The Economist’s Gulliver ran an item recently about the world’s best airports as ranked by Skytrax. As Gulliver notes, airports are travelers’ first impression of a destination, and for that reason it behooves both federal and local authorities to do what they can to make the airport experience a positive one. In its fourteenth year, the Skytrax report, according to Gulliver, “asks airline passengers to rank airports across 39 different categories, from shopping to security. Over 12m passengers filled out the survey this year, according to the company.”
North America does not fare well on this list, with the exception of Vancouver International, which sits in the top ten at #8 . For the US, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International is the first one to appear, at spot #30. Toronto’s Pearson International is in the middle of the pack at #46 (and Montreal’s Pierre Elliot Trudeau International comