I am a long-time subscriber to Conde Nast Traveler magazine. It's wonderfully written, the photos are beautiful and it feeds my wanderlust. Anywhoo, the October issue has the annual Business Travel Awards, which includes ratings on U.S and international airports (see results here). The magazine polled 1,800 readers and used a five-point scale from “excellent” to “poor.” The scores were tabulated by the percentage of readers that gave “excellent” and “very good” ratings to airports. I did an article (access for subscribers only) in the Oct. 10 issue of Aviation Daily/Airports.
The best U.S. airport was Portland International, while the best international airport was Singapore's Changi. Readers lauded Portland for easy access, a good mix of retail and food/beverage concessions and free wireless Internet throughout the terminal, while Changi was praised for its myriad shops and amenities ranging from nap centers to terminals with free Internet access.
I haven't had a chance to visit Portland, but I've heard wonderful things about it, and it seems to be very popular with road warriors for its free wireless Internet, open and airy terminal and good mix of national, regionnal and local food/beverage and retail vendors.
But I have been to Changi, and I understand exactly why they were tapped as the top international airport. It is one of the cleanest airports I've ever seen -- even the rest rooms. And believe me, I am a stickler when it comes to public restrooms. The layout of the airport is very customer friendly.
Considering how much more time passengers are spending in airports, you would think that more airports would get on the ball and spruce up their facilities. Now to be fair, I am fully aware of the financial and governmental restraints that airports face in trying to improve their facilities. But it seems to me that you have to spend money to make money, and passengers lingering longer will spend more money at nicer facilities, which adds to the bottom line.
Being a military brat and having jobs that have allowed me to travel extensively have allowed me to visit all kinds of airports, from palaces to pig stys. Below is my top 10 list (in no particular order) of airports I've visited.
1. Orlando International Airport - I was at this airport in August for a family trip to the Magic Kingdom. MCO to me is an extension of your vacation. When you arrive, your concourse is light and airy, letting all the sunshine in. The train to the main terminal is like riding the monorail to Disney World, and I've heard children make that very comment. The main terminal is full of shops to buy those last-minute souvenirs from all the theme parks. And it's very customer friendly.
2. Long Beach Airport - this is an old-school airport that disembarks passengers from air stairs. Makes me feel like Evita waving to the masses. I also am a big fan of art deco and love the 1930s feel. But it could have better concessions...
3. Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, especially Terminal A - I love what BAA is doing to my hometown airport. The new A Terminal - where Southwest flies - is sunny and open. They have a great mix of local and national concessions, including my new favorite California Tortilla and the venerable Phillips Seafood. The airport is in the middle of a capital construction plan that's adding all kinds of new concessions. Plus BWI gets MAJOR points for a partking system that tells you exactly how many free spaces are available and where. I hear that Phoenix and Portland are getting similar systems.
4. Wasington Dulles - OK, you can read my old post here to see why I love Dulles so much.
5. Manchester Airport (UK) - When I worked for Rolls-Royce, I'd fly here because it was much more convenient and less crowded than Heathrow (although LHR has much better shopping).
6. Las Vegas - come on, it's Las Vegas!! Need I say more?
7. San Francisco - the International terminal in my original hometown airport is a sight to behold. They have a great selection of retail and fodd/beverage outlets, all local. And you get two of SFO's best sushi places -- Ebisu and Osho. And the vast majority of their food/beverage places are local establishments. I love a good Big Mac like the next girl, but sometimes you just want to try something different.
8. Amsterdam Schiphol - I love the shopping and passenger amenities at this airport. I have bought tulip bulbs, cheese, sunglasses, prescription glasses, fridge magnets, duty-free liquor and perfume and other sundry items here. I also saw a mini art exhibit, hung out at the casino and got in touch with my inner aviation geek at the observation area here. And it's very easy to get around.
9. Lugano Airport - I was attending a conference in Baveno, Italy, in the Lake Maggiore section north of Milan. This airport is right on the Switzerland-Italy border and I had the best meal ever right there. Homemade pasta that made me weep. The food at the resort where the conference was held was really bad, so I was happily surprised to get such a good meal at a small airport.
10. Keflavik Airport - What a fun little airport! I was flying a Mesaba/Northwest Airlink 30-seat Saab 340 turboprop from Saab's headquarters in Linkoping, Sweden, to Minneapolis, and this was our overnight stop on the trip. You could see stickers of all the airlines who had dropped by on ferry flights to their final destinations. Of course, this was pre-9/11, but we got off the plane and walked right to the hotel. The duty-free shopping is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and not only do they have the usual food/booze/perfume/electronics stuff, but you can get the necessities like medicine and other drug store-like products.