An airport can be an exciting or irritating place depending on the nature and length of your travels.
For many travelers, airports are an afterthought, just a necessary stop en route to their final destination or return home. Nonetheless, traffic, security checkpoint lines, staffing shortages and surging demand for air travel resulting in overbookings and other unexpected delays force some of us to spend more time at the airport than we might like.
Unless you're Tom Hanks' character Viktor Navorski in The Terminal, airports aren't supposed to be destinations.
However, one major U.S. airport is looking to change that as Arizona's Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) has dubbed itself "America's Friendliest Airport."
Having passed through PHX on numerous occasions in recent years I can say that the airport certainly ranks as more friendly than others. But friendliest, who can say?
After all, what makes an airport friendly?
So much of what determines a traveler's experience is outside of an airport's control, including the passengers coming and going who may or may not have any ties to the city, and the airline staff at the ticket counters and gates who represent their carrier first and foremost.
To PHX's credit, in terms of the aspects within its control, it performs well. The TSA agent I interacted with on my most recent trip was easily the friendliest I've encountered in all of my travels, providing clear instructions with a smile and doing more than most to speed up the process while putting first-time or stressed-out flyers at ease.
Beyond the security checkpoint, PHX has made an extra effort to brighten travelers' days and make accessing assistance easier than other airports.
There are hundreds of volunteers to welcome travelers at PHX as part of the Navigator program, which has been around for more than two decades. "We want to be efficient and make sure people don't have to wander around too awfully much," volunteer Diane Hansen told 12News in 2021.
PHX is always looking for more volunteers to put on the purple jacket and move through the airport to provide travelers with directions and assistance or maybe just send a friendly wave to someone who needs it.
While PHX is hardly the only major U.S. airport to prioritize generating a welcoming and friendly atmosphere in hopes of luring travelers back, in the end, we travelers don't really have much of a choice in terms of accessing the places we love or need to be for work or other obligations.
The friendliness or lack thereof of a particular airport is either an added bonus or a minor annoyance associated with getting to where we want or need to get. The question becomes if the airport isn't your destination but rather a means to an end, does being the friendliest make that much of a difference?
Is there an airport you consider to be America's friendliest? Let us know in the comments.
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