Americans suck at building airline terminals. “Ask the Pilot” tells us how to do it better.

There’s really no way to sum up Patrick Smith’s recent column on his Ask the Pilot space at With its deceptively basic title “How to build the perfect airline terminal? Here are 15 steps in the right direction,” the article had me giggling into my tea the evening I read it. And that’s not just the effect of a week’s sleep deprivation with a puking baby. “Americans haven’t figured out how to build a proper terminal. We fail at aesthetics, we fail at amenities, and we fail at the relatively simple task of moving people efficiently from A to B,” he says bluntly.

Smith is always funny, informative, intelligent, and a little tongue-in-cheek. Kind of like your pilot columnist’s Tom Swick equivalent. Starting out with a pleasant memory of a young Smith sitting on the rooftop of PanAm’s Terminal 3 at JFK, the column notes without sadness that Terminal 3, now owned by Delta, needs a wrecking ball. With which I agree passionately. I’ve gone through that place too many times on my way to Russia, and it’s like taking a sojourn in a third-world country before being shipped off to the Gulag.

Smith’s 15 things no airline terminal should be without is right on the money, and he hopes the builders of the new Terminal 3 might take his advice. You need to read the article yourself to get the full impact of Smith’s humor and insights here. I might disagree that a play area for kids — known as a kidport, boy do I wish I had one of those in my house — “should be in a soundproofed bubble approximately six miles from the airport itself, but an open space at the far end of the concourse is a reasonable alternative.” But I like his style.

And a view, #15 on the list, would be right up my alley. “Why are so many airport designers intent on hiding the fact that their airports are actually airports?” asks Smith. “Instead of shopping or staring at one of those CNN chatterboxes, plenty of people would enjoy nothing more than sitting in front of a window and watching the planes go by. … Windows. At an airport. What a concept.”

Smith also has a definite bias against the CNN chatterboxes. “My first moves as airport czar,” he says, “will be to overhaul the Transportation Security Administration and rip out every last one of those hellspawn CNN Airport Network monitors.” I think I’ll be voting for him. If he promises to keep the damn cell phones off the damn planes, too. I have no desire to become homicidal in my later years as a crazed traveling writer-mother.

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