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Best and Worst airports in the world

Bertrand D'Souza, editor, Overdrive, travels the world testing cars bound for the Indian market. For 13 years, his schedule has meant he seldom sees the countries he travels to, but he has become quite an authority on airports

Published: Mar 5, 2014 06:14:28 AM IST
Updated: Mar 5, 2014 11:29:56 AM IST
Best and Worst airports in the world

Top 5
1. Singapore (Changi International)
Singapore’s is easily the world’s best airport. It’s impressive because things move promptly, without a fuss. The terminals are visually stunning, with their green themes and entertainment options. I think it is the only airport with a movie theatre and a swimming pool. It also has five gardens. Those with five or more hours to kill can get a pass to take a tour of the city. The duty-free is one of the best in the world. For business travellers, the lounge areas are immense and well serviced, with superb dining and relaxation areas. Showers, spas, hotels, entertainment—they can all be found within the terminal. Changi isn’t just an airport, it’s a full-fledged city!

2. Tokyo (Haneda Airport)
Easily the busiest airport in the Pacific, Haneda gives you the best of Tokyo: Vibrancy, technology, punctuality, warm and friendly staff, and funkiness. The facilities are impressive, the food outstanding, and it is clean enough to have a surgery in. But an airport is defined by the service of its staff, and though it may be a bit difficult to converse with the locals—only a few speak English—they are courteous, understanding and patient, not to mention honest to a fault.

Best and Worst airports in the world
Image: Corbis

3. London (Heathrow)

This airport was once a disaster: Messy check-in counters, long queues and disgraceful cleanliness. Things, however, took a dramatic turn with the opening of Terminal 5, which is swanky, spacious and cheerful. What especially makes London traveller-friendly—especially for Indians—is the language. Beyond that, the usual British wit and charm is available in plenty. Services are prompt, baggage is handled immediately and the immigration staff are warm and concerned. There aren’t a lot of cafés and dining options, or shopping, but for business travellers, it’s the connectivity between the airport and the city that matters most. In that respect, London has got to be one of the best airports in the world.

4. Munich (Flughafen München)
Munich provides a fantastic array of rest and relaxation options for tourists and business travellers: Loads of cafés, restaurants and shopping, and business lounges. The Munich Airport Centre, connecting the domestic and international terminals, has a beer garden, a large supermarket and several specialty markets. A Kempinski near Terminal 2 caters to transit passengers. The terminals are simply laid out and well marked. The staff are some of the most cordial in all of Europe.

Best and Worst airports in the world

Image Courtesy: Dubai International

5. Dubai International
For most, Dubai may be a shoppers’ paradise. That same credo extends to duty-free. And though most transiting travellers would love to have a go at winning a sports car with the duty-free raffle, that is not what brings DXB its fame. Dubai International is now one of the world’s  busiest airports and also one of the largest: Terminal 3 is the largest airport building in the world. Services are impressive. Terminal 3 now also has one of the largest business lounge areas, in addition to trendy bars and restaurants serving international cuisine. My highlight is the impressive view of the Burj Khalifa from either the terminal building or while taking off.

Best and Worst airports in the world
Image: Charles Platiau / Reuters

Worst 5
1. Paris (Charles De Gaulle)

By far the most chaotic and unruly airport in the world. The staff are impolite and sometimes even refuse to speak to you in English even if they seem to understand what you are saying. And god forbid if you land in T1 and have to connect through T3: The two terminals are a kilometre apart, but the walk between them is around 3 km long.

2. Los Angeles (LAX)
For the sixth busiest airport in the world, LAX has a pretty shoddy international terminal and poor services. The incredibly long terminal services mostly domestic passengers, while those travelling overseas have to contend with a relatively small and crowded section. Poor check-in processes and even slower security leaves a rather unpleasant taste behind. Lack of adequate dining facilities and options is a further dampener even for the most enthusiastic international traveller.

Best and Worst airports in the world
Image: Paulo Fridman / Corbis

3. Mumbai international (Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport)
Mumbai has one of the quickest immigration turnarounds I have seen anywhere in the world; from the time you leave the flight to passing through immigration is a matter of just a few minutes. It’s after you pass through those channels that the nightmare begins, first with the layers and layers of screening, then the cross-checking and customs, all the way through to the touts soliciting hotel rooms and cabs. Take a page out of Delhi’s playbook, guys, and some of your systems might just seem plain stupid. Here’s hoping things will improve with the new terminal.

