Doesn't America deserve better than Newark 'Liberty' International Airport?


Passengers ride the AirTrain at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey.


Mario Tama

BOSTON — We're back. My family and I landed exhausted at Newark Liberty International Airport after two weeks in London, Germany and Austria for a mix of vacation and work. We flew into Newark (before the short flight here) with the full view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Powerful images of what makes us proud about America.

But then you land in Newark and you walk into a dirty, broken-down airport of which "we the people" should all be collectively ashamed. The place was chaotic and filthy. The main escalator from international arrivals to connecting flights was broken, forcing hundreds of passengers to descend a steep, poorly lit staircase to get to baggage claim where the conveyor belt kept breaking down.

An unfathomably loud alarm was screeching, and no one was responding to turn it off so it appeared to be just some kind of malfunction we were supposed to endure. The uniformed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) police need to be thorough and tough, of course, but they don't need to be rude. And these men and women were downright surly and one was particularly rude. We were stuck in Newark airport for two hours with no internet access at a forlorn gate. It was hot and the carpets had not been replaced nor even vacuumed in a very long time.

Compare this experience to Heathrow or Munich international airports into which we flew at the start of our trip. They have full wireless access throughout the airport. Clean. Modern. Efficient. Pleasant, even. America is just way out-classed by European airports.

It struck me as interesting that we landed just as the debt crisis was coming to a head in Washington, where the Tea Party succeeded in derailing politics as usual. They hate big government. In fact, they seem to hate any role for the government. (Except for the enormous spending we do on the military.) But if ever there was a solid argument for the need for more, better government spending it would be the decline of airports like Newark.

Sure, taxes are high in Europe and their economy is not exactly rocking either. But compare the quality of life in Europe in general when it comes to public services and it just does not make the U.S. look good. We live in a global world where first appearances make a difference and arrival at too many American airports is a profoundly disappointing and downright embarrassing experience.

Newark's bad. Boston's Logan is better, but still not great. Sorry to be sounding whiny. But, damn, I think we can expect more.