We travelled through the biggest airports in New York City and London too see which one was better -- and the winner was clear

Business Insider/Mary HanburyJohn F. Kennedy Airport, New York, Terminal 8.
  • In the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017Infrastructure Report Card, the US infrastructure received a D+ grade, which equates to it being “in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard.”
  • US airports were highlighted as one of the areas in need. Despite this, when Trump laid out his much-anticipated infrastructure plan in February, airports barely got a mention.
  • Local governors are taking matters into their own hands. In 2017, New York’s Governor Cuomo proposed a $US10 billion renovation of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. This is currently being negotiated.
  • We compared the experience of flying in and out of New York’s JFK airport and London’s Heathrow airport and found that Heathrow was the clear winner.

The US has an infrastructure problem.

In the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017Infrastructure Report Card, which is published every four years, the US infrastructure received a D+ grade, which equates to it being “in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life,” according to its guide online.

In the study, the ASCE estimated that the country needs to spend around $US4.5 trillion improving the state of its infrastructure, including airports. Despite this, when Trump laid out his much-anticipated infrastructure plan in February, airports barely got a mention.

As one of the US’s most important business hubs, New York’s airports frequently come under scrutiny for not cutting it.

In 2017, New York’s Governor Cuomo and the Port Authority proposed a $US10 billion plan to completely overhaul the city’s main airport, John F. Kennedy, this is currently being negotiated. The Port Authority has budgeted $US1 billion towards this airport expansion and is banking on the fact that the private sector will provide the remaining $US9 billion.

“This is a race, my friends,” Cuomo said in 2017, comparing New York to other international cities such as London and Dubai, who have launched major infrastructure developments in the past few years. “We sat on our laurels for too long.”

With this in mind, we decided to compare the experience of flying and landing at JFK versus London Heathrow.

Here’s how they stack up:

One of the biggest downsides of flying out of New York on British Airways is having to go to terminal 7 at JFK. On this occasion, we got lucky and flew with one of its partners — American Airlines, which departs from the more glitzy terminal 8 at JFK.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyJFK is the fifth busiest airport in the US in terms of customer traffic. It had over 59 million passengers in 2016.

British Airways is currently refurbishing terminal 7 at JFK and has put $US65 million towards this.

We can expect to see a complete overhaul of this terminal with a new food court, seating areas, and a slicker check-in and security area to reduce the amount of queues.

Terminal 8 is the largest passenger terminal in the airport. It is twice the size of Madison Square Garden.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Source: Non-official airport website

The check-in area was massive and there were no queues. Self-check-in machines were there to take the pressure off the main desks at busier times.

The experience of queuing for security was hassle free, there was a ton of space and lots of staff to help.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The queuing area was large.

In the US, there is a separate, fast-track security process called TSA PreCheck.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyTSA pre-check.

To enroll in this program, you need to be a US citizen or resident, apply for an in-person interview, have a background check, and pay $US85 for the five-year membership.

Approved travellers can go through security without having to remove items such as shoes, coats, and laptops to save time.

Once we were through security, we sussed out the shopping selection. As travel retail has been one of the sector’s biggest sweet spots, we were keen to see how much of a shopping destination this is.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Spending in airports hit $US38 billion globally in 2016, according to GlobalData. It is set to grow by 27% to $US49 billion by 2021.

There was a mix of designer brands such as Chanel and Michael Kors and mass-market stores such as Victoria’s Secret.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyThis location mostly sold perfume.

Aside from shopping, the best way to kill time in the airport is to eat or drink.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

We headed to the food court, where the majority of the hot, quick food was being served in the terminal.

There was a good amount of restaurants but a real lack of healthy choices.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyThe last stop for a slice of New York pizza.

We found a McDonald’s and an Aunt Annie’s.

The seating area was less impressive.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

We found one formal restaurant, Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, which is part of a chain of restaurants.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

A steak here cost between $US42 and $US57.

And, of course, an Irish pub.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

There were a ton of places to sit and wait for your flight and a selection of power stations to charge your phone.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyPlenty of areas to relax in if your flight is delayed.

In the US, any products bought at duty-free are taken to the gate for pickup. The sales assistant was not able to confirm why this policy exists. However several travel forums claim that this is to prevent international travellers from buying duty-free products for domestic travellers departing from the same terminal.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Source: Travel forum

After a night on the red eye, we woke up in London at Heathrow terminal 3.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

This terminal opened in 1961 and is the third largest terminal at the airport.

The first thing we note is that signs are prolific at Heathrow.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

You are never at a loss for directions.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The queue for immigration moves quickly.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

For UK residents with an e-passport, immigration is a speedy process. Travellers simply scan their chipped passport in the machine and a camera will detect the face of that person using the chip and their passport photo.

The experience of departing from JFK and landing at Heathrow felt very similar until you consider onwards travel.

Business Insider/Mary HanburySigns are placed near the baggage collection area to inform you about onward travel.

There is a network of buses, trains, and an underground system to get you into central London or to another terminal. You can also travel further afield in the UK.

The most expensive option, the Heathrow Express, takes a speedy 15 minutes to Paddington Rail Station in West London (a taxi would take 42 minutes). A one-way ticket bought on the day costs around $US37.

Just before we enter the arrivals area, Heathrow tempts us with some more duty-free shopping.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The arrivals area has a good selection of shops including the pharmacy chain Boots and a Costa coffee.

Two days later, we head back to Heathrow for the return flight. This time we hit the jackpot — British Airways terminal 5.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyTerminal 5 opened in 2008.

This is the largest terminal of all (over double the size of terminal 4, which is the second largest) and given it was recently built, it’s the most luxurious.

This terminal is dedicated to British Airways flights.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyIn 2017, 31.9 million passengers passed through the terminal on 213,179 flights.

Source: Heathrow

The building cost nearly $US6 billion to construct.

Once through security, we hit its bright and airy central waiting area.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Terminal 5 is known for being a shopping destination.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

It is clear that many of the stores are aimed at tourists who are visiting England.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

There are several bars and restaurants including Michelin star chef Gordon Ramsay’s, Plane Food.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Ramsay created takeaway food boxes for travellers to take on flights.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

“Airline or airport food has always been something people loved to dismiss as disappointing, flavourless crap — and they weren’t necessarily wrong,” Ramsay told CNNMoney in 2015.

“Our goal was to be able to serve multiple course meals within 25 minutes, as well as sell takeaway cool boxes which are designed to be taken on flights,” he added.

There is a mini train which connects you to some of the gates which are further away.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

We wake up bleary-eyed at JFK terminal 7. Despite dashing off the plane as quickly as we could, the queue from our flights had already built up at immigration.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyThis terminal is operated by British Airways.

This is the last photo we took before being told to put the phone down. The waiting area was dingy and dated. This was a far cry from our landing experience at Heathrow.

Plus, with only a few officers on duty, the queue moved slowly.

Onward travel options are limited and there is no direct train into New York City. Travellers can either take an AirTrain to the nearest metro and rail stations or catch a taxi.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Our verdict: While the experience of taking off from JFK terminal 7 and landing in Heathrow at terminal 3 wasn’t too dissimilar, when it came to the return leg of the journey there was a massive difference between the standards of the British Airways terminals on either side of the Atlantic.

One of the biggest problems we found at JFK was how long the immigration process took, simply because they didn’t have enough officers on the desks so queues were snaking around the corner. Plus, the lack of good options for onward travel from the airport made the trip home even longer.

Overall, Heathrow was the clear winner.

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