4. Zurich international (Flughafen Zuerich)
Such a fabulous airline and an incredibly amazing airport is completely let down by the attitude of its staff. I have had several issues with immigration officers and security staff over matters that may seem trivial, but to an overseas traveller who has just spent eight hours or more imprisoned in a flying tube, it can be the most unpleasant first impression.

5. Madrid international (Barajas Airport)
This has got to be one of the best looking airport terminals in the world. However, its stunning architecture is let down by a confusing guidance system and immensely long walks through the airport to get to your departure gate unless you get lucky. So if you aren’t the fitness freak travelling in your track suit and sneakers, avoid!

(This story appears in the 07 March, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Andy

    Great article. I have been to some of the best and the worst airports and your comments are accurate. A family member was stranded in Paris and asked for help and the reply was \" Go figure it out on your own.\" Beautiful pictures also. Great article !

    on Oct 13, 2015
  • Ricardo

    I traveled for many countries, around 5 times CDG, I without doubt CDG is the most unorganized of the airports.

    on Sep 29, 2015
  • Tony P

    Poor article. Evaluation based on flimsy, subjective statistically non-significant "data". Prime example: ZRH - Yes, I totally agree that the Swiss-German immigration officials are not the friendliest, and it is a great pity for Switzerland that they should be such a bad advertisement for the country and people upon arrival. But, as others pointed out, they are not alone in this. And to judge the airport severely on this feature alone is sad. ZRH is a great airport.

    on Oct 18, 2014
  • Kurt L.

    Sorry! Eight hours or 30 minutes - doesn\'t matter. Security is Security - especially on an Airport! Must be a personally bad Impression of Mr B. D\'Souza because numbers of World Travel and Service Quality Awards speaks for Zurich Intl Airport...

    on Oct 16, 2014
  • Stirnimann René

    In terms of Zurich: I had the same impression after arriving at the JFK Airport. If you swap \'Zurich\' by \'JFK Airport\' - signed for truth, word by word. Think it\'s balanced and we are quit now.

    on Oct 14, 2014
  • Doe John

    Zurich is one of the worst...? Really? That Forbes is publishing such an article where one single person has to wait for a few minutes while having a bad mood... incredible. Come on... travel to US and then you see what it means to wait LONG... one of the poorest ratings I have ever seen!

    on Oct 13, 2014
  • Zurich - Don't Agree On This!

    I do NOT agree on the comment about Zurich Airport. Even though I'm a Swiss citizen I have many international friends. I usually clear Immigration within 60 seconds. Even our international staff normally doesn't take more than 2 Minutes. This contrasts to the treatment you'll get on ANY US airport. 1h wait for immigration is more standard than the exception - and you might face immigration officers that give you the full bend over - anything is possible there. I once was send into another 1h waiting loop because I filled out the form with a pencil (there was no pen to be found in the whole area..). Needless to note that there are no Transit areas in any US airport - so you'll have the pleasure every time. I clear Zurich Airport from the plane to public transport within 15min almost every time - and I fly about twice a month. To me, it is probably one of the most efficient airports I've ever been in the world - and I've been to many. So, why this article does not rate any of these issues as severe on other airports - sorry, it beats me.

    on Oct 13, 2014
  • Rohit Arora

    "And god forbid if you land in T1 and have to connect through T3: The two terminals are a kilometre apart, but the walk between them is around 3 km long" Which is why they have ultra-comfortable CDGVAL. Maybe you missed the sign.

    on Oct 8, 2014
  • Marc N

    Um... why are you walking from T1 to T3 at CDG? I doubt it's even possible. This does nothing to make me want to trust your opinion.

    on Oct 4, 2014
  • Philip Smith

    Hi I have been based in Zurich for a number of years. I travel regularly around the World. Your comments on Zurich airport are absolute drivel. It is the most efficient - and one of the most friendly airports that i have used. You are obviously making these statements to incite comment???. if not, i am absolutely certain that you have never been through these airports. Pathetic reporting really.PS.

    on Oct 3, 2014
  • Sathya

    Are you referring to the NEW Mumbai Airport. Which is recently renewed and my friends experienced decently beautiful and clean and easy to handle without chaos.

    on Mar 5, 2014