There are now more than 100,000 flights around the world everyday, many in small aircraft carrying less than 10 passengers on relatively short flights, but the number of commercial passengers using major airports and flying considerable distances is growing every year too.
Most passengers are now quite relaxed about the experience of actually flying – the chance of a major accident occurring is actually infinitesimal – but regard the use of major airports as a necessary evil, to be used only as a sort of bus stop, so with minimum time spent in them as is humanly possible. Why? Hearing of some of the stories about simply embarking or disembarking is probably enough to encourage this attitude in most people.
However, regular surveys by authoritative organisations produce lists of airports which are actually very ‘passenger-friendly’, as well as those at the opposite end of the scale. Of course, increased security in recent years has extended the time it takes from entering an airport to actually boarding a flight, but also there are some airports which are hubs, where many passengers need to wait for hours for a connecting flight, and these periods often produce the most frustrating experiences, or are simply boring – just give me a (relatively comfortable) place to sleep!
A final factor is the experience of those most important people using an airport, the aircraft crews. Their experiences may be at considerable variance to those of passengers; that is, safety in landing and taking-off is paramount, as well as ground management of the aircraft to the passenger gate, and the loading and unloading of people and cargo.
The following lists – with comments where necessary – are self-explanatory: ‘best’ reflects the views of passengers, ‘worst’ largely pilots opinions, and ‘most dangerous’ often physical/geographic factors.
MOST DANGEROUS AIRPORTS
MOST DANGEROUS AIRPORTS – three major airports are listed, all in the US: Cleveland – poor staffing, and lack of de-icing equipment; La Guardia (New York) – located between Kennedy and Newark airports so in an over-crowded sky; and Los Angeles International(LAX) – extremely busy airspace, confusing runways and taxiways, and so over-stretched ground control.
1. Barra, Scotland
underwater at high tide!
2. Lukla, Nepal
at 3000m altitude, short and narrow runway.
3. St Maarten, Dutch Caribbean
short runway, approach low over the beach.
4. Toncontin, Honduras
in a twisting, narrow urban ravine, and with a short runway.
5. Madeira Is, Portuguese
in a short, narrow valley, with drop-off at both ends, and wind sheer.
6. Paro, Bhutan
high, narrow, short: only eight pilots qualified to land there!
7. Saba, Dutch Caribbean
as for #3, plus narrow between cliffs.
8. Narsarsuaq, Greenland
icebergs around, wind turbulence: only daylight use.
9. Futenma, Okinawa
in the middle of town, no room for error.
10. Damascus, Syria
constantly fought over by various armed groups!
WORST AIRPORTS – LAX, La Guardia, and also Chicago’s O’Hare Airport – often closed for minimal bad weather – figure prominently in pilots’ ‘top 10’ list of worst airports. The other seven below qualify because of over-crowding, minimal facilities, decrepit buildings, or all three, and other deficiencies. Pilots and passengers comments are appended.
1. Kathmandu, Nepal
‘running at 600% capacity, with no amenities and incredibly lax security.’
2. Charles de Gaulle, Paris
‘don’t use it unless you have a week to spare!’ 50% lost luggage.
3. Manila International, Philippines
‘built in 1935 and in a time warp!’
4. Heathrow, London
no specific reasons: pilots just don’t seem to like it.
5. Pyongyang, North Korea
same gate for arrivals and departures, internet room with no internet, personal photos inspected before departure allowed!
6. Sao Paulo, Brazil
often shut by rain; mountains and populated areas surrounding it.
7. Madrid, Spain
‘kilometres to the gate.’ ‘Ridiculously high prices.’ Minimal signage.
BEST AIRPORTS – voted by airline customers: seasoned travellers will find few surprises in this list, except that Heathrow appears in it, as well as in the ‘worst’ list above. Singapore’s Changi scores the top spot for the fourth consecutive year. Japan also scores well, with four airports in the top 11 ‘best’. ‘Efficient’ is a common remark in reviews on almost all the airports on the list.
1. Changi, Singapore
one of the major hubs in the world connecting more than 200 destinations, Changi is renowned for its comprehensive range of facilities, entertainment, excellence of support staff, and ease of transitting the terminals.
2. Seoul Incheon, South Korea
running a close second, Incheon boasts spas, an ice-skating rink and even a golf course to cater to the over 40 million passengers it handles each year.
3. Munich, Germany
also efficiently handling 40 million people a year, friendly knowledgeable staff, free facilities and ease of transition including smooth ground transport to and within help this hub stand-out among European airports.
4. Tokyo Haneda, Japan
modern, full of interesting shops, great places for relaxing, having a shower and charging your electronics including free wifi, easy to get yourself to and around.
5. Hong Kong, China
also known for efficient handling of passengers and cargo, including internal transport, fast-train external connection, modern and attractive, friendly staff, plenty of English signage, hotels, etc.
6. Nagoya Chūbu, Japan
spacious, efficient, ease of access, multi-cultural food outlets.
7. Zurich, Switzerland
clean, comfortable seating, extensive selection of shops and food outlets including free drink dispensing machines.
8. London Heathrow, UK
handling 75 million passengers a year through five terminals which apparently vary considerably in terms of efficiency and facilities, so reviews are widely spread.
9. Osaka Kansai, Japan
spacious and clean, good internal/external transport, friendly helpful staff, not as busy as other Japanese airports
10. Qatar Hamad Airport
everything ‘state of the art’, luxurious (cost – $16 billion), friendly knowledgeable staff, easy internal/external access.
11. Tokyo Narita, Japan
as with the other Japanese airports, above.
12. Frankfurt, Germany
new, clean, efficient, modern and speedy, close to the train terminal to anywhere in Europe, specially if anairline goes on strike.
13. Amsterdam Schipol, Netherlands
efficient, modern airport with fantastic amenities! With charging stations, free & fast WiFi, good signage this airport sets an example.
14. Vancouver, Canada
modern design, supporting infrastructure like the skytrain, ample security lanes, options for food plentiful and cheap, multi-lingual signage.
15. Helsinki Vantaa, Finland
free ‘GoSleep’ pods for napping, transport to airport check in, security check good, passport control fast, good live band entertainment at the lounge.
16. Beijing, China
new and clean, easily get to terminals by taxi, tube, shuttle bus, you can have many food choices here, possibly the best price for duty-free shopping.
17. Brisbane, Australia
express air link train service, modern, spacious, efficient and comfortable, friendly staff.
18. Copenhagen, Denmark
‘oldest’ airport in the world, frequent trains to Copenhagen and Malmo, clean airport with many shops and facilities.
19. Cologne-Bonn, Germany
easy access to City center, well designed, organized not complicated, a good selection of services and facilities.
20. Taipei Taoyuan, Taiwan
facilities include library, children’s games area, themed lounges, free showers.