There’s a special form of loathing reserved for a building that forces you to remove your shoes, wait in line, get groped, shell out for bad food and dash in a panic to an arbitrarily changed gate before canceling your flight.
But let’s be clear. The most hated airports in the world are not the worst airports in the world.
For that you’ll have to consult Lonely Planet or fly to destinations the majority of us have little need to pin on a map or pronounce properly.
To come up with our admittedly unscientific list, we canvassed travel websites, blogs and message boards. And called on memories of our own travel nightmares.
What follow are 10 majorly despised international hubs (or hopefuls) that, while they may have a few staunch fans, and some have even won awards, have all inspired enough fury, flak and “never again” air-rage to merit a place on this list.
10. São Paulo-Guarulhos International, São Paulo, Brazil
Why is this place on our list after scoring third best airport in South America at the 2011 World Airport Awards?
Because, shockingly enough, it turns out that corporate medal ceremonies aren’t always in sync with what people are thinking when they’re standing in two-hour immigration lines, suffering routinely unannounced gate changes and paying through the teeth for a stale Brazilian cheese roll and beer inside an understaffed and over-aged aviation facility.
In a country where flight delays (departing or arriving) are just part of the deal, some recent numbers would give pause to the most unflappable traveler at Brazil’s largest airport.
Just 41 percent of all flights leave on time. Only 59 percent of flights arrive on schedule, according to Forbes.
São Paulo-Guarulhos has announced plans to add runways and terminals — what airport hasn’t? — but with nearly 30 million passengers traipsing through every year (the figure has reportedly doubled in under a decade) the urgency is palpable and, sadly enough, unsolved by upping prices at musty duty-free shops.
But does this really constitute bronze medal status? When the best unofficial advice for surviving Brazil’s pin-up airport is to try and learn a little Portuguese and not lose your temper, something’s gotta give.
9. Perth Airport, Perth, Australia
If there’s one thing Australians love, it’s hating their airports.
But while the big guns in Sydney, Melbourne and also-rans in Darwin, Cairns and Hobart get routinely lambasted for various inefficiencies and rip-off tactics, passengers in Western Australia have a special place in their spleens for Perth.
“The only advantage over some other airports is the lack of nearby combat,” notes one of several miffed passengers on airportquality.com.
With a reviled pair of domestic terminals (home of two-hour taxi-line queues, atrocious check-in lines, overpopulated gates and meager lounges) and a slightly more palatable international terminal five kilometers away, Perth’s brittle facilities can be overwhelmed just by a trio of aircraft arriving within 20 minutes of each other.
Now that an ambitious “billion-dollar” redevelopment project has been significantly scaled back, who would ever want to leave Changi for this place?
8. Tribhuvan International, Kathmandu, Nepal
For a small airport in a pretty country, Tribhuvan has it all: the interminable weather delays of Boston Logan, the shoddy restroom maintenance of a Glasgow sports bar, the departure board sparsity of McMurdo Airfield and the chronic chaos of a kids’ soccer match.
Some airport improvements have been underway for the Visit Nepal 2011 tourism campaign, including things most passengers don’t much care about (e.g., the new helicopter base).
The most serious beefs with Nepal’s only international airport revolve around its primitive yet officious check-in procedure, starring a roulette wheel of underpaid security agents.
“Departure is an endless game of body searches and silly questions,” notes one passenger.
“Those who didn’t have their e-tickets printed out had to argue their way in,” says another, who was checked seven times and scolded for not having a baggage tag on a carry-on before eventually boarding.
Never mind. The city’s markets and surrounding mountains are lovely.
7. John F. Kennedy International, New York, United States
You’d think it would be one of the greatest humiliations any major airport would never allow itself to live down — getting routinely abandoned by fed-up folks opting to fly out of Newark (Newark!) instead, where at least the ground staff cop less attitude and fewer people outside are pretending to be cab drivers.
But, nah, JFK really couldn’t really care less.
Every year, more than 21 million passengers stumble through worn, mid-century terminals that peaked when The Beatles arrived in the United States and rooftop parking was all the rage; JFK proudly remains the world’s busiest international air gateway.
So if you’re not into a dim, surly, unbearably congested airport reeking with attitude and unapologetically long immigration lines — good riddance.
“JFK had a piece of my luggage sitting in a little detention room for bags — for over a year,” notes one passenger. “No one noticed it was there, until finally an observant Air France employee wondered what the dusty little green bag in the corner was.”
6. Jomo Kenyatta International, Nairobi, Kenya
“As African airports go, it’s not that bad — but as an international hub, it may be one of the worst out there.”
This is the common refrain among travelers through JKIA, who either don’t have the heart or the expectations to give this dated aviation facility the kind of pounding reserved for the JFKs and Charles de Gaulles of the world.
Saddled with a 1958 blueprint designed for 2.5 million passengers, JKIA receives close to twice that many. Hence the airport’s 2005, Three Phase, US$100 million expansion project which has seen long delays (something about the rain) and has been spinning its tires somewhere in Phase Two for the last few years.
For now, that means business as usual: cramped spaces; long lines; inadequate seating; frequent power outages; tiny washrooms hiding up several flights of stairs; shabby duty free shops; overpriced food outlets; and business class lounges worthy of a shelter in mid-city Los Angeles.
Sure, it’s a breeze compared to Lagos. But it could be so much better. The confusing result: grateful disappointment?
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