A friend called the current designs in the US to be like "ugly, makeshift cargo containers to handle people and planes." Further research was explained in a post here in 2010 regarding Federal Regulations of glass jet bridges:
"Most bridges are designed and fire tested in accordance with NFPA 415, Airport Terminal Buildings , Fueling Ramp Drainage, and Loading Walkways. When built to the standard, the bridge provides a safe means of egress from the aircraft for a period of five minutes when there is a jet-fuel spill fire on the ramp. There has always been a prohibition on glass, except that a window is permitted in the ramp access door and one in the cab area in order to move the bridge around safely."
More specifically the regulation states;
"There shall be no transparent or translucent walls, windows, or surfaces, other than those windows located in the ramp access service door and in the cab area for the purpose of operating the aircraft loading walkway."
Is this regulation not outdated? European airports have used the glass jet bridge design for over a decade in multiple emergency and heavy weather conditions. This reliability and performance record should already debunk the majority of (if not all) claims in US regulation regarding "the dangerous use of glass."
In favor of glass jet bridges, one of the first things one will notice is the wide-open view and anti-claustrophobic feeling it creates. It not only looks nice - it feels nice. Being a resident of the US (who flies rarely internationally), being in a glass jet bridge for me is a more special occasion. The experiences I've had with FRA, LHR, ATH, and OTP gave me a very positive view on this design, as it has a new "modern" appeal that fits so well with the glass terminals it is connected to.
People have mentioned in the 2010 thread that "glass jet bridges are also tested to withstand elements - including fires and fuel spills." This should refute any claim made by US regulations regarding concerns. The FAA also requires strict practices regarding fueling in the US, ensuring that no major international airport should have a fuel spill large enough to take over a jet bridge of any kind with a fuel spill fire.
In the fire at DUS in 1998, the airport was closed for 3 days and heavily-revised and regulated fire evacuation plans, fire suppression systems, and fire control charts became mandatory across all airports within Germany. One of the major factors that BER will not open next year is due to these regulations (the fire-suppression system is not up to code). Why would a European country who is famed for engineering standards and is strict regarding airport fire safety allow glass jet bridges if they are truly considered "dangerous in fires?"
Glass jet bridges are not for everyone, as arguments against their usage are logical in certain portions of the country. Glass jet bridges without air conditioning would be a sauna and greenhouse in the PHX mid-summer heat. However, it's been said that in Europe that air conditioning units are often more expensive, and seldom are they installed in mass-quantities. In the past 25 years, A/C units on a commercial scale have been designed to greatly reduce power and the size they take up. Building them in glass jet bridges in the US should cost noticeably less than originally calculated for European use.
Another (albeit smaller) argument would be that conventional jet bridges allow advertising and a greater use of potential financial gains by the airport. Glass jet bridges would make this more difficult, more expensive, and more tacky if implemented. One could imagine a "hybrid" jet bridge which may solve the problem (it would contain an on-off series of walls and windows to allow space for advertisements on non-windowed portions on the jet bridge).
However, it would appear that regulation regarding fire codes in the US concerning airports will not change any time soon. The current state of government security and safety within airports has almost hit a state of "gridlock" regarding innovation and improvement of policies.
I'm eager to hear discussions regarding this topic.
[Edited 2012-10-09 21:36:54]
[Edited 2012-10-09 21:38:26]