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10 of the world's most loved airports
Not all airports are exasperating mood-foulers: These 10 make delays enjoyable
Really? A small outpost on a remote island in Tierra del Fuego is the fifth most-loved airport in the world?
Strange and subjective as this may seem, it all starts to make sense when you think about how little love there actually is for any airport in the world.
Last week, we ran the 10 most hated airports and that was so much easier -- until guilt set in.
And then confusion. Is it even possible -- let alone appropriate -- to love an airport? Maybe that’s a subject beyond the scope of yet another illuminating Top 10 List, but the following inspired airports definitely deserve a little affection, at least.
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10. Auckland Airport, Auckland, New Zealand
Should a first-place Skytrax World Airport Award for the Australia/Pacific region be much reason to gloat when there is not much competition?
When this accolade could likely be extended to most of the Southern Hemisphere -- the answer is yes. Like its rugby team, New Zealand’s mysterious capacity to outperform much bigger places applies to its flagship aviation facility too.
Auckland’s latest renovation has breathed welcome new life into its international terminal, which offers a swift E-gate system and an award-winning commercial property overhaul that includes several new dining options and A-list retailers, including Apple and MAC cosmetics.
Then there’s the “Kiwi geniality factor,” which in an airport that now supports over 20 international carriers, is more than just about free Steinlager beer on long haul Air New Zealand flights.
“When we asked airport staff for directions here,” notes one passenger, “we were actually walked to the location in question.”
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9. Montevideo Carrasco, Montevideo, Uruguay
Finding contentment in virtually any airport in the Americas usually depends mainly on the book and/or beverage in your hand. One of the few exceptions to this rule is now hiding in Uruguay, which garners the kind of air passenger enthusiasm that Buenos Aires, Belize City or Baltimore can’t even fathom.
“This airport is breathtakingly beautiful, spotless clean, and efficient,” writes one recent passenger at airline and airport review site, airlinequality.com.
“Attractive architecture, spacious, clean, lots of light. Smooth check-in, security control and immigration,” gushes another. “Try the small coffee shop next to Gate 8 with an outdoor terrace!”
People passing through Montevideo are digging its airport’s sleek, glassy, curvaceous US$165 million makeover which was completed a couple of years ago and will surely score a cameo in "Up in the Air 2."
In a building this bright and shiny, even things that might bum passengers out in regular airports (What, no fast food court?) just make this one seem even more sophisticated.
Amenities include a full-service restaurant and third-floor observation deck with long, sunny views that thankfully don’t reach Sao Paolo-Garulhos even on a clear day.
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8. Victoria International, Victoria, Canada
Canada’s favorite little regional airport has earned its stripes on a reputation for ease, efficiency and friendliness, along with some value-added quirks that no other airport in the world would ever bother to think about.
Like, for example, hosting a special “chocolatier” exhibit or unveiling a 2.5-kilometer bike path around the perimeter.
Tucked in a scenic peninsula on Vancouver Island about 20 minutes from mercilessly pleasant downtown Victoria and a picturesque ferry ride from mainland British Columbia, Victoria “International” (the moniker derives from connections to SeaTac and San Francisco) handles well over a million annual domestic and U.S. passengers.
That’s a lot for a terminal with nine little gates, three luggage carousels and a cozy glassy atrium. But it doesn’t feel like it. “I was out within 10 minutes of the plane touching down,” says one recent passenger.
Bottom line: this is the way everyone envisions entering Canada, and almost never does.
7. Zurich Airport, Zurich, Switzerland
OK, so maybe not everyone loves Switzerland’s largest airport when they’re getting squeezed onto the Skymetro to Terminal E, grilled by a hair-splitting security officer, or paying through the teeth for a puny sandwich.
But it’s a speedy train ride, security’s just doing its job and you could eat your lunch off the floor here.
Zurich continues to offer the sort of spotless, well-run, no-nonsense flying experience that passengers realize they love when they’re having a much worse time at another airport.
Recent expansion projects, renovations and increasing crowds may have hampered the facility’s cuckoo-clock efficiency rep of late, but projects here -- like new terminals, observation decks, a children’s airport-themed play area -- actually get done.
From the airport, there are few better train systems connecting passengers to the rest of Europe.
And few other airports are routinely decorated with as many consumer-oriented awards as Zurich, which placed first in this year’s World Travel Awards, first in Europe (second in the world) in last year’s Business Traveller Awards and third in Europe in the 2010 Consumer Awards.
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6. Tampa International, Tampa, United States
Never mind aviational blights like LAX or MIA that live down to their acronyms; it’s a shame those sturdier major U.S. hubs don’t get more respect. Atlanta-Hartsfield, Chicago-O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth.
These behemoths decently convey some of the largest, hardest-to-please throngs of air travelers on earth, who rag on them constantly.
Mid-sized American airports tend to fare better -- in random places like Portland, Oregon, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Hartford, Connecticut and (all kidding aside) Detroit -- which get some due appreciation in the public eye.
The open-air walkways at Honolulu and Maui also earn raves -- though, given their location and high percentage of travelers coming specifically to brighten their moods, any Hawaiian airport has a bit of an unfair advantage.
But Tampa, home of the first Landside/Airside Terminal Complex structure, a frequent Global Airport Efficiency Award winner, and recipient of a Second Best Airport in the World in an aging J.D. Powers & Assoc. customer satisfaction survey, takes the lion’s share of shout-outs.
Travelers through Tampa continue to wax on about its efficient, tram-connected wheel-spoked design that ends all running to distant gates (Denver, are you listening?), its affable Floridian staff that aren’t like those tired, moody cadavers in Orlando, its tasteful galleria of stores, boutiques and restaurants that wouldn’t dare deprive waiting passengers of a Ron Jon Surf Shop.
