World's Worst Airports
Oh, the indignities of air travel: crammed in small containers, can’t move, subjected to foul smells, elbow-to-elbow humanity, accumulations of trash, unplanned delays — and that’s just in the airports.
Worst weather: Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Worst weather: Frankfurt Airport, GermanySecond prize for worst weather goes to Frankfurt (FRA): It’s in a fog-plagued river valley, gets a fair amount of snow and is subject to frequent rainstorm delays as well.
Dishonorable mention: The fog at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is chronic, though not acute; rarely is the airport shut down. In January 2010, it experienced fog 28 out of 31 days.
Worst delays: London Heathrow International AirportHeathrow (LHR) wins this prize. The world’s No. 1 international airport is the most delayed major hub in Europe; delays average close to 20 minutes. With just two runways that are close together, it’s no surprise that holdups are caused as much by air traffic as by weather. At least the English countryside is green and scenic while you are circling above it. But when bad weather brings complete shutdowns (as it did in late 2010), some stranded passengers had to wait outside in tents.
Worst delays: Newark Liberty International Airport, N.J.Second prize: Newark Liberty (EWR) is another international hub with essentially one runway. At the world’s No. 29 airport, planes can sit on the tarmac for hours waiting for a takeoff slot. Passengers either cook in the fuselage or in the crowded terminals.
Dishonorable mention: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) averages 15 minutes in flight delays. John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York joins Newark among the worst-delayed airports; the two major hubs divide air space for hundreds of planes with New York’s La Guardia Airport.
Hardest to navigate: Phoenix Sky Harbor International AirportPhoenix (PHX), No. 19 in the world, consists of three terminals, five concourses, 10 wings and a confusing maze of bus routes to serve them. Bonus health prize: Temperatures can reach 187 degrees Fahrenheit on the asphalt airport drives. Inside, airport officials chill the terminals so passengers won’t decay.
Hardest to navigate: Madrid-Barajas AirportSecond place: Madrid (MAD) is cited by frequent travelers as a maze of shops and walkways in which the only signs are for the duty-free stores. Interterminal connections are fraught with challenges, and passengers are required to cart their belongings in bins to security radar by themselves — quite a challenge for some senior travelers.
Dishonorable mention: Heathrow has five terminals and buses that wander circuitously among them like army ants. One must allow at least two hours for connections between terminals.
Hardest to get to: Washington Dulles International AirportDulles (IAD) is the major hub for the U.S. capital, but it is so far away from Washington, D.C. — 26 miles — that if it were in some parts of Europe, it would be in a different country than the city it supposedly serves. No, there isn’t a subway, train or any other efficient conveyance between the city and its airport (one is planned, though the first phase won't be complete until 2014). You can take a taxi if you get the OK from your bank lending officer beforehand.
Hardest to get to: Beijing Capital International AirportSecond prize: Beijing International (PEK), No. 3 in the world, isn’t as far from its capital as Dulles. But Beijing traffic is still tied up from the Olympics three years ago; even the city’s most experienced limo drivers cannot find ways around the tie-ups.
Dishonorable mention: Denver International Airport is far, far out on the plains northeast of its city. No light rail here, either. At least the High Plains winds sweep away whatever toxic residue remains from its former neighbor, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. (No, that’s not the same as the soccer team.)
Dirtiest: Sheremetyevo International Airport, MoscowMoscow’s airport (SVO) is old, Soviet-made, falling apart, rarely cleaned, and stinks to high heaven of cigarette smoke. In the new terminal, it stinks of smoke and paint. Bonus democracy prize: Soldiers guard some seats for Russian oligarchs.
Dirtiest: Jakarta International Airport, IndonesiaSecond prize: Jakarta (JKT) has all the same problems as Moscow’s airport — and it’s in the tropics, so everything festers.
Dishonorable mentions: Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport in Paris, where the lack of cleaning is often cited by frequent travelers, and Miami International Airport (MIA), another subtropical bug zoo.
Most crowded: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International AirportHartsfield (ATL) is the world’s busiest airport, shuffling close to 90 million passengers a year. Restroom lines can surpass 15 minutes; food-court lines go out the door and into the next concourse. The numerous designated smoking areas in the terminals fail to contain the smoke.
Second prize: Frankfurt (FRA) has gate waiting rooms that are invariably designed for the 120 passengers on a 737, but must hold the 350 passengers on an intercontinental 747. Got deodorant?
Ugliest: Haneda Airport, TokyoWhat are those spiral objects guarding the Haneda (HND), the world’s fifth-busiest airport, like gateposts? Concrete Slinkies? Really, really big DNA models? Discarded Brobdingnagian elastic bandages? No, they’re parking structures. We think.
Ugliest airport: McCarran International Airport, Las VegasSecond prize goes to Las Vegas (LAS). The outside of the world’s No. 17 airport is unremarkable. But indoors, travelers walk past rows of slot machines and poker machines, blinking and winking and beeping and squawking. Scores of lounge lizards thin as sticks feed their life savings into the machines. That’s ugly, folks.
Dishonorable mention: Dulles’ famous Eero Saarinen 1962 design today looks like the roof blew off a mobile home. Bonus aesthetic appeal is provided by the truly bizarre twin-capped buses (“mobile lounges”) that shuttle passengers around the tarmac.
Worst overall runner-up: John F. Kennedy International AirportJFK airport is crowded, dirty, fraught with delays and staffed by customer-service personnel who have degrees in disdain. Its once-hip design looks dated and awkward, like a really large athletic bra. Cigarette smoke fills the air inside in a few bars and restaurants.
Dishonorable mentions: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is tawdry, coming apart at the seams, crowded and poorly planned. Heathrow is all of the above, and has frightful delays. Jakarta is dirty, crowded, ugly and unpleasant. Same for Madrid, which was derided by several of our correspondents.