My international travels were mostly with a companion, my backpack, which stored all the essentials from toiletry to protein chocolate bar (my emergency food), maps, water, clothes etc but it never slowed me down. I love airports, it’s a place where you can relax a bit, plan further journey, eat, shop or even entertain yourselves with electronic gadgets (my personal favorite). I have seen various airports en route and thought of sharing my experiences about them. Some of those gave an experience similar to a five star hotel and some totally rugged just like Chandni Chowk market (crowded shopping place in New Delhi, India with cacophony). Below are my ratings on 10 airports starting from the worse to the best experience-wise.
10. LAX, Los Angeles: Amongst the most visited cities in the world with attractions like Hollywood, one would expect a better entry treatment (those coming by air). I reached LAX in evening and got thrilled with sight of lights from air as if the stars were spread on ground. But soon I entered the airport, my joy turned into a horrible sight. Crowded and noisy but expected. Though the shops and eateries were good as well as the boarding area with internet but the list of negative side overshadowed the pros pretty easily. Washrooms were not clean, long queue/waiting time, poorly navigated, awkward smell through some of the lobbies added to the negative features of this airport. Unlike many international airports, this one doesn’t give you a convenient access to public transport. Much I liked the city, I wished I had travelled in and out LA using my most preferred mode of journey, Driving.
9. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: Although it’s not as crowded as LAX yet long queues/waiting time gave me huge pain. We Indians hate queues (especially if it’s a straight one) because we are impatient and want everything done quickly. Each time I tried seeking entry though this port, I waited in queue for about 2 hours at least to get cleared. One out of three counters did not have any officer which made progress even slower. Shopping area was less than decent and eating outlets along with waiting/boarding area were just about okay. Definitely not recommended!
8. SJC, San Jose: The most preferred airport around that city is obviously SFO (San-Francisco) however this airport fulfills the purpose of locals and IT nerds working in Silicon Valley. It’s pretty sleek, free Wi-Fi, nice waiting lounge, easy check-in, less waiting to get clearance, the shopping and eating outlets were below average. Also, I witnessed substandard condition of washrooms. Also given San Jose has quite dry weather, drinking water dispensers should be available before reaching to the shopping place.
7. Helsinki Airport, Finland: Beautiful lakes and farms, what a view from top! This airport has an amazing shopping place with some of the unique products available for tourists. Its hard to forget those vodka filled toffees (not to be mistaken with chocolates) that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Washrooms were in good condition. But the eating outlets and waiting lounge were just about average. I also struggled hard to find a power socket when my gadgets needed charge.
6. Manchester Airport, UK: The best thing about this airport is its high accessibility to public transport and adjoining hotels. Shopping area was okay, though it needs good eating outlets. Waiting time for clearance can further be improved. Waiting lounges too were a bit disappointing, not enough seats and power socket if the waiting is longer.
5. DXB, Dubai: This one on 5th would surely raise eyebrows of many for such renowned tourist place. But I have my reasons, First positives- well navigated lobbies, marvelous shopping and eating joints (probably the best amongst all mentioned above) but negatives are prominent enough to keep it 5th. First, you would mostly get transit using buses to the check-in terminal after landing. Get ready to for a 5 minutes bumpy ride standing throughout. Its just 5 minutes but if you are already tired from long flight, those 5 min standing would be a huge pain. Staff wasn’t providing instructions during security clearance unless someone made a mistake. Washroom facilities were spread out wide and it took a long walk from the waiting lounge area. Coming to some of the waiting lounges, there were about 200 passengers boarding the plane but only 15-20 seats in that lounge. There was free Wi-Fi facility but only for 30 mins and took a registration process which failed due to connection twice before getting on. To be honest, it was kind of a disappointment.
4. SFO, San Francisco: I rate this highly; still one would wonder why it’s 4th spot on list. You would find the answer when you see what the top 3 are. San Francisco is a popular tourist spot for various reasons: Golden gate bridge, Alcatraz prison, various piers, wonderful buildings, Napa valley which is nearby and many others. The enthusiasm to visit such place is well treated by the airport. It has a beautiful layout with spacious waiting lounges, well navigated lobbies, nice shopping & eating outlets, free Wi-Fi and of course convenient access to public transport. Highly recommended ahead of San Jose or Oakland airport!
3. McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas: Las Vegas needs no introduction; city that never sleeps, lights all around, different modes of entertainment is all you get there -not to forget a wide range of cuisine. I remember when I was about to land at McCarran airport for the first time. Much I had heard about Vegas, the sight of the city from top matched every bit of description. Experience at the airport was pleasing too and it was no less than a fancy shopping mall; adorned shopping outlets, multiple cuisine, perfectly navigated lobbies, great facilities and free Wi-Fi. Weather at Las Vegas felt like home (similar to May in Delhi), burning at day with temperature almost touching 40 degrees so availability of drinking water before clearance helped a great deed. Also, convenient access to the public transport was bliss. Las Vegas is all about fun (shows, drink, nightlife, casinos etc) and this airport makes sure that you are not flying out of the city with all your money. There were various gambling machines to engage tourists before boarding flight and I must say none looked tired or exhausted even if they had great party a night before.
2. IGI Airport, New Delhi: I live nearby New Delhi and always fly from this airport but my rating here are not biased or generous. If I were to write this article 4 years ago, this port would either be placed at bottom or probably not even on the list. Old international terminal (T2) was horrible however it was relocated to Terminal 3 (T3) and what a change it was! As transition was done in few phases, T3 is now functioning with world class facilities. My experience has always been truly mesmerizing at this port. Though I always preferred cabs/personal vehicles to reach here but public transportation is also quite accessible. Multiple check-in/immigration counter which takes no longer than 15 minutes (probably the fastest I experienced so far), a vast shopping place with numerous cuisines along with sports bar and gaming zone for all ages. Electric carts can be availed to cover distant boarding lounges with washroom facilities conveniently laid. Free Wi-Fi and power sockets are easily available. It would be a nice experience if you are flying or taking a connectivity through this airport.
1-Heathrow, London: Probably the busiest of all the airports I had been to, yet well controlled. For me it was hard choice between Heathrow and IGI T3 when I thought about all the features. Both had almost everything but Heathrow toppled the list for few reasons. First, it doesn’t have as many immigration counters as IGI T3 yet the process was quick and moving which shows the efficient process/staff. Beside a huge shopping places and food joints one could easily get the British flavor at the port. If you have been to London, Heathrow makes sure that you get its traditional feel until you board the plane such was the ambiance. Access to bus stops and Tubes is cherry on top. In terms of busier airports, I could compare Heathrow with LAX but the latter was cumbersome.
Please note, these are purely based on my personal experiences and some might have experienced differently at above places. Feel free to post your experiences if you agree or disagree with above.