Airports of the world – MY selection!
I thought I should start and update my assessment of all the airports of the world that I have visited or travelled through before. As I was preparing this list, I realised that I have been to so many airports now, that it will take a very long time write down everything that is on my mind. So, what I will do is list all the airports as I remember them, and then update my assessment as I remember/experience/go. There are way so many now. If any reader wants me to update my assessment of any one airport, please drop me a line and I will go back into this page and update that particular one. Otherwise, this page will never see the light of day.
I will try to be as objective as possible. When I am in a hurry to write down my notes, I will just write quick notes. But if possible, I want to base my selection on the following criteria all on a score of 1-5 (5 being the highest).
Baggage Trolleys (arrival)
Shopping (Uniquely Domestic)
Transit hotel (airside/landside)
Signages: The toughest signages these days are the ones where arrival and departure are on the same concourse and arriving passengers have to make their way through all the shopping to get to immigration (Copenhagen was a nightmare)
Taxis/public transportation/car rentals
Transfers Management: Is the airport small or large, busy or not so busy, easy to do transfers or not
Airport Staff: General friendliness and motivation to be helpful
Stamps and Postboxes: You will be surprised how un-postal friendly some of the most developed airports in the world can be!
Touts/Public Safety: Whether you can be pick-pocketed anytime. Whether you tend to be hassled by touts.
Ambiance/Ergonomics – you don’t really see the ambiance or the ergonomics of an airport upon arrival. Arriving passengers are usually whisked away through windowless corridors directly to the immigration. I make this judgment the last, usually upon arriving back at the airport usually during daylight hours, majestically turning into the driveway that leads to departure.
Access to hotels:
Access roads from the city:
Others as I remember them.
The listing is best managed by continents, countries and then cities, in that order.
Some American airports run on a “dedicated terminals” concept. The good thing about such an arrangement is that the airport terminals tend to be small and therefore accessible, and used by one or two airlines, so same airline connections are straightforward. The fact that airports like JFK or Los Angeles would have many terminals is not a difficult thing because transportation between terminals is easy (except in bloody winter!), and there are usually good signages all around – good to a point, very new travelers to the US who are not familiar with the logic behind the way they work will find it infuriatingly impossible.
US immigration used to be the anathema of US tourism. Incidentally, anyone met US tourism officials at any airport recently? I think that such an initiative does not exist in the US.
John F Kennedy
Used to be where the Concorde used to be parked. After hearing so much about the Concorde, I was surprised one morning to see one parked on the tarmac. Small thing. Must be cramped inside. I would have loved to travel on the Concorde, but of course was never able to afford it, and even if I could now, I would have had to figure out a time. The immigration officers used to be very mean in the past, almost asking you “what are you doing in the US” when they run spot checks on people just getting off long flights. But they have all become much nicer in the past two years. Virgin has a very fancy lounge with real London/Carribean bar tenders who are a good chat. I was delighted to see JFK featured in the movie “Terminal”. Great movie. I was just identifying the different parts of the building. Actually, they filmed it in a studio mostly recreated from the airport. But the part where the protagonist goes up and down the elevator was in the landside of the airport, not the airside, and the movie was about this foreigner who was not allowed into America. It is a decent airport today.
Nicest airport to arrive in the US for any foreigner. Smaller, less menacing layout, so people don’t get lost. Although it has three terminals, they are all connected by a very slow moving monorail that could make your grandmother think it is a joy ride. Somehow the people in this airport are nicer than, say, Los Angeles. Even the car rental companies are located within the terminal complexes and accessible by the monorail. No need to take bus to nowhere etc.
A cramped building. Mostly domestic and Canadian flights. The aircrafts take off at a very steep angle from this airport because of restrictions in the use airspace near the city.
Dulles International (DC) IAD
The airside transportation is something right out of an inter-planetary movie – Man In Black or something – with huge People Movers between terminals and so on. I know that airports like these grow to become monsters because the authorities try to cope with rising demand without the corresponding budgetary support, but some of their solutions can only be described as loud and out-of-this-world – eg those humongous people movers! Like some space movers from out of space! Anyway, last I was there, they have a project to put in place a decent electric transit system between the terminals.
Ronald Reagan Airport, DC
Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI)
What a sensible and well run airport with all the sensible airlines flying into this place. Only problem is that it is a bit in the middle betwen DC, NYC and Baltimore.
I call this the “Psychedelic Airport”. The long passenger passageway that runs right under the bays parking bays between terminals has a psychedelic coloured streamed lighting system running end to end, with a correspondingly haunting sound. Any kid would find it very entertaining. Well run. Great lounges, except that the airlines have strange rules in their usage. Although the airport is large, it is easily nvaigatable.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Home of Bank of America and another bank….
IBM has a center here.
Slot machines inside the airport almost as soon as you bundle out of the aircraft! Gamble, man, gamble!
Now, here is an airport in the US that actually tries to plan for the future and has people mover facilities that tries to cater for passengers. I was told by a taxi driver that the entire airport land area was about 80-100 square kilometers – that’s about half the size of Singapore! As the taxi arrives along the permiters of the runway, you are still a long way off to the actual terminal. Boy. But the terminal itself is deceptively simple, which is nice. You check in one simple complex but may need to take an underground train to your boarding gate.
If you have to arrive in the West Coast, choose San Francisco rather than LA.
