Nina In New York: Sweet Home JFK

A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak

Sometimes, after traveling a far distance, there really is no place like home. It’s such a great feeling to walk in the door, drop your bags, wash all the airplane germs off and curl up on the couch in your oldest, grossest sweats.

Of course, before this can happen, you have to deplane (silliest word ever, by the way) at the charming arrival terminal at charming JFK International Airport.

Related: Plan Your Next Vacation | CBSNewYork’s Planes, Trains And Automobiles Guide

Sure, other cities have depressing airports, but ours could go toe-to-toe with any one of them. Some of our departures terminals are actually pretty spiffy now, and it’s great to start off a trip on the right foot. But I’d argue that the time when you really need to be welcomed properly is when you stumble off a seven-hour flight exhausted, greasy, dehydrated, and for some reason suddenly racing 300 strangers who are all running to be the first one in the Customs line.

I do love how people get off planes in NYC. When you land in Pittsburgh or St. Louis and that seatbelt light turns off, nobody makes a move. Except for me, of course. Everyone else sits politely in their seats, patiently waiting until the people in front of them get out into the aisles to get their bags before they follow suit in an orderly fashion.

Here, when that light dings, it’s on. Everyone stands up at once regardless of their seat, all pushing and rustling and reaching over one another to grab their luggage and get a good spot in the aisle so they can be 42nd off the plane instead of 49th. It actually makes me want to move slower. My competitive instincts often kick in backwards. Hey, you can’t lose if you’re not playing, right?

Anyway, back to the airport. It’s nasty. It’s old. It’s drab and eerily lit. The bathrooms are an atrocity. But hot dog, do those people move fast. We got through passport control in less time than it took the French Customs officer to sloooooowly look up from her desk and give us a reluctant, “Oui?”

I guess if you’re going to design your passenger reception the same way you design your prison waiting rooms, speed is of the essence. We’re not there to enjoy ourselves or feel comfortable in our surroundings. We’re there to get out. And that’s exactly about the only thing you can do when you land at JFK.

Okay, so I take it all back. It’s perfect. Don’t ever change. Not ever, not even in fifty years. Not even the carpeting. No—especially not the carpeting.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

The Nina Archives:

Thank You, Law & Order

Rites Of Spring

Art Is In The Air

Get Out Of My Way… Please

Tales From The Dog Run

  • John

    It’s part of the deal. You want to travel 3,000 miles in 7 hours, this is price you have to pay. It won’t be like sitting on your couch but the airport personnel are doing their best to make it as comfortable and convenient as possible. You don’t like it? walk.

  • merta

    I only have one question what r u going to do with all those people during the renovations that u suggest . Fly them somewhere else ? This is one of the busiest airports in us . Good luck.

    • Al Green

      A number of very busy international airports – like Heathrow – have done upgrades and found ways to keep passengers flowing through during the renovations periods.

  • Ralph C

    People stand up at the ding everywhere.

    You sound like an angry transplant living in New York from another area and just can’t get used to how it is in New York.
    Move!!! Or learn to live here.
    Fact is NY has the most compitent professionals, people, and emergency personell ANYWHERE.
    Now back to your doublewide in Sh-tsville!!!

    • TD

      The fact that you misspelled competent, and are presumably a NY professional, person, or emergency personell (sic) tickles me in all the right ways. And she is from NY, by the way…

  • E

    When you are not working so hard on your $300 a week reporting job, why don’t you write a letter to Bloomberg. I’m sure he will replace that carpet for you in an instant, being that you make such a difference in peoples life.

  • Sioux

    I can’t understand why our airports — LGA and JFK — are grim, depressing and antiquated compared to those of less sophisticated U.S. cities.

  • DCLaw-1

    Given the ten-to-twenty minutes on average spent at the arrivals area at JFK each year, how much are you willing to chip in for the upgrades? The ambience of the international arrivals terminal is about 18,968 on the list of average travelers concerns.

  • dude

    thats the new york behavior,everyone run and push to get off planes as fast as they can,cut old ladies off,dont let ladies with kids first,its digusting

  • nathan

    Flying’s a hassle? Really? Thanks for the eye opener. I know its hard to come up with 5 subjects a week but cmon.

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