The World's Best and Worst Airports

See which airports top the list for both convenience and comfort.

November 10, 2009, 5:17 AM

Nov. 10, 2009 — -- Surely you've heard of the prestigious "Golden Pillow" Award. No? Well apparently you don't do much sleeping in airports.

Folks who do catch some shut-eye between flights rank the world's airports according to snooze-ability (the rather straightforward motto for is, "Looking to save on hotel bills? Why not sleep in the airport!").

Anyway, their Golden Pillow winner for 2008 was Singapore's Changi – because of its quiet and overall comfy-ness factor – dreamers especially recommend the airport's "slumber chairs" and its designated "napping areas."

You're going to see the name Singapore again and again in this column, since it invariably tops most "best airport" lists – but what about the rest of the best, and more entertainingly, what about the worst?

Here's a "worst" contender, or so I've read: Mineralnye Vody Airport in Russia. In 2007, Foreign Policy magazine cited "amenities" such as the fellow who sells daggers in the departure lounge, plus, all those feral cats skulking around. On the other hand, sounds like you'll never be bored there – but, perhaps it's improved since then.

Now, when it comes to U.S. airports, they tend to fall somewhere in the middle (with some glaring exceptions); but we'll get to them all, the best and worst – plus, my own personal philosophy on what makes an airport great.

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For some, a great airport is one in which flights are on-time – and I can certainly get behind that. So can Travel + Leisure magazine, which examined government statistics on flight delays by airport, from April 2008 through March 2009. The magazine's best/worst list focused on on-time performance.

Always On Time

The top three in its "best" category: Salt Lake City (bit of a surprise, what with all the snow they get); Portland, Ore.; and Washington Reagan. The airports with the most delays: Newark took the grand prize (but please note that its percentage of delayed flights was actually an improvement over the previous year); next on the list was Chicago's O'Hare, followed by Miami.

Okay, but what do frequent fliers have to say? Plenty, as it turns out.

A recent online survey commissioned by Priority Pass (a program that charges fees for access to airport lounges around the world) drew responses from more than 14,000 travelers who, on average had flown 17 times in the past year, collectively to more than 160 countries. Clearly a discerning group – or at least a fatigued bunch of fliers.

As expected, their top airports included many of the usual suspects: Singapore, Hong Kong and Amsterdam – though usually Seoul's Incheon cracks the top three – it certainly did for the "sleeping in airport" crowd who cited the "hot tubs, showers, saunas!"

The airports most disliked by Priority Pass' globe-trotting group? LAX (sorry, Los Angeles, but your age is showing); Charles de Gaulle in Paris; and the worst-of-the-worst was London's Heathrow. According to Priority Pass executive Jonathan French, Heathrow – once known as the airport "where the world changes planes" – is now better known, says French, as "the airport the world loves to hate."

My two cents: I like Heathrow. There's an excitement there, and a sense of adventure. However, I don't allow my sense of adventure to extend to checking a bag, so I've never had the "adventure" of losing one at Heathrow.

I was also a little surprised at the low ranking for Charles de Gaulle; then I started perusing comments about the airport on the SleepingInAirports site and noticed phrases like "really rank smells" and I wondered if we'd visited the same airport?

Rick's Top Picks

What are my favorite airports? Actually I have a bunch, but remember, you're hearing this from a guy who doesn't check a bag ("there are two kinds of bags, 'lost' and 'carryon'"), so I believe in taking some personal responsibility for one's airport experience. It shouldn't have to be that way, but it is.

Beyond that, well – it would be fun to avail oneself of some of the services offered by Singapore's Changi, like the massages and the swimming pool; and I would enjoy the multi-media lounges at the Hong Kong airport, with the free WiFi – but, I am a simple man with simple needs.

For me, the best airport is one where my plane arrives and departs on time; it is a facility that prides itself on cleanliness; and is easily navigated by all passengers. It doesn't seem like much to ask, does it?

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