UPRIGHT AND LOCKED
Fort Lauderdale Gridlock
Why does a sunny spring day at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport look like O'Hare on a blizzard-blasted Christmas Eve? CoGo, no stranger to airport chaos, was stunned to see wall-to-wall mayhem at Fort Lauderdale on a fine March Saturday, with people asleep on the carpet, 30-minute lines for pizza and throngs of zombies staring at monitors listing late planes. "It's like this every weekend," one regular confided. "They can't handle the crowds."
One flight to Washington was delayed by three hours, while CoGo's own US Airways flight to Reagan National wasn't even listed on the monitor. The gate signboard was blank and the counter was unstaffed. Three minutes before boarding time, a gate rep appeared. The public address system was broken, so she called row numbers, sotto voce, to the baffled crowd.
Clearly, South Florida's second city is having a bad case of airport growing pains. The arrival of the discount carriers and its booming twin status as a cruise port and Latin American hub have more than doubled Lauderdale's air passenger traffic in the last nine years, to almost 21 million in 2004. The airport posted more than 5,700 capacity-related delays last winter, up from 1,500 the year before, said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown. With Lauderdale cruise traffic growing by a half-million passengers a year, Saturdays and Sundays are particular crush times.
"We are now in the study process for an additional runway," says airport spokesman Jim Reynolds. In the meantime, passengers beware: Your connection in Fort Lauderdale may be no day at the beach.
To ease the crowding on cruise days, the Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau is offering a list of three-hour tours -- from boat rides to bus trips -- timed to fill that gap between getting off the ship and getting on the plane. Details: 800-22-SUNNY, www.sunny.org.
The walls of the international arrivals area at Dulles are plastered with signs that warn, " No cell phone use." CoGo had promised to call home immediately after touching U.S. soil and had loads of time to do so while waiting for luggage and for a turn at getting through customs. But being a law-abiding citizen, CoGo reluctantly put off making the call.
What a dope.
Turns out there is no law, and nobody even cares about your cell phone as long as you don't jam up the customs line by talking on the phone while the customs agents are examining your luggage.