Friday, June 15, 2007

The best and worst airports in the world and Key West is among guess which category.

The best, worst and weirdest airports in the world. Key West is one of them. Guess which column.
Ah, dear lover of air flight, traveler of the skies, where the vistas are the curves, if not at least the clouds of the globe, defying gravity, suspended by what actually appears to be only the noise of the engines, as nothing else would suggest the weight of the silvery speeding airliners.
But in the very weary worn phrase of "post-9/11", which heavily weighs on aircraft with it's inescapable connection to the horrific events of that fateful day, traveling "by air" has become, well, a real drag. Not that some aspects of being transported by these behemoths of the upper atmosphere didn't already come with plenty of baggage, and not the type that fits under or over the sardined seats. The seats alone are worthy of a level of Dante's special hell for architects.

Yet, we may be "of a certain age" when "catching a plane" wasn't just a figure of speech. It truly was an adventure, the part where "the journey" was as great if not better, than the destination.
I vividly remember, before I was 12, at least, my parents driving in their 1954 powder blue Plymouth, to the local airport, and just park at the edges to watch the departures of the prop planes. One after the other, it was exhilarating - can you imagine? We would even bring a picnic basket! To watch airplanes take off! Cheap thrills. What adventure! Well, they were Protestants, after all. Well, dad was agnostic, but he went along for the ride.

SO, 'ALLLLL aboard!" (a train ref, but no one calls out anything so romantic in air terminals. I mean, if "Rows 8-24 may now show their ID's at the gate" makes your arm hair frizzy, you are one forlorn person). Here's a travel story, and the sad, sad news about the state of airports in a new report rating the best and worst ones. What's missing, like the millions of the Naked Story, is the personal. I'll be your guide for the local lift-off location, cryptically but perhaps quite accurately called EYW. Just put a Southern drawl into it and forget it's closer to Havana than Miami.

The romance, of course, has gone out of airplane traveling. The bloom is long off the room freshener. Hell, so is the food - which has been jettisoned so fast off flights that even those packets of pretzels are no longer offered, let alone peanuts. Which, I have to tell you, on a flight a few years back, to where, god I forget, chomping on those goobers, they chipped a tooth, from which quickly the 1950's mercury laden grey gunk filling pummeled into the the canyon of a cavity, brought about by all the junk food I ate so readily then, by the really sadistic Dr. Wright (his real name, and I hope he's dead by now, and who was the study, I am convinced, for Steve Martin's Dr. Orin Scrivello, DDS, from The Little Shop of Horrors!) crumbled from the remaining molar, and for which I later did not act with the urgency it demanded, and which became abscessed, necessitating the tooth being pulled, then came the crown, then the bridge, and jesus, this cheap bag of nuts gave my current dentist (unlike the Dr. Evil, he's a fantastic dentist, the best I could have ever hoped for) a new car, or at least his child's first year of college tuition. But I digress.

One cannot possibly call air travel fun, whatsoever. Torturous, yes. Gruelling, absolutely. It's something the modern person tolerates, at best, for the dubious convenience of arriving somewhere else, without the troublesome gas stops on the earth bound highways. Let's not even get into the whole carbon-loading equations, the ionosphere depletion, the solar radiation exposure from which the silver steel skin is no defense, nor would applying sunscreen at 30,000 feet make any difference. Just what are we paying for, save a few hours? In some metro areas you must admit it sometimes takes as long to get from your house to the airport terminal, park, wait, wait, wait some more, and then load-in, wait some mooooore on the tarmac, then lift off, and whew, land, wait all over again, and wait for baggage, then repeat the sequence, in reverse with a rental car, and then...collapse... (from whence the phrase, "jet-lag" comes, when "jet-crash" is more descriptive, but macabre) as it would from just driving directly to your destination. You do the math next time. You'd have the sublime advantage of stopping when you want. At least you will have felt as if you actually traversed the trails your ancestors (might) have taken, in less hurried, frenzied times. Just ignore that the Interstates have homogenized the highways and exits all seem to end up at the same U-turn of ubiquitous Waffle Houses.

