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USA vs. Japan - Airport Efficiency

I admit that I'm an anal person.  I'm never late, obsessively tidy, impeccably organized, and borderline OCD.  I'm not without vices, however.  I drink rum like a pirate and am sadly addicted to nori potato chips.  Getting back to the point--maybe the reason Japan and I click so well is because it's just as anal as I am.  Take their airports, for example...

NRT to LAX
Departing Narita airport I embarked for my hometown of Los Angeles.  ANA's internet check-in was a godsend, and Narita's attached shopping paradise made short work of killing the mounds of spare time I inevitably allow myself.  The most pertinent perk for me, though, was the immigration line.  As you'd expect, it was long; but it moved faster than a Shinkansen high on the finest Colombian coffee.  Every single booth had an immigration officer in it.  Multilingual signs clearly directed the newbies.  It was a testament to Japanese efficiency.

After landing in LA and heading down the stairs to immigration, I wanted to go right back to Japan.  Freakin' chaos.  I flashed back to the time I was at McDonald's in Italy.  Are there even lines?!

Oh wait...there are lines.  I just couldn't find them at first because they're not moving and they snake back to the tarmac.  And this was the US citizen line.  I couldn't even imagine what the foreign passports line was like.  What an utterly torturous welcome back to my home country.

Was every booth open?  Of course not.  What's even worse was that the booth for airline crew would sit idle for tens of minutes at a time.  Could they not service waiting customers in their downtime?  Of course not.  At least my bag was already waiting for me by the time I got through.

It's also worth mentioning that LAX is forever under construction.  When are they gonna finish it?  Japan could've built 3 airports by now.

Every time I visit LA, I'm instantly reminded of the primary reasons I left in the first place.  Japan's efficiency and customer service spoils the hell out of anal me.

LAX to NRT
Again, ANA's internet check-in allowed me to breeze right through to step 2.  I highly recommend choosing an airline that offers this service.  Most probably do.

The next challenge--airport security.  Uggg...I wasn't looking forward to this.  Surprisingly, it wasn't bad.  The line moved along quickly and every screening booth was open.  No, it wasn't as fast as Narita, but it looked like TSA finally got their act somewhat together.  I wonder how many complaints and lawsuits it took.  Interestingly, they weren't even using that expensive-looking body scanner.  Nice to see tax dollars well-spent.

Arriving in Narita I was greeted by an immigration line running at peak efficiency.  Two people were ahead of me in the "re-entry permit holders" line, and as we waited I saw officers from the "Japanese passports" line servicing other lines including ours.  Learn from this, USA.  Learn from this.

I got my bag and whizzed though customs without issue.  This has always been my experience at Narita.  Unfortunately, such words rarely describe LAX.

Final Note
Does this article seek to summarize the airport experience at every airport in Japan and the US?  No freakin' way.  Yes, some Japanese airports might suck while other USA airports rock.  I executed my comparison using narrative from a single experience, which is anything but a scientific approach.  Take it for what it's worth (whatever that means).

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  • Guest - Shacho

    I agree with your post. Japan (actually, most Asian countries) have very efficient airport immigration/security lines. It's really wonderful.

    Have you ever flow domestic within Japan? They don't even check your ID/passport.