Airports are like Marmite. You either love it or hate it. Regardless, airports are fascinating places. They are like cities within cities and the way they operate… mind blowing. Not sure if you saw the National Geographic series Ultimate Airport Dubai? All those little details that we as travellers are not aware of. Thought that I’ll share with you my top 5 of the best and worst airports I’ve been to.
Over time I came up with my own airport rating criteria. Those are for example: how easy is it to navigate around an airport when you are there for the first time, like can you find your gate without getting lost. In case of a long layover is there something to do at the airport or a place to rest. I’m talking here about a layover of approx. 5 hours, as longer than 5 hours you can go to the city and do some sightseeing. What does duty free shopping look like? Is the connection from the airport to the city easy and fast? Last but not least! Does the airport have a smoking zone? Based on those criteria my top 5 of the best airports are as follows.
TOP 5 BEST AIRPORTS
1. Changi Airport Singapore (SIN)
I could literally live in that airport. It has it all from easy airport navigation, a metro line going directly to the city centre, leisure areas over good food and shopping to incredible smoking areas. The last time I was transiting through Changi airport was in April 2019 when coming back from Australia. After a 6 hours flight the free foot massage devices were a blessing. In the four-hour layover I went for a sightseeing tour of the terminals and discovered some amazing orchid installations and enjoyed a smoke in the sunflower garden… how cool is that. Not to mention the super-fast Wi-Fi. I actually could watch Game of Thrones on my mobile without any interruptions. The best thing however about Changi Airport is The Jewel. It’s a garden with the largest indoor waterfall. There is also a maze garden, bouncing areas, slide areas and depending on the season a themed decoration. The entrance to the Jewel is free however for the additional attractions like the bouncing area you need to pay. The amount is not significant, approx. 10-15 Singapore dollars but you can also buy a combo ticket. Being there you feel like in the Avatar movie or a different universe. Seriously a jaw drop!
2. Hamad Airport Qatar (DOH)
This year I was transiting four times through Hamad Airport – twice a short 1.5 hour transit, one a three hour transit and one an overnight ten hour transit. The short ones were OK as I popped in to the duty free shop to buy my favourite Bombay Sapphire gin and some cigarettes. Yes, finally a place with menthol cigarettes as the European Union has forbidden menthol ciggies in the EU. After shopping, quick smoke and board the plane. The longer layovers were a bit tricky but still OK. The airport is really easy to navigate, has good coffee places and even a Harrods branch. Not that I bought something there but it was cool to have a peek inside. So spending time on Hamad Airport is not an issue. The Wi-Fi is OK, it disappears in some areas of the airport but still it’s fine even for watching Netflix. The longest ten-hour layover wasn’t as bad as I expected. Before corona, if you had a long layover and you were flying Qatar, the airline provided free accommodation in a hotel for you. Unfortunately, not anymore due to covid. That is not a big issue as on the airport are rest areas. It’s a closed room with comfortable recliners. There is no need to book a place, those areas are free of charge. Need to mention that the rest areas are separate for men and for women, so when you are a solo female traveller you don’t need to worry that something will happen to you. Thumbs up Hamad Airport!
3. Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
Ahhh my former home airport. Navigation around that airport is a bit tricky as depending on the boarding gate you need to take one airport train or two. The joke is that there is a need to take a train to get to a train to get to the gate. It’s a bit confusing when you have to do it for the first time – I got lost but later you get the picture of what needs to be done. Good thing is you can always ask the friendly and helpful staff for advice. I like HK airport for three reasons. Firstly, it’s super easy to get to and from the airport. A special metro line called Airport Express runs from Kowloon station all the way to AsiaWorld-Expo station. It also stops at Hong Kong station and Tsing Yi station but that whole journey from Kowloon to the airport takes like 25 minutes. Additionally, there are also regular busses that go to the airport, only the journey to the city takes longer, like 1.5 hours depending on the destination. Secondly, the shopping and food. I had my favourite sweets shop at HK airport. It was Sweet Dreams by Heinemann. I could spend hours in that shop. Every time I ended up buying at least three jumbo packs of M&Ms… in different flavours. The highlight was salted caramel. Why three packs? One was always for my M&M addicted boss 😛 Not sure why but every time I was flying somewhere from HK airport I was in a rush and didn’t eat much before going to the airport. Dean & Deluca were always a life saver as I could grab one of the delicious wraps, a coffee and a croissant and run to the gate. Thirdly, the smoking zones. There are not many of them at the airport however my favourite was the one outside where you can stand, smoke and watch planes starting and landing.
4. Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL)
A lovely, cosy and cute airport. Regardless if you fly over Helsinki on a Schengen zone flight or outside the airport is always a good experience. There was a time when I was flying over Helsinki six times a year 😀 It’s really easy to navigate, there is a bus going to and from the airport to the city centre and they even had a sauna and a spa complex at the airport. You could sit in a hot tub watching airport life… unfortunately that got closed… What a shame. The Schengen area is quite small but the non-Schengen area is really cool.