Who among us has not stood sullenly at the snake-lines for our boarding passes, to only then be subjected to the latest bureaucracy insult - the inane and absurd disrobing of shoes to give the ridiculous impression it's now truly safe to get squeezed into a steel trap and rocketed, against God's Plan, mind you (last I checked humans do not have feathers or arm spans to perform such a feat), vast distances, all in the time it takes for a cart to troll the aisles with beverages so small even your bladder won't register and who wants to suffer the further indignity of really sitting on an airplane toilet, anyway. The cabinet-size closets at one time were at least good for baptism in the Mile-High Club, but no-oooo., not anymore. Feds will bust in their faster than a cluster of clowns tumbling from a VW.

But about those shoes. Leaving City A, I used to wear an entire and full ensemble of real grown-up adult clothes when I would jump in an airplane, on the basis the luggage would be lost, and at least I'd be presentable, when I arrived at City B. Now, I wear as few clothes as possible, so the transit time through the inspection line, the wand-scan, the x-rays, the brain scanners, the pat-down, the side-trip to the behind the TSA curtains for closer examination, more wanding, geiger-counters, iris-probing, breathalyzer, I almost expect to be dosed with sodium pentathol, the "truth" serum, and asked how many fingers do I see wiggling in front of me, before I can "board" the airplane. I think maybe everyone should disrobe like in hospitals, given a green robe that inexplicably has those damn string ties in the back, which is unsettling enough because you know something is going to happen "back there" that will be most unpleasant, even if you like that sort of thing. So then we're all naked and easily purveyed, and of course then we're all safe. Not from your seat-buddy's leering looks, but we're all equal under the glare of a camera. A bag with our clothes will be given at the end of the line. Ha! What am I? Dreaming? Why not just anesthetize every passenger, and throw water in our face at the arrival? But what is with the gov'mint's gauntlet given to the really elderly folks, frail and already fraught, or the treatment dished out to the unsuspecting children (which, if they were so subjected at school as they are in airports, the goons would be indicted under a few ordinances, I am sure), who are expected to behave like the rest of the good obedient soldiers we have all become, as we have quite readily surrendered our liberties in the name of "security". Air travel has become training not for "terrorists", but for somnolence of the citizenry. Be sure to not go barefoot, either. Then you will surely be suspect. We cannot have anarchy!

Our beloved local air strip, with what has to be a facetious honorarium of being tagged an "International" airport is due, I suspect, in part to the conceit of being paraded as "America's only Caribbean Island." Who doesn't love, of course, that we need only drive for five minutes to get there and five to return home. None of that cursed missing an urban turn on the cloverleaf that linguine-like unravels our patience until we nearly cause a wreck or become one. Nothing else is very endearing about the soon to be renamed to "McCoy..." airport, for our sitting county commissioner (what happened to waiting until they're dead?) who ironically is in a long line of his own, awaiting a sexual harassment suit from a former aide. He's also know for having water-skied to Cuba few years back. Kinda cool, really. A big show-boater, eh? The airport has not changed much from this 1960 angle.

Plus, now that it is being "upgraded", even the 50's patina is being stripped away, unless the giant 20' conch shell (photo, r.) painted on the outside is left untouched. The small-town airfield still demands you walk off the plane, where the heavy humidity hits you instantly and down real steps (just like The President always does everywhere he goes, right?) because the big jets can't land here, for which everyone except the veracious airline companies, are relieved about. The "puddle-jumpers" from Miami or elsewhere, now, are a true aerial pleasure, just as soon as you suspend the knowledge that gravity is not just a good idea, it's the law, and the wheel touchdown still feels like a minor miracle, with great relief. A more recent terminal surface "upgrade", a couple years ago, actually made it worse, yanking away the last vestiges of small-town friendliness, by putting up more walls (security, mind you) and packing passengers into a waiting room with no rest rooms, even, or water fountains, and even the first -time installation of air conditioning couldn't make it better. Now this "newest" multi-gazillion buck over-budget, over-deadline expansion, with 2-tier parking garage, "improved" amenities, blah blah blah, is turning it into every other airport. Impersonal, crowded, and get me outta here!

