of airport equipment/vehicle, which would it be? Any piece? Any?? The planes of course!! But there are these very strict & annoying laws, rules, and regulations that are in place to stop that. Confession; Frank Abagnale is my airport idol.
Wow! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your stories and expertise with us JR! I have made a note to never, ever, ever carry wafers (silicon, Necco, or any other kind) into Korea! Yikes! If you want to read more of JR’s stories you’ll definitely want to check out his blog at paxview.wordpress.com. You can also follow JR on twitter – @JR_justJR