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Published: October 15th 2012
I've been threatening to do this for a while now, but I am now prepared to rank the 46 airports I've had the pleasure (or disappointment) to visit. And yes, I made a spreadsheet! Because I don't trust travelblog's column abilities, I am listing the airports from best to worst, followed by numbers which indicate the following:
overall score - (times visited), things to do, layout, delays, friendliness, accessibility, cleanliness
1. Helsinki, Finland
: 9.00 - (2), 7, 9, 9, 10, 9, 10 - I visited Helsinki airport twice in May 2004; I'd read that it was among the best airports in the world and I was happy to see it was not exaggerated. I remember the polished wood floors which looked freshly cleaned, the friendliness of the customs and ticket agents, and just the general unhurried, quiet atmosphere. You didn't feel like you were in a rush to get anywhere and everyone (typical of Finnish) waits their turns and contributes to the lack of chaos.
2. Detroit, Michigan
: 8.83 - (14+), 9, 9, 7, 9 , 9, 10 - I've been flying in and out of Detroit since 1998 and I am still amazed at the amount of
progress this huge hub has made since then. It used to be among my absolute least favorites, but in the past few years, I actually TRY to book through this place. They have significantly revamped the entire system and decor - it has a pleasant white theme throughout which reflects the cleanliness. There are countless shops and restaurants, some in a central location and others within the terminals. There are even comfortable chairs in the main terminal, some big enough to curl up on and nap. There is a train in the main terminal to take you to the furthest gates. And going downstairs to the next terminal feels futuristic and strangely pleasant. Great job Detroit!!!
3. Ithaca, NY
: 8.33 - (2), 1, 9, 10, 10, 10, 10 - This is the airport nearest to my parents and the most pleasant I've ever had the privilege to fly through. Though it is tiny (seriously, maybe 2 flights a day), they have the system and aesthetics down pat. It is near the college town of Ithaca (Cornell, Ithaca College), but you feel like you just arrived at a national park. There is little traffic even immediately after the flights. The
baggage comes immediately so you can basically be in a car 10 minutes after you land. And all employees are so friendly - probably because there have to be worse jobs than this!
4. Lihue, HI:
8.17 - (2), 6, 8, 8, 9, 9, 9 - I was able to visit Kauai in September 2010 and arriving in the airport direct from LAX was a pleasant welcome. While it is small, it is busy, but everyone is happy and they have a good system going. There are few shops or places to eat, but the ones that are there are well run and useful. Getting a rental car was very easy; just follow the signs and there you go. All workers were quite friendly.
5. Rochester, NY
: 8.00 - (20+), 5, 9, 9, 8, 9, 9 - This is another of my home airports. It can be quite busy if you are among the first flights of the day, as I believe many people commute to other big cities from here. And there are few things to keep you busy, but the bars and shops that are there are very well run; the souvenirs are great! There are
many places to sit and numerous views of the runways, so you can watch planes land and take off with no one to crowd you, even if you are not actually travelling yourself, there is a nice lounge to wait. Typical of Rochestarians, the workers are extremely friendly.
6. Charlotte, NC
: 7.83 - (~10), 8, 7, 7, 9, 7, 9 - Previously the favorite of the large american airports, but has been supplanted by Detroit. I used to fly through this airport a lot, but haven't in about 5 years. One of the first things you notice in the main terminal is the row of white rocking chairs near the windows and, no matter how much of a hurry you're in, this does give you some semblance of peace. If only there was one available for you to sit in for a few minutes - you have to be quick to snag one. Plenty of places to eat and shop. And of course, plenty of that southern hospitality.
7. Santa Barbara, CA
: 7.83 - (6), 2, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9 - Another great small airport. Conveniently located near UCSB, parking and driving passengers is among the easiest in the world. Because it is small, you get right through security and get to wait in a beautiful typical Spanish style building while waiting to board your flight. Not much to do other than read a book, but the ease of access makes the start of your journey that much more pleasant.
8. Ronald Reagan Airport, Washington, DC
: 7.67 - (6), 6, 9, 6, 8, 9, 8 - The best of the airports in the DC area by far. You are right in the middle of town and the flights are generally right on time. There is not an abundance of restaurants or shops, but the ones there are very good.