The only good thing left about the Key West airport is just flying over the island, (photo, l, and below) before landing, is just amazing. The ocean, the sky. Oh but that we could just stay floating in the clouds.

What follows is the ratings, as promised, of the best, worst, and weirdest airports in the world. You can zip down until you see KEY WEST. Fasten your seat belts. Get your own peanuts.
(And for those who wish to fast forward, you can jump to the description, copy/paste it to the end of this paragraph, and just as when you are in Key West, you're already back home. Time for that mojito, now!

Buenos dias. - MS
(All photos supplied by me. One needs postcards when you travel.)


By Patrick Smith /
The media has a way of simplifying things. The scheme to "blow up" New York's Kennedy airport, for example. How exactly does one "blow up" a 5,000-acre complex -- complete with 30 miles of road, nine miles of runway, nine terminals and dozens of other buildings? (You might remember Ahmed Ressam, the would-be millennium bomber, snagged at the U.S.-Canada border in 1999 and later convicted for planning to "blow up" Los Angeles International.) Short of setting off a nuclear weapon, I suggest it can't be done. Though I'm unsure who feels the greater disappointment: the alleged conspirators or the millions of travelers who openly detest Kennedy airport. If I'm interpreting the polls correctly, it's the opinion of 99 percent of fliers that for the entire place to disappear in a mushroom cloud would be about the best thing that could happen to it.
That's in terrible taste, I know, and a belligerent knock against what is arguably the most historic major airport in the world. If you're into that sort of thing -- of the 41 million people who pass through JFK each year, I reckon a scant few are smitten with nostalgia. How many people milling around Terminal 3 have any idea that that very building was once the storied Pan Am Worldport, the spot where sheiks and stars and dignitaries once waved to crowds before alighting from silver-skinned propliners and 707s? Not many, save for a few employees and enthusiasts like me. That's unfortunate, but not exactly startling, what with Kennedy's unnavigable sprawl, intense crowds, endless security lines, delays and, as anyone who has ever ridden the customs hall escalators in Terminal 3 can attest, some of the most dilapidated facilities in America.
Though at least it isn't Charles de Gaulle. Say what you might about JFK, it's got history, a couple of bright new concourses, and pleasant views of Jamaica Bay. That concrete oubliette on the outskirts of Paris, on the other hand, deserves a category of shame all its own. Aeroports de Paris has pretensions of turning de Gaulle into Europe's largest and most impressive hub. Already it's the second busiest, but to wring such standing from a place so confoundingly disjointed, dank and just plain ugly will be a challenge for the ages. They should start by putting up signs -- signs, at an airport, is that somehow too un-French? -- that actually direct people to the places they need to go, like to the gates, baggage claim and adjoining terminals. Even de Gaulle's rail link -- good luck finding the station -- if you'll pardon my French, sucks.
Perhaps de Gaulle and not its colonial cousin in Dakar, Senegal, whose wretchedness got this conversation started, should take the prize for the single worst airport on the planet, if only because we expect better from European planners and architects. (Then again, it was the Europeans who gave us the Airbus A380, the worst-looking piece of industrial design ever conceived by human beings.)
Truth be told, it's pretty hard to find an airport that is completely and wholly awful. A more useful criterion focuses on specific terminals. Especially in America, where you often find a collection of chronologically mismatched buildings, each with different amenities and levels of comfort, it's not necessarily fair to praise or vilify an entire airport based on one small section -- not any more than it's fair to judge somebody's home by virtue of a single, unrenovated kitchen or bathroom.