The only frequent beef here is that no major airline has elected to make this place its hub. But if Tampa is smart, it won’t be going there any time soon.
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5. Ushuaia-Malvinas Argentinas International, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
The world is dotted with cruddy, old air terminals plunked in the middle of nowhere, seducing passengers with their wild natural surroundings, hair-raising 50-meter runways and pimply teenage luggage crews.
But the modern, chalet-ish facility nestled on the outskirts of Ushaia between the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel on the bottom of the civilized world (aka “the world’s southernmost international airport in the world’s southernmost town”) is an inspired-looking, 747-friendly place.
All slick gable roof and broad timber-beamed interior, you’d half-expect to find a ski boot rental counter in the basement.
There isn’t one. But the lounge is quite nice, the bar is open, the Wi-Fi’s on the house and there’s a respectable duty free shop. Not bad for an outpost serving mainly as a gateway to Patagonia, Antarctica and the Falklands.
Airports like Jackson Hole could learn something here. And your arrival is nearly as dramatic as descending over the Tetons -- with sweet views of the lower Andes before rolling onto a rugged archipelago on the edge of the habitable planet.
Yeah, you’re out there. Cheeseburger and a cocoa, please.
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4. Munich Airport, Munich, Germany
Now that Lufthansa’s second base (after bigger, busier, far less loved Frankfurt) has swiftly grown into a major international airport facing its own capacity issues and contentious third runway plans, it could easily succumb to the stress-inducing foibles of other award-winning European hubs -- like Amsterdam (nice leather sofas, but what’s with the lines?) and Copenhagen (is this an airport or a shopping mall with a sauna?).
But so far, so good.
Munich’s 1990s-era Terminal 1 is younger, fresher-looking and better organized than most terminal 2s and 3s on the planet. Its second terminal, home to Lufthansa and Star Alliance members, is arranged around a bright, central plaza that makes LHR and CDG look purgatorial.
Smack in the middle, the facility’s airy shopping and recreation area -- Munich Airport Centre -- is easily accessible to all passengers without feeling pushy.
A “Bavarian hospitality” ethos here means this is one of the few airports on either side of the Atlantic where a no-frills T2 passenger can enjoy free tea and coffee and a T1er can happily sit out a flight delay at Air Bräu, a micro-brew worthy of a college town.
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3. Seoul Incheon, Seoul, Korea
At 10 years young, South Korea’s pin-up airport continues to wow passengers with its bright and airy arrival halls, its futuristic connecting train terminal, its Pine Tree and Wildflower gardens and its boggling array of amenities that include private sleeping rooms, free showers, round-the-clock spa facilities, ubiquitous Internet lounges, a golf course and an ice skating rink.
And all this without forgetting why most people actually come to airports: not so much to work on their double axels or putting, but to get somewhere else as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Crowned as the world’s top airport in the annual, customer-survey-based Airport Service Quality Awards, ICN is one of only three in the world with a full five-star Skytrax rating -- along with the next two airports on this list.
Why is Seoul number three? Bring Cirque du Soleil here and we’ll see about next year.
In the meantime, check out the traditional Korean music performances or acrobatic shows on the first floor open stage. And don’t forget to swing by the Korean Culture Museum.
“It was nice to see several cultural experiences placed around the terminal,” writes one airlinequality.com passenger. “How many of us go through an airport and learn nothing of the country we are in?”
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2. Singapore Changi, Singapore
Is there a bigger compliment to an airport than travelers routinely scheduling more time here just to have fun and relieve stress?
Spotless, flawlessly organized and stocked with conveniences that continue to lock Singapore for the gold, silver or (in an off-year marred by constructing more improvements) bronze in every serious annual airport poll, here’s the place that re-invented what airports can be.
That is -- places with pools, whirlpool baths and massage tables, prayer rooms and rooftop bars, LAN gaming areas and free movie theaters, koi ponds and butterfly gardens.
Changi’s massive interiors may require some hiking -- on efficient travelators or shuttle trains -- to distant gates or between terminals. But as long as you’re not running to catch a flight, it’s no O’Hare or Heathrow-style headache. More like a tour of what an elite international airport can and should be.
Above all, it’s the mandated comfort factor here that’s most appreciated by passengers gravitating to relaxation lounges or, in a pinch, reclining slumber chairs with flat-screen TVs spread throughout the terminal floors.
Based on its four C voting criteria -- Comfort, Convenience, Cleanliness and Customer service -- Sleeping in Airports has granted SIN its coveted Golden Pillow Award for 15 straight years.
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1. Hong Kong International, Hong Kong
Now that its place as one of the great land reclamation projects of the 20th century is, well, 20th-century, HKIA is onto newer benchmarks -- including entering the world’s 50 million annual passenger club (shared with only 10 other airports) and becoming the busiest freight airport on earth.
This kind of pressure might sink a less inspired or prepared facility (the airport currently has a multi-phase Master Plan 2030 in the works which will see it through the next couple decades), but Hong Kong keeps looking better and more five-star functional with everything thrown at it.
And not just for cargo carriers, but for more than 900 daily flights’ worth of satisfied travelers whisking through this foolproof hub -- offering loads of opportunities for lounging, golfing, fine-dining, 4-D movie theater-ing, free Wi-Fi’ing and simply wishing that this year’s Skytrax World Airport of the Year could be replicated in London, Paris, New York, Juneau … anywhere outside of Asia.
Considered one of the most accessible airports in operation today, Hong Kong’s swift and driverless Automated People Mover is both ultra-convenient and kind-of-forbidding.
Hong Kong’s express train service to/from downtown offers remote check-in and has reinvented just how simple it should be to reach or depart a remote-looking airport. That is, if you ever want to depart.
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