I’ve just returned from a trip to Bali and boy was I surprised when I arrived (and departed from) Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport. When I was last in Bali five years ago the airport was pretty much one step up from an oversized tin shed. It’s now a big, new, shiny, clean and well-run airport. There are no more waiting in a hot line for immigration. The pay on arrival visa system is quick (although it has gone up from $US25 to $US35) and we were out in less than an hour after landing. I always bemoaned that it was one of my least favourite airports in the world. In one of my long flights this year I wrote down all the airports I have been to in my travels over the years (and yes I was bored – I’d seen all the movies and read the inflight magazine twice). I have passed through 167 airports (now that’s a lot of shops to wander aimlessly around). And during my travels I also managed to visit what I consider to be the best and worst airports in the world. And other travellers tend to agree with me it seems. A recent global poll of airline passengers from 160 countries voted for the best and worst airports of 2014. These are the results from the survey:
1. Singapore Changi
2. Incheon Intl Airport
3. Munich Airport
4. Hong Kong Intl
5. Tokyo Intl Haneda
6. Zurich Airport
7. Central Japan Intl
8. London Heathrow
9. Amsterdam Schiphol
10. Beijing Capital
1. Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Islamabad, Pakistan
2. King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
3. Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal
4. Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport
5. Tashkent, Uzbekistan
6. Paris Beauvais-Tille Airport
6. Frankfurt Hahn Airport
8. Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport, Italy
9. Tegel Airport, Berlin
10. LaGuardia Airport, New York City
I’ve been to 9 out of the top 10 best and 3 out of the top 10 worst airports. But, for my two cent’s worth this is my top three best airports in the world:
1. Changi Airport (Singapore)
It’s not only me who likes Changi – the airport has won over 250 awards for airport excellence since 1987. I’ve been there so many times, but still haven’t utilized all their great facilities, which includes: free internet (they were the first to have it), free cinema, ‘napping’ areas (I love those!), spa and gym, very nice showers, free Singapore tours (for those in transit for more than five hours), a Nature Trail (with six themed garden reserves) and – you’ve gotta love this – a rooftop swimming pool.
What can I say – they’re Swiss. Everything is spotless, everything runs on time, the staff are polite (and very officious!), the restaurants are good (they have fondue on the menu) and, best of all, they have lots of shops selling Swiss chocolate.
8. Manas International airport (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)
I flew into Bishkek with Uzbekistan airways in Business Class (it was $50 more) and as the plane came to a halt on the tarmac, a shiny, new-looking green van with a huge white VIP emblazoned across the side pulled up next to us. Out of the five other Business Class passengers, a silver-haired fellow in a blue suit seemed the most likely to be of some importance. He looked like either a politician or a Very Important Accountant. I was right. Us six pointy-end passengers were let off the plane first and Mr Blue-suit was directed to the van. And so was I and the other Business Class passengers. We drove straight past the large entrance to the arrivals hall and pulled up in front of a small wooden door. We got out and stepped into a plush lounge bar where a bevy of waiters was lined up awaiting our orders. ‘Would you like a drink, sir?’ my personal waiter asked. A smiling lady asked me if I needed a visa and then took my passport away. Ten minutes later, the lady returned with my bag and passport with visa. ‘You can go through the exit door now,’ she said. ‘When you have finished your beer,’ she added with a beaming smile. I was still expecting to go through customs and baggage check before standing in a pointless queue so an official could grunt at me, but the exit door led straight out to the front of the terminal. I was in Kyrgyzstan. On the return leg I was pulled from the check-in queue and taken back to the bar. Now that’s what I call an airport.
And here is my top three worst airports in the world:
1. LAX (Los Angeles)
You’d think as a major airport and gateway to the capital of the free world that LAX would be a great airport. Well, it’s terrible. Here’s why: they have lost my bags (twice!); there are no showers at the airport for transit passengers (you have to catch a bus to a gym near the airport and pay $10 membership to use their showers and no-one at the airport can tell you about this place – I found it on the internet); there is no ‘left luggage’ so if you are in transit for a few hours you have to lug around all your bags if you want to visit any part of LA; and passport control are grumpy, rude and just a bit too paranoid. And when it comes to ‘restaurants’ there is lots of choice – as long as you like American chain fast food.
2. Domodedovo International Airport (Moscow)
The staff at Moscow airport have truly mastered the art of being grumpy, rude and bloody slow. At one point I left the horrendously long queue for passport control (when I was leaving the country) because I was simply intrigued on why it was taking so long. Now no disrespect to passport officials, but you could train a chimpanzee to do the job, so I just wanted to know why it took ten minutes to stamp each passport. Oh, and the shops at the airport were more expensive than Champs-Elysées, the toilets hadn’t been cleaned since the iron curtain came down and there wasn’t a comfy seat in the whole airport.
3. Léon M’ Ba Airport (Libreville, Gabon)
I didn’t have a visa for Gabon, so I was only in transit for a few hours en-route to São Tomé and Príncipe. Or so I thought. I may have been in more rundown airports, but I was stuck at Libreville airport for three days waiting to get an airline ticket out of the place. I slept on a ‘barbecue grill’ seat with Arctic setting air conditioning, the one and only restaurant only served croissants and beer, check in was something akin to a riot and they played French rap 24 hours a day on the airport PA (and you think ‘normal’ rap is bad!).