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Kids in the tower the newest strike against JFK

Image: Airline passengers wait to re-enter Terminal 8 at the John F Kennedy International Airport
Some passengers say JFK just can’t do right, claiming the congestion, failed slot auctions, runway closures — and now kids in the tower — are all symptoms of a greater ill that plagues the airport.LUCAS JACKSON / Reuters

Is New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport cursed?

It is consistently ranks as one of the worst airports in America. Air travelers go to great lengths to avoid it. One of its runways is closed, adding to the misery. And now, it’s at the epicenter of more bad publicity — this time from an air traffic controller who allegedly let his children radio instructions to pilots.

“In years past, when I flew into JFK, I had to worry about inclement weather, delays and cancellation, ice on wings and birds getting too close to the engines,” said Lisa Hanock-Jasie, an online consultant in New York. “Now I gotta worry about kid air controllers? Geesh.”

A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which runs JFK, did not return a call requesting a comment.

JFK’s most obvious problems are its delays, of which there are many.

And they predate the closing of runway 13R-31L, the airport’s longest and busiest, which is out of commission through July while three miles of asphalt are repaved.

Back in the summer of 2007, the federal government found the slow-downs at New York’s airports so intolerable — it estimated that the number of flight delays and cancellations had increased an eye-popping 111 percent in a decade — that it commissioned a study to address the problem. The resulting report proposed a series of initiatives designed to address the region’s persistent delays, including an auction of landing slots.

Last spring, the government scrapped the auctions.

Chris McGinnis, a frequent user of JFK who edits a newsletter called The Ticket, sums up his thoughts on the airport in two words: “No likey.”

“To me, it’s an embarrassment as a American to have it be the first impression of our country that so many visitors get upon arrival,” he said. “And it’s equally bad for international departures, so it leaves them with a bad taste about America.”

Customer surveys suggest passengers agree with him. Like this 2007 TripAdvisor survey, which asked the site’s members which airports they disliked the most. JFK came in third, topped only by Chicago O’Hare (the worst) and Atlanta Hartsfield International. Or this 2010 J.D. Power & Associates study, which ranked JFK as one of the worst major airports, with only four other big airports scoring lower.

“Without a doubt, if it goes bad in general, it goes a lot worse at JFK,” said frequent JFK passenger and New York resident Brian Donaldson.

Getting to the airport can be a challenge. Whether it by car, on the always-crowded Van Wyck Expressway, or by AirTrain JFK, the relatively new 8-mile rail connection that shuttles passengers to New York’s subway and the Long Island Railroad. “Just don’t be at the Jamaica station after dark,” said one New Yorker in an online forum, echoing a warning that is frequently heard. “It’s not a safe area.”

The terminal experience leaves something to be desired, too. Annie Peiser, a sales director for a New York-based corporate travel agency, called JFK “super crowded,” adding, “I find it next to impossible to find a porter to help with bags when getting out of a taxi. I’m also mystified as to how the lines to drop off baggage are just as long as the check in lines.”

But there are degrees of bad at JFK. For example, a search of JFK on the popular review site Yelp shows Terminal 4 is very unpopular among travelers. One disgruntled passenger writes: “Words cannot express how much I hate JFK airport as a whole.” Says another, “This has to be one of the worst airports/terminals I’ve been to.”

Terminal 4 is home to several international carriers, including Air India, LAN Peru and Virgin Atlantic.

JetBlue Airways’ new Terminal 5 is different story. Its Yelp reviews are glowing. “Oh my God, I need to be committed, because I have fallen in love with an airport,” raved one passenger. “Normally I am not a fan of JFK,” writes another. “This new terminal though is pretty awesome.”

JetBlue probably deserves a break. After all, it was also the scene of its biggest public-relations disaster in its young history, when several of its aircraft were stuck on the tarmac in the Valentine’s Day Storm of 2007. Passengers were trapped on planes for up to 10 hours, and in the resulting fallout, the airline’s chief executive, David Neeleman, was forced out.

Does anyone have something nice to say about JFK as a whole? “The parking options are good,” ventures David Lavenda, a marketing executive who lives in Israel. “Access to rental cars is easy, too.

Generally, my experience has been the airport is much less congested than LaGuardia Airport, but a hassle to get from terminal to terminal.

I would still take it over LaGuardia if I had a choice.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Our msnbc.com cartoonists take a wry look at airport security and anti-terrorism measures.

Talk to passengers, and they’re more likely to tell you that try as hard as it may, JFK can’t do right. The recent news — the congestion, the failed slot auctions, the runway closures and the kid in the tower — it’s all a symptom of a greater ill that plagues the airport.

“Cursed?” asked John DiScala, the normally upbeat editor of the site JohnnyJet. “Of course, it’s cursed! It’s the worst major airport I’ve ever been to.”

DiScala recites the familiar litany of complaints: Its confusing, counter-intuitive layout. The difficulty in reaching the airport from the city, regardless of your means of ground transportation. And, of course, the tarmac delays.

“I once landed from France and the pilot said we were early, but due to traffic and congestion, we were told we will have to park between one and four hours,” he remembered. “Four hours! After an eight hour flight!”

Turns out they had to hold less than an hour, which DiScala believes was just a clever way of making 45 minutes seem shorter. “I try to avoid JFK whenever I can,” he adds.