But never mind what I think. I promised to open this up to readers, and so here goes. What follows are the more pithy and colorful of several hundred submitted opinions on the best, worst and strangest airports -- or terminals -- around the globe.
Relatively few of you, it turns out, had much to say about JFK or Charles de Gaulle. The raspberries, as you'll see, fell mostly on London's Heathrow. As for places that people actually like, you expressed a fondness for small, easy-access terminals. No surprise there. My only disappointment is that nobody brought up the supposedly gorgeous little airport in Sukothai, Thailand. I've never been, but with its open-air pavilions, ponds and even a flower-fringed runway, Sukothai is purportedly one of the loveliest terminals anywhere. I haven't the room to include them, but special thanks to those who submitted photographs: Mark Prystajecky for shots of the museum-like façade at Lviv, Ukraine; Ali Hammoud for the hilarious welcome sign at Monrovia, Liberia; and Lesley Egbert's snapshot of the psychedelic beehive atrium at Abu Dhabi.
Letters have been edited for space and clarity.
Changi Airport, Singapore (SIN) (expressway, shown, r.)
"Free movie theater, cellphone chargers, lounge chairs with big-screen TVs, quiet areas. Free PlayStation terminals. The best airport I have ever spent time in."
"The best airport is Singapore's Changi, for the following reasons: excellent transit hotel; massage service; excellent food; nonstop flights to dozens of countries; free movies; subway connection to the entire island; cheap taxis; free city tour; the friendliest immigration officers in the world; flower gardens and koi ponds."
And a swimming pool. We'll skip the many other letters raving about how wonderful Changi is. The airport is as much beloved -- or possibly more so -- as its hometown carrier, Singapore Airlines.
Hong Kong International (HKG)
"Why? I got the best haircut of my life there. A full-on shopping mall. A bakery. Helpful signage in both English and Chinese. Plus, riding the train to and from Kowloon is fun, easy and fast, and you can check your bags at the downtown station."
Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
"Brand new and gleaming, Bangkok's new airport sparkles like the mirrors on the National Palace; gleams like the silks worn by Thai Airways flight attendants. It's cavernous and cool, full of marble and light and a shopping plaza boasting Gucci, Coach, Prada (real, not Night Bazaar counterfeits)."
If you're into that kind of thing. If you want my opinion, the less an airport tries to look like an upscale shopping mall, the better.
Siem Reap, Cambodia (REP)
"Siem Reap International is the gateway to Angkor. The architecture is reminiscent of the local temples, and the giant golden lanterns hanging from the vaulted ceilings add a whimsical touch. Wooden shutters lend the air of a guesthouse, and the pond outside provides a peaceful respite. There's also a pleasant Internet cafe and some great shopping, including a fantastic Artisans d'Angkor boutique. The terminal is clean, spacious and staffed by some of the nicest security personnel I've ever had the pleasure of being frisked by."
Hato Airport, Curaçao (CUR)
"A sleepy building, kept comfortable by cold water pumped up from the deep Caribbean Sea. Flower scents in the night. Crickets. Then in the distance, another sound. The airplane approaches, circles, lands. The KLM wide-body moors at the terminal, towering above it. Hustle and bustle, people coming on and off. Then the plane leaves for Amsterdam and the airport goes back to sleep."
Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV)