This must be the most pathetic airport in all of the developed world. It really looks like Manila airport, grey coloured walls, third world finishings, but guess what — without the Manila airport service! No post box anywhere in the airport!! Come on! I sat at this airport for six hours recently between flights and something else I noticed was that there was practically not a single attractive person using the airport. Did not see a single one. Everyone – both passengers and staff – looked working class in drab clothes. Must be a reflection of the greater LA area. A punishing place, man.
The mad house of the West Coast. Complete chaos whenever several flights all arrive at the same time. You get the feeling that the immigration officers of Asian origins and those of Caucasian origin both compete with each other on who can be meanest to foreginers.
Honestly, just waiting at the arrival belt, you get the feeling that all the drug trade is done right there in the airport. No need to visit the rest of the city.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Eppley Airport? I think. The service girls in this city airport, if you asked them or noticed, are either from Omaha or Iowa. The airport is just there on the border between the two states. If you ask for directions in Omaha City from a girl from Iowa, she will have no clue. If you ask for directions into Iowa from a girl from Omaha, she will (actually) be surprised that Iowa actually exists! Both think that the other is dumb, even if to the absolutely neutral outsider, both may well be as dumb as the other!!!!! (try ask the car rental people for directions, and you will know what I mean) So the traveller is introduced to this nuance almost as soon as you arrive.
Oh! London! I remember reading a children’s book on a theme, like airports, when I was a teenager and there was this one book about how London Airport works. In trying demonstrate just how busy London was, the writer gave some numbers of how much baggage the airport clears a day and then said, it can take up to two hours for passengers to get their baggage, or something like that. There was a time when the British were actually produ of their complexity. Never mind customer service. Thank goodness for Asian airports where bags clear along with you so that you don’t spend a second waiting. But it looks like London Heathrow is still stuck in that old thinking. Mercifully the Singapore Airlines and other Asian airlines have great lounges in London, fit with showers and everything. I spent six hours in a lounge ones. The British Airways lounge is functionally not bad.
Pretty decent airport. 1.5 hours by train into the city. But very prdictable experience. Nothing fancy but utilitarian.
Must look out of the window every single time you are about to land at the Nice airport. You must see the blue sea below and then work your sights inland to the alps in the far ground. Absolutely magnificent scenery of the ocean and the snow all in one breath taking sight.
Australian/New Zealand airports
Generally, I like Australian airports because they are very sensible, as far as apssengers are concerned. But they must be a mess for arriving aircraft, as I discovered arriving in Sydney in the morning rush hour recently.
Ho Chi Minh City
Bangkok (New Airport)
Gosh, you’d think that after so much dithering that when they finally got to the new airport (Sept 2006), they’d get some things right. Well, I think the new airport is worse than the old airport. Accessibility to the city is fine, but:
1. Too huge to be functional. All the walking and confusing directional signages, and like all things Thai, several ways to get to where you want to. The walking to the immigration is like an obstacle course with many pillars. WHen you are travelling out of the country, it feels like walking through a street market in downtown Bagkok.
2. The finishing is terrible. Just concrete all over with very little finishing. Were they just happy to have completed the airport or were they trying some new design?
3. mens room in the arrival lobby area after customs has only two cubicles. Did they not think that many people do go to the toilet after landing?
4. Softskills is a night mare. Imagine, welcome to Thailand, the land of smiles and gentle people… well, NOT at the airport. Theya re all highly stressed, mean, confused, uncoordinated and unhappy. May go on for a while.
Excellent and functional. Truly a reflection of Indonesian spatial design. Whatever anybody else says, this airport is true to the culture of the Indonesian people. May they never get ahead of themselves to compete to be like all of those other monstrocities that the airports in other countries have become. Most important of all is the fact that this airport works!
Hey, must be the most modern airport in all of South Asia. What a delight! Right down to piped in music.
Colombo Airport, Sri Lanka
When there is tight security, it can take two hours to get into town. When there is no security, only 20 minutes. But the people here have figured out how to run the system very efficiently. They are all very nice, but very strict. I have seen how lounge staff have been very kind but firm with westerners trying to get their way.
Kruger National Park
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Gosh, it is like flying to another country, man! They even chop your passport.
Great airport! In my view today the best of South American airports. Peru has a very well developed tourism industry and the airport is the one place you can now buy all the things you forgot or did not get as you travel through this wonderful country.
Very important airport in Peru, but nothing more than an arrival and departure point.
Rio De Jenerio
Airport next to those volcanoes. Went to the island of…. Chiloe, delightfully colour island
Whoa!!!! Home of the glaciers – Torres Del Paines! Small airport. Very functional. Cold. Long ride into the wild wild country side into town! Must be the southern-most airport in the world, man! I think.
Functionally well done. Everything on one level but spread out. As long as you don’t ask for service and are willing to laugh away all the times they foul up, you are okay.
My best, best, best selection
1. For modern, functional and sensible design award for large airports:
Denver airport, Kuala Lumpur, Chicago Ohare,
(IAD will quality after they upgrade)
2.For user friendly, functional and critical mass of social activities (shopping, food)
You’d be surprised that Hong Kong and St Louis would not qualify, even if they begged!)
3. For sensible, medium or small sized airports
(Sydney is getting way too congested on the airside)
4. For highly functional and highly reflective of the country’s identiy
5. Worst and shameful airport
Delhi Airport, Mumbai airport, Bangalore – how can you have leaking airports in a country that the rest of the world takes so seriously
6. Easiest airport to corrupt officials