Frankfurt is an amazing airport. It lies in the heart of the developed world, serves millions of passengers every year, and to say that it is bit disorganized at the moment might be a bit of an understatement.
I am not known to be a picky guy. I set a low bar on facilities, food, and the fact that Frankfurt has those amazing one person restrooms (an innovative concept for busy airports!) and atrociously long lines to get a cup of coffee are just not things that can bother me. In my humble origins and coming from a developing nation, I am used to such deficiencies in the infrastructure. (My hometown doesn’t even have an airport, and I haven’t lost sight of that.)
As I arrived from my Lufthansa flight from Amman, there was no gate available, so we were calmly dropped off in the middle of the taxiing area and required to walk down two flights of steps from the flight and a few hundred feet to a people mover. Good exercise for me, but a young woman with a roll on suitcase, and a toddler in hand, was a bit lost and couldn’t see where the people mover was (nor did I at first), and started walking towards the food truck. Dozens of other equipment trucks that are common at the airport are driving around, creating a potentially dangerous situation. Then the German police came and wanted to see their passports. Of course, nothing wrong in that, especially considering that the area was teeming with non-travelers, such as construction workers, etc, but also, I think, the passport police was oblivious to the fact that the woman never intended to be in the tarmac of a terminal with trucks speeding around when making her travel plans in the first place. Her 2 year old is running around obviously fascinated by those big trucks. Finally, we get on to the people mover. Perhaps it was that flight, or perhaps that is the norm, the people mover did not have enough seats for all the elderly and the people with little kids. So as it makes it journey around the terminal to the gate, going around taxis and gourmet food trucks and yield signs and police cars, people are falling over, kids are crying, and that sir, I must admit, has gone too far, even for me.
Once at the terminal, standing outside a long line at the restroom, travelers are commiserating about the unbelievable condition that the airport is in, and a calm level-headed traveler points out that the airport is doing a bit of renovation, and as he explained, he had just come from Addis Ababa, and there really are places that are comparable (or even worse!) in the confusion department. A bit of perspective always helps, and it did in this case too, but I am unsure about how the Frankfurt airport authorities feel about the comparison. In the restroom, I did come across an airport official looking for feedback, and perhaps that is the least I can do, to point it out to him.
A few years ago, I had written about the smoking problem in Frankfurt Airport, and the airport authorities have fixed it quite nicely. The rest rooms may be a one man show, but there are plenty of smoking areas, that can host at least 50 people each, and those smoking areas are closed facilities now.
There is always a root cause, and in this case, it may be that the root cause is that Frankfurt airport is too successful in selling its services to the airlines. Just as people (travelers) buy tickets from airlines, airlines buy their “tickets” (or gate slots) from airports. Just as sometimes airlines can “overbook” people, airports can “overbook” airlines. (In case of passenger overbookings, the airlines often try to buy out their voluntary participation in dropping off by offering a future travel voucher etc.) The “non-availability of gates”, while obviously a hassle to the travelers, can be done almost with impunity, because the airports don’t sell to travelers – they sell to airlines. Then again, I know little about how airlines and airports work, so I know I fool no one with this flimsy analysis.
Just in case, I thought it was just the flight from Amman that didn’t have a gate at the terminal, my next flight to Washington Dulles didn’t have one either, so you just go down four flights of metal stairs on to the tarmac, and then get on the people mover, and then board the airplane. Again, good exercise for me, but a lot of people had difficulty on the stairs, and for the first time perhaps, I felt a dose of jet bridge envy.