"We love Ben-Gurion airport. The new Terminal 3 is centered around a spacious atrium filled with soothing fountains, shops and cafes, all bustling even at 3 a.m. The modern building is clad in marble, yet good acoustics and a lack of televisions make it serenely quiet. Security is thorough and effective, yet respectful and efficient. Free Wi-Fi and baggage carts are added perks. Bathrooms are clean and plentiful -- even in the parking lot!"
Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C. (GSP)
"The exterior grounds are wonderfully manicured with shade trees, fountains and shrubs. The architecture is airy and moderne. There's a charming, albeit prissy garden. The faux-bronze sculptures are a delight."
"This agreeable place is approached by road through piney woods and onto parklike grounds, giving the feel of approaching a resort hotel, complete with fountain pools at the terminal doors. The long-term parking lots are generously shaded with trees and are an easy walk from the terminal. The swoopy, modernist concourse has comfortable upholstered seats surrounding sculptures and fountains. Best of all is the terrace restaurant and snack bar: more modernist architecture surrounded by an outdoor garden with sculpture and flora native to the Piedmont region. The feel of the place is downright elegant."
Vancouver, British Columbia (YVR)
"Vancouver airport is by far the nicest I've flown into, out of, or through. Spacious atria with local native artwork (including spectacular totem poles), free wireless Internet, and a food court with reasonable prices."
"There's nothing like walking from your plane to customs while strolling past a river and a full-size Haida canoe, the sound of birds and ceremonial drums beating in the background, and a huge wooden raven dangling from the ceiling."
Kona, Hawaii (KOA)
"Like the '50s of an Elvis movie. We disembarked on the tarmac and walked into a beautiful, open-air airport with hutlike bungalows and greenery instead of the usual concrete and glass."
Many Hawaiian airports, even Honolulu International, are open-air, which is something more warm-climate places should copy.
Sacramento (SMF)
"SMF has some great little touches. Traffic is nonexistent and parking is ample and cheap. It'd be nice if the light rail ran out here from downtown, but other cities haven't figured this convenience out either. Second, free Wi-Fi. Word up. Third, plenty of dining choices, and the 'venti' iced coffee is 60 cents cheaper than in a normal Starbucks. Bottom line, it's easy. We don't have much to brag about in Sactown, but our airport is pretty cool."
Reagan Washington National (DCA) (photo, below)
"I'm in love with National (say 'Reagan' under pain of death among locals). Is it the cheery, pleasant yellow that reflects natural light from sky-high windows? Is it the short distances between concourses and the Metro? And National has a real restaurant, with a real wine list (take that, Chili's)."
I'm surprised more people didn't gush about DCA. It has an excellent subway connection, and the beautiful main terminal might just be America's best airport building.
Madison, Wis. (MSN)
"From the curbside, where a glass overhang creates prairie-style shadows on the roadway, to the restaurant dedicated to bratwurst, MSN is imbued with a sense of place while also being extremely easy to travel through. The security staff chat with passengers. The waiting areas have armchairs, fireplaces and local art."
Detroit (DTW)
"No, I'm not kidding. The place was always dark, gloomy. Then the new Northwest terminal opened. The first time I saw it, I was stunned. It was beautiful: light, airy, with a train and moving sidewalks. (Only problem is, the two older terminals are still in use by the other airlines, and look even worse.)"
Memphis, Tenn. (MEM)
"One thing sets Memphis apart: the smell. With a barbecue stand seemingly every 10 feet, the air is thick with the aroma of grilled meat and savory sauce. Curses on my half-hour layover! If there was any justice, I'd be slumped in a waiting area, sauce-smeared and happy even as we speak."

