Flying in and out of airports across the world can feel kinda glamorous and exciting on your first big trip, but after you’ve taken so many flights, it can become routine, boring, or indeed tedious. Knowing you have to pass through this or that airport can be a source of relief if you know the place is well-appointed, or encourage a feeling of dread when you know you have to connect at a place like the Low Cost Carrier Terminal in Kuala Lumpur. Thankfully, that one’s a thing of the past and hopefully the new KLIA2 will get its act together soon.
What do you look for in an airport? Some aspects are pretty obvious. Cleanliness is surely up there wherever you go. That combined with decent toilets because odds are even if you’re not transiting in an airport, arriving or leaving you’ll need to pay at least one visit to them. KLIA2’s toilets were diabolical. If you’ve just arrived in India for the first time, you might be a little apprehensive. You probably don’t want to use your first squat toilet when you’ve just arrived at 2.30am after a long flight.
Some airports, like KLIA2 seem to have the idea that cleaning the toilets actually means just hosing them down. Ah, no thankyou very much! They can be slipperier than a slippery eel! That slipped on itself! This was the policy in the old LCCT as well.
In contrast the KLIA1 terminal is one of my favourite airports. It’s huge, clean and shiny. And it has a plethora of outlets to shop at to your heart’s content should you be looking to fill some time and splash some cash. For me, that’s not the be all and end all of airports though, but a good selection of food outlets is a must. That’s where say Tokyo’s Haneda airport is a bit of a let down. Less confusing and smaller than Narita, if it only had a wider range of places to eat it would be great because it’s much more convenient than Narita.
For all those heading to Japan, if you can fly in Haneda (or out) then that’s the go because Narita is a long way out from the city, costing a lot more to get to and from, and also, the airport taxes seriously impact you ticket price when you use Narita. Nevertheless, I don’t mind an airport a long way from town if the transport is efficient and reasonably priced. You’re looking at a minimum of 30 bucks by train from Narita on the slow train which takes around 90 minutes. The fast train is just that but much more expensive.
Heathrow is similar. A long way from Central London, it can feel like taking the tube into town from Heathrow is like taking another long-haul flight. The express train into London is like 20-30 minutes which is great, but again more expensive. However, I think well worth the money.
If you’re planning on sleeping at an airport, well you’ll be looking for benches without armrests or a clean spot on carpet, which funnily enough I did find in Heathrow 15 years back, as opposed to Moscow airport where all seats had armrests rending sleep impossible.
A good airport should be navigable, you should be able to know where you are on the map and how to get to your gate and anywhere else in the airport you might want to go. This is something most big airports struggle with. Dubai is clean and glitzy but it’s so big it’s daunting. You need to know if there’s a shop or restaurant you wish to frequent which side of immigration it’s on. Nothing worse than going through immigration with four hours on your hands to discover the awesome Thai restaurant is back before customs!
I personally don’t mind empty airports, but they might creep a few people out I guess. Tashkent in the middle of the night was almost empty. It meant I got a full bag search (yay me!) but there were no crowds to fight through. In contrast, Heathrow, Dubai, Hong Kong, most international airports in the States etc are stressful experiences. Last time I flew through Dubai it was insane, I felt I was fighting to walk in the direction I wanted! I remember Houston Airport being huge and incredibly busy too, although it was a pretty nice airport.
What makes or breaks an airport for you? For me, I think that Singapore (Changi) And KLIA1 might just about be the best airports I’ve been in. Also, Guangzhou is a surprisingly big but well laid out airport too. Chinese airports are often insane, and not in a good way! Shanghai’s second airport is a nightmare, especially if you are taking Spring Airlines!
So folks, when booking flights, it’s not ever a bad idea to consider your connections and the airports you’ll be using. It could make the difference from a good experience to a nightmare!