9. Porland, OR
: 7.17 - (2), 4, 7, 7, 8, 9, 8 - One of the more peaceful rides into town I've been in, which puts you in the mindset of the overall Portland experience from the get go. Riding in, you can see Mount Hood in the distance and the airport is not overly crowded. There were things to do prior to going through security, but once in your options are a bit limited. The best part is the rail ride into town, crossing the numerous bike paths along the way, keeping you from fighting traffic throughout the whole ordeal and your stress levels down.
10. Denver, CO: 7.00
- (10), 9, 7, 6, 8, 4, 8 - Always scores very high among the larger airports in the country, and rightfully so. There is so much to do and see (especially the beautiful mountains if you can find a window) to keep you occupied in the airport, so if you have a connecting flight, you probably rank this up among the top. However, the harsh landings due to the geography, the occasional delay and, most importantly, the fact that it is so far from the city itself bring its rankings down a bit.
11. Buffalo, NY
: 6.83 - (12+), 5, 8, 8, 7, 8, 5 - This used to be my go-to airport on going home; for one thing, the flights are generally a bit cheaper than nearby Rochester. But the fact there is little to do to occupy your time and the fact that they always seem to be under construction, not to mention the occasional blizzards that hamper travel, the scores are a little lower.
12. Honolulu, HI
: 6.83 - (1), 8, 7, 5, 7, 7, 7 - A generally great hub for travel across the Pacific, but my observations noted a few delays even when weather was not a factor. There were lots of places to check out, but nothing spectacular. However, you can go outside and feel the tropical breeze and even if it is a stopover, you'll feel like you're in paradise.
13. Ft. Lauderdale, FL
: 6.67 - (2), 3, 8, 7, 8, 8, 6 - Not a large airport and as such, there is little to do. But seems to run pretty well.
14. Las Vegas, NV
: 6.67 - (6), 8, 8, 6, 6, 8, 4 - Even while you're waiting for your plane, you can still gamble away your last dime in the slot machines. Yes, you can keep yourself plenty occupied while waiting. You're not close to the strip, but while there may be a long line for a taxi, it moves very fast and you can meet people from all over in line.
15. Tampere, Finland
: 6.67 - (1), 2, 8, 8, 8, 8, 6 - Small airport, not much to do in a town where there didn't seem to be much to do. But run very efficiently.
16. Long Beach, CA
: 6.50 - (2), 6, 7, 8, 8, 4, 6 - Small airport and very pretty, but unless you live in Long Beach or have someone willing to driving you in horrendous LA traffic, the lack of public transportation makes access a pain.
17. New Orleans, LA
: 6.33 - (5), 5, 6, 7, 7, 8, 5 - A nice airport that is pretty accessible from in town, but not overly clean. There are things to do in the main terminal, but once you get thru security, I hope you have a book.
18. Memphis, TN
: 6.17 - (12+), 5, 7, 7, 7, 7, 4 - Smallish airport, but pretty easy to get to once you leave town. Not a whole lot of options to choose from if you're hungry and the place seems to have a dirty feel.
19. Tupelo, MS
: 6.00 - (10+), 1, 8, 4, 8, 9, 6 - Very small, efficient airport near town with nothing to do but hope your ride is waiting for you.
20. Dubai, UAE
: 6.00 - (3), 5, 6, 7, 5, 6, 7 - Very large, very busy airport. There are quite a few shops within the terminal, but nothing much worth anything. It is a long walk to anywhere, and waiting outside in the heat no matter what time of day can put you in a grouchy mood. Hopefully, you'll have a driver waiting to make things pleasant. Customs agents are generally pretty friendly and the aesthetics are pleasing. Fairly easy access to the metro system (during metro hours only though).
21. Toronto, Canada
: 5.83 - (2), 8, 6, 5, 5, 5, 6 - Large airport, not much else to say.
22. Nashville, TN
: 5.83 - (1), 3, 7, 3, 9, 7, 6 - Small airport, not much to do. And if you're flight is cancelled, you're pretty much screwed (yes, this happened to me) - the airport basically shuts down at 7pm. Fortunately, you get the southern hospitality to improve your mood.
23. Salt Lake City, UT
: 5.83 - (2), 5, 5, 5, 7, 7, 6 - Smallish airport, friendly people, not much to do, long lines.