Dakar, Senegal
My awful, middle-of-the-night experience in Dakar is what got this whole thing started. I'm not the only one ...
"As a correspondent based in Senegal I have the distinct displeasure of visiting DKR many times a month. I am, because of my job, something of an expert in African airports, and I can back up your assertion that it really is the worst. One would expect Lagos to be a nightmare, for example, but in fact it's pretty much a breeze. Abidjan has a great restaurant, bookstore and pharmacy. The renovated terminal in Accra is terrific and efficient. Bamako and Ouagadougou have small but organized airports, and Bangui is pretty good. N'djamena, Monrovia ... even Kinshasa isn't awful like DKR. None have that grim combination of a total absence of comfort and aggressive loiterers."
"DKR is disproportionately bad considering the relative prosperity of Senegal. I would have expected Ouagadougou's airport, in nearby Burkina-Faso, to be a catastrophe, but it's great. It's similar at Bamako, Mali -- a bombed-out ruin of a city. Somehow, Dakar beats out two of the poorest nations on the planet."
Mumbai, India (BOM)
"Full of hungry mosquitoes the size of horseflies. They flew up my pant legs! Random pieces of equipment are set about with no apparent purpose except to be in the way. No directions to gates or baggage claim. Sullen employees who wish you'd go away."
As many travelers know, India's geographical placement ensures that most long-haul flights arrive and depart in the wee hours, making the experience that much less enjoyable.
Cairo, Egypt (CAI)
"The plane banks over the Nile, then dips its wings to display the plateau of Giza and the Pyramids; the ancient walls of the Old City; the souks and bazaars. Cairo! But is this the airport? It looks and smells like the Greyhound station in San Francisco, circa '59, embodying all the glories and aspirations of Soviet-style nonfunctional architecture. And once through customs, one is assailed by drivers and hustlers hawking everything from pens to thousand-dollar excursions (stay away from the aptly named Al-Joker Tours)."
"Cairo is revolting. The entire place is filled with such dense clouds of cigarette smoke that it is a cancer risk just to fly there. Check-in is a free-for-all mass of shoving and shouting, with hundreds of people begging the indifferent clerks for attention. Luggage men climb upon mountains of suitcases to identify tour tags, pull at the pile until it collapses. The bags are piled on carts destined for various hotels, regardless of where their owners actually are staying. I have no idea what amenities the terminal offers. We were herded into a bare room, placed under guard, and made to stand for hours until our plane was ready. (Once on board, however, I have to say that EgyptAir was one of the nicest airlines I've ever flown.)"
Sheremetyevo International, Moscow (SVO)
"The best at being worst is Sheremetyevo, built for the 1980 Olympics by crazed East German architects angry at their Soviet masters. Dim and grungy, with bizarre hexagonal clusters hanging from the ceiling; populated by roving bands of Gypsies and transit passengers lying around the floor awaiting escape; staffed by surly employees looking for naive foreigners to pad their salary. It's an hour in the passport control line. You retrieve your luggage -- or don't, depending on how well you wrapped it in duct tape -- and lug it to the customs line. After a long wait, an agent paws through your belongings before releasing you into a mob of taxi drivers and thieves."
"You can smoke. You can board a plane while staggeringly drunk and no one will say anything. In a corner on the ground floor there's a mini casino with bizarre games of chance. A shitty sandwich costs $10. The locals are unfriendly. It's still not uncommon to get detained and ripped off by one of the myriad police gangs shaking down passengers. The bathrooms are disgusting despite being constantly cleaned by a gaggle of old ladies who don't mind that you're peeing in front of them. A ride to the city takes two hours due to traffic jams. Taxis cost hundreds of dollars for people who can't bargain with the greedy drivers. And the people arriving on flights from the U.S. seem to uniformly be American adoptive couples -- the single most annoying group of people of all time, for some reason."
"Sheremetyevo was a total nightmare until recently; it's now only a partial nightmare. The planning geniuses constructed two terminals, international and domestic, on opposite sides of the runways, meaning a 30-minute ride on the ring road. No one ever thought to put up signs directing transfer passengers, who must find an unmarked bus cruising around the parking lot while avoiding the scam artists trying to snag you for $50 cab fares."
O'Hare International, Chicago (ORD)