You can find for example comfortable recliners – did have a three hours nap in one of those… back didn’t hurt after. Smoking zones are available and quite spacious. Highlight however is the Santa shop! Regardless which time of the year you fly from Helsinki there always will be a Santa shop to remind you that Christmas is around the corner. My personal big WOW at Helsinki airport was meeting Scooter. You remember the German blond techno guy from the 90-ties? Yup, saw him while eating a salmon sandwich 😛
5. Warsaw Chopin Airport (WAW)
Although I’m not a Warsaw fan, gently saying, the Warsaw Chopin airport is kinda cool. It has the right size, it’s easy to get to from the main railway station – train or bus and it’s not very complicated to navigate. On top of it all it’s quite well organised, the staff is helpful, duty free shopping is OK, plus they have smoking zones. Well, they are not as big as the ones in Helsinki but still! Also when traveling from Poland to Asia or America, Warsaw airport has decent connections. The direct flights are mostly within the EU but also to the US, Dubai, Beijing, Doha or Georgia, plus many charter flights… not bad, not bad at all! As I live in Poland Warsaw airport is a very good getaway!
TOP 5 WORST AIRPORTS
Now, based on my rating criteria the top 5 of the worst airports.
1. Frankfurt Airport (FRA)
There is one nice thing I can say about Frankfurt airport – Schnittlauch Brezel and the bakeries. Every time I’m transiting through that airport I need to get something from one of those bakeries… yummy! Well, and they do have a lot of smoking zones, plus for you Frankfurt Airport. Sadly the good things end here. It’s one of my least favourite airports as the navigation through it is a nightmare. If you have a five-hour layover you might be lucky to find your gate and get to it on time. If you have a 1.5-hour layover good luck… your running and puzzle solving skills will definitely be of advantage here. No clue how I managed to get to the other side of the terminal within one hour but when I arrived at the gate I was soaking wet from sweat… felt like running a marathon. Lot’s to improve here Frankfurt airport.
2. Stansted Airport (STN)
Although I bought my first iPod in the amazing shopping area there, I absolutely hate the Ryanair flagship airport. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter, extremely crowded and not very easy to navigate. What makes all of that worse is the border control. Even before the UK left the EU there were border controls as the UK was not participating in the Schengen zone. I seriously hate standing in long border control queues. Ofcoz it’s normal when you travel outside of Schengen but somehow in other parts of the world it goes quite smoothly… apart from the US but about that in a minute. Let’s say that three or four Ryanair planes landing one after another and all those passengers going to passport control. Imagine the ques and the waiting time. That’s not all, after passport control you need to get somehow to the city. Taking the Stansted express train is not a problem but if you want to take a bus it’s queuing and long waiting times again… Grrrrrr all that time that goes to waste at that airport.
3. Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)
Duty free shopping, oh yes! Wide range of alcohol and cigarettes available at very good prices. Coffee and food are also not bad, quite easy to navigate too. So what’s wrong with this airport you might ask? It’s so damn cold, freezing. Maybe because I was mostly flying over Beijing in winter and had at least 6 hour layovers, but come on, turning on the heating wouldn’t ruin the airport’s budget. The last time, in March 2019 when I boarded the plane most of the passengers were holding cups with hot water or hot tea and asking the flight attendants for blankets. It wasn’t only me that was freezing. Again when it comes to smoking, there are no smoking rooms at Beijing airport… not good, very not good. Especially during long layovers. Which for me was every time.
4. Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG)
Another not user friendly airport. Although getting to and from the airport is easy and the macarons you can buy there are really good, the navigation around it feels like being in a maze.
On top of all there is NO smoking room. Come on, seriously! The main airport in Paris, capital of France, a country where smoking is the national sport, no smoking room?! If that’s not enough, every time I transited through Charles de Gaulle Airport the plane was late. Would understand if there was a delay once but every time! No, no, no if I have the chance not to fly over Paris I don’t do it as it’s simply not worth the stress.
5. All US airports I’ve been to so far
Those being: Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), LaGuardia Airport (LGA), JFK International Airport (JFK), Miami International (MIA), Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Dulles International Airport (IAD), Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA).
Despite the US having a wide range of things to see and explore, the airports are not that great as I would expect. I don’t even know where to start with the long list of complaints. Maybe with the obvious. NO SMOKING ZONES in any of the airport buildings. Outside the airport buildings only a small designated area so that others can look and shame all the smokers. I still have no clue what’s about the mental abuse against smokers in the US… guess I’ll never find out. Another point is the long queues at immigration. The officer looking at your passport than at you and asking all those lovely and relevant questions. How much cash are you bringing into the US? Ammm zero as I have a debit and credit card to take cash from the ATM. Apparently that didn’t get to him, so he asked again. How much cash are you bringing into the US… Geez are you for real?! The longest I waited in an immigration queue was for two hours after landing in Fort Lauderdale from Mexico. Again, not everybody wants to illegally immigrate into America, some only want to dive in the clear blue waters of Key Largo. Or a bundle of different things. Dirty LaGuardia looks like a cheap bus terminal, understandable at some point as it operates only domestic flights. Freezing cold Miami Airport… aircon temperature turned to arctic. Complicated navigation at JFK or dull Dulles Airport. There is however one good thing I can say about US airports – the friendly and helpful staff. Every time I need to ask for advice on how to get to… they helped!
Actually I wonder if you have similar experiences with airports. Feel free to comment here or on Facebook or Instagram.
P.S. I’m also thinking to put an airline ranking together 😛