24. Mexico City, MX
: 5.83 - (2), 8, 7, 3, 7, 5, 5 - Very large airport, somewhat chaotic. Lots of shopping and the workers are relatively friendly. Expect delays.
25. Boston, MA
: 5.67 - (1), 6, 6, 4, 5, 7, 6 - Granted I've only flown through here once, but nothing impressed or depressed me.
26. Manchester, UK
: 5.67 - (2), 6, 6, 6, 5, 5, 6 - It's been about 18 years, but again, nothing overly impressive or wrong.
27. San Francisco, CA
: 5.50 - (6), 6, 6, 4, 5, 6, 6 - Large airport, connection area, nothing overly impressive.
28. London Heathrow, UK
: 5.50 - (4), 8, 5, 3, 7, 6, 4 - Humongous airport and for the most part run pretty well. If you're connecting, there is plenty to keep you entertained and friendy workers to boot. If you are staying in London, you can easily access the underground. That is, once you get through the insanely long customs lines while standing in the oppressive heat (everytime I went through - maybe they don't have A/C?)
29. Cincinnatti, OH
: 5.33 - (~10), 6, 6, 5, 6, 4, 5 - This is the airport for Cincinnatti, but it is actually across the river in Covington, Kentucky. If you're connecting, who cares? Run well enough, seems like, but nothing memorable.
30. Philadelphia, PA
: 5.17 - (10+), 6, 3, 5, 6, 7, 4 - Flown thru here often as both connecting and final destinations. Great foods! For final destination, I like it much better. It is right near town but surprisingly outside the main traffic grind, making it easy to get picked up. For connections - ever hear of people movers?? This place is so huge and you have to WALK the entire way. If you have a connection to a smaller craft, you'll have to walk about a mile and then go through security again before walking another half mile. Give yourself time. Good luck!
: 5.17 - (~30), 7, 4, 5, 5, 4, 6 - I think LAX gets a bad rap. If you are connecting between airlines, then yes, I bet it is the worst of all places. But if you are in the same airline or if it is your final destination, there are worse airports (see below). If you drove yourself and parked in Lot C, buses come at decent intervals to take you to your car. If you took a shuttle (recommended) make sure you know the times for pick up and they are easy to find. The problem is the traffic. People in Southern California love their cars so more likely, the loving friend who came to pick you up will demand a (well deserved) gift and probably will never drive there again - so I hope you have a healthy supply of friends.
32. Stansted, UK
: 5.17 - (2), 5, 5, 7, 5, 4, 5 - This is listed as a London airport, but is really about an hour train ride outside of London. But it is easy to find the train and easy to maneuver the airport. Nothing memorable.
33. St. Louis, MO
: 5.00 - (3), 5, 5, 5, 6, 5, 4 - Could be cleaned, ok, but nothing memorable (unless you were there during the tornado!).
34. Skavsta, Sweden
: 5.0 - (1), 6, 6, 6, 5, 2, 5 - The only thing memorable about this place was the fact that we had to catch a bus at a ridiculous hour of the morning to drive the insane distance from Stockholm to the airport. Keep this in mind when booking cheap flights.
35. Newark, NJ
: 5.00 - (2), 6, 5, 5, 4, 5, 5 - Nothing stood out except that it was not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be. It was a connection, so I can't say much for going outside...
36. JFK, NY
: 4.83 - (8+), 7, 5, 5, 3, 5, 4 - The disappointment here is the poor cleaning and attitude of employees. Plenty to do and a terrific ride in.
37. Panama City, Panama:
4.67 - (2), 4, 6, 4, 4, 5, 5 - As much as I loved Panama, I was disappointed with the airport. Very crowded and no direction. The poor attitude of the employees didn't help either. Keep in mind you'll have to pay a tax to get in (they may not tell you) and one to leave (they won't tell you this either) - fortunately, they are not expensive.