"The logistical ballet of air travel always reaches its statistically inevitable breakdown at O'Hare. Delayed crews, AWOL planes, gate reassignments, deicing delays, storms, power outages. During these fiascoes, there is absolutely nothing to do or see. The new terminals feel like warehouses, and forget about decent food. Topping it all off is the O'Hare Hilton, which I can't help but free-associate with words like 'organized crime,' 'infidelity' and 'despair.'"
Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
"I've yet to experience an airport in a third-world country, but I imagine Houston's Terminal B does a good job of approximating one. It is dimly lit and depressingly colored; there is one tiny deli to serve everyone, and one bathroom. One only needs imagine crates of clucking chickens and guards toting machine guns to complete the effect. Terminal B houses the gates used by Continental's regional jets. They've crammed as many tiny gates as possible into the space, with jets taking off for such glamorous destinations as Brownsville, Shreveport and Wichita. Taken as a whole, IAH is not a bad airport (especially the Pappadeaux restaurant), but avoid Terminal B at any cost."
Key West, Fla. (EYW)
"EYW is onomatopoeically coded. As you said, critiquing airports is all about expectations, which at least for me are elevated when visiting the haven of Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Harry Truman. What you get at Key West is a sweaty outdoor wait at the curb, surly TSA employees who hate kids, a claustrophobic departure lounge, and an outdoor boarding pen featuring in-your-face jet exhaust. I found myself longing for Vladivostok."
Ontario, Calif. (ONT)
"When flying through Ontario in order to save $15 by avoiding LAX, be aware of the following: Once baggage is checked, you join a throng of frustrated cheapskates waiting to drop their luggage at the bomb scanner. You then graduate to a longer escalator line, which leads to an M.C. Escher maze through security. Finally in the concourse, enjoy the low ceilings, buzzing fluorescent lights, and $10 burritos."
London Heathrow (LHR)
"Heathrow is a random conglomeration of pitifully ugly buildings of the kind often called 'utilitarian' -- a term that hints they were actually designed for some utility, which is not the case. Getting between the terminals requires a shuttle trip that seems to cross all of southern England. There's a pair of traffic lights that turn green every 15 minutes or so, unleashing a stampede of private cars, parcel vans and buses into a spaghetti bowl of roadways and overpasses."
"Changing flights at Heathrow: Get off the plane, up the jetway, up the stairs, across the bridge, down the escalator, wait in line. Down the stairs, out the doors, onto the bus, across the city, across another city, off the bus, up the escalator, down the hall, through the double doors. Have a seat, your flight is two hours late. Down the hall, down the stairs, down the jetway, and onto the plane."
"I worked as a runner on a fly-on-the-wall TV series about Heathrow. Nowhere is as 12th-circle-of-hellish. I can tell you about the maggot-infested, abandoned suitcases at Terminal 1, which did the rounds on the carousel for weeks at a time. I can tell you about the tropical crickets and spiders inhabiting the false ceiling in Terminal 3. I can tell you about the football games the baggage handlers play with your luggage. I can tell you what the burger cook does to your 5-pound burger. London Heathrow. Worst. Airport. Ever."
"Circle for an hour. Land. Taxi for 30 minutes to a stand so distant that it's practically in Sunbury. Wait. Eventually a bus turns up. Drive for 20 minutes. Two-mile walk down corridors. Baggage conveyor broken. Wait an hour; somebody turns up with a screwdriver. Emerge into the rain and pay $100 for a ride downtown. Welcome to London."
"Heathrow is a sprawling mess where nothing works and everything is filthy. You walk for miles on floors matted with dirt; the decor is concrete slabs with industrial pipes precariously suspended from low ceilings; areas are roped off or covered in plastic sheeting; everything looks unfinished and stays that way for years. It is dimly lit, and the signs point you in the wrong direction."
Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
"Who came up with that absolutely crack-brained triple-horseshoe design -- with a tram that only goes in one direction? American Airlines' annoyingly named SkytrAAin whizzes people to their gate at speeds of up to 6 miles per hour, using a modified electric bobsled that would have looked dated at the 1964 World's Fair."
Lahore, Pakistan (LHE)
"A lot like Dakar, but without the pleasant bistro. Filth? Check. Touts, ruffians and beggars? Check. Vaguely threatening government functionaries? Check. There are also church police, an alcohol ban, and a giant room full of luggage where bribes are extracted to facilitate finding your 'lost' items. I encourage you to visit the airport's dysfunctional Web page. Notice that the photos are retouched and the links don't work."