38. Chicago, IL
: 4.67 - (~20), 9, 4, 3, 2, 4, 6 - Until I recently flew internationally from O'Hare, this airport was higher on my list. There is lots to do and they are constantly improving themselves. As a connection airport, it is reliable and probably the shortest route. The domestic layout works as your walking distance is limited. Three major things brought them down though: First
, if you are flying from domestic to internationally and switching airlines, give yourself LOTS of time (more than 2 hours) and note that there is no clear indication as to where and how to access your connection (you take a train to a far away terminal - hence, low layout score). Second,
when I've been stuck during Christmas it has been here everytime. They will sell your seat to the highest bidder and slam the door in your face as you rush to claim your seat. They are unapologetic if your flight was delayed through no fault of your own - in fact, they actually blame you. Third,
their employees are among the most unfriendly I've encountered - a woman at the ticket desk actually walked away from me when I tried to rebook my flight (this was when they slammed the door in my face on Christmas Eve). I am by no means an unfriendly or demanding person, so I know this was not me. Oh, Timothy was the exception at United - 6 years later, I still remember his name because it was so unusual. Ok, deep breath, and moving on...
39. Zurich, Switzerland
: 4.67 - (1) - I actually forgot this one! This airport is in a beautiful place in the mountains, but seems far from any civilization. Plus, there was next to nothing to do in this huge open space. It seemed like a farmhouse. The way it was set up made the loudspeakers very hard to hear; as it was, I sat in my gate area and still could not hear them announce our boarding.
40. Rome, Italy
: 4.50 - (1), 4, 4, 6, 5, 4, 4 - Nothing impressive and seemed dirty. It was a rainy day, so keep that in mind. It is far from the actual city, but the transporation seems good - however, I arrived first thing so who knows what it is like during the peak of the day.
41. Milan, Italy
: 4.50 - (1), 4, 5, 6, 4, 3, 5 - The airport itself was a quick process, but aside from high end shopping, there was nowhere decent to eat and I was starving; what I ate made me very sick and they picked that time to close the bathrooms for "cleaning". It was very crowded. Oh, and it was out in the middle of complete nowhere!!! (Think Denver, but with nothing else to offer to compensate)
42. Dulles, Washington, DC
: 4.17 - (4+), 7, 4, 2, 3, 3, 6 - Very far from the city, but as a connection it is ok. Busy and big.
43. Phoenix, AZ
: 4.17 - (2), 5, 4, 4, 4, 6, 2 - Another large airport with nothing memorable except for the pervasive smell of smoke in some of the corridors and gates - I'd bet money the words "non-smoking" were not in use here until the last decade. (I've been told it was recently remodelled so keep that in mind)
44. Doha, Qatar
: 4.17 - (2), 3, 3, 6, 4, 3, 6 - I look forward to when the main airport finally opens and it should be soon; most of my issues with it should be solved then. Until then, it is almost at the bottom of my list. They have a good system going, but it doesn't change the fact you have to walk down stairs to exit the plane and walk up to enter, get herded onto a bus to either the arrivals terminal or the transfer terminal. While there are chairs galore, and a nice relaxing lounge area even for us peasants, there is nothing to eat and crappy coffee to pass the time. Bring a book or a sedative for your layover.
45. Atlanta, GA
: 3.33 - (16+), 7, 3, 1, 3, 3, 3 - Who would have thought the bottom two have the same score, but in a way it makes sense. I don't necessarily detest the layout of Atlanta; the system works in regards to moving people. And there is plenty to do in each terminal. But it is unclean, unfriendly, and unapologetic. But the biggest drawback is you are almost guaranteed to wait on the tarmac for at least 45 minutes to take off. Busiest airport in the world - maybe they should cut back on a few.
46. Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
: 3.33 - (12+), 5, 2, 2, 3, 3, 5 - My least favorite airport ever. I have actually started to avoid it if at all possible (in fact, the last time I went through it was only because I had a cancelled flight and had no option). Maybe when they finish construction it will be better. But right now, the U-shape does not work for me. If you are at the top of the "U", you are basically walking a long way - no people movers. The trains go one direction so if you are looking to go to the terminal immediately beside you, you may still have to travel around the entire airport. The place looks and feels dirty. And the last couple of times, I had the most unfriendly gate agents in the world (one woman stands out in particular but we won't go into details). They have a long way to go to move up, but if Detroit can do it, so can Dallas!
Thank you for reading my non-technical list of airports. I expect this list to keep growing because even as flying itself has become a supreme hassle no matter where you are, travelling is an experience you should not miss. If you have any questions about the above airports, feel free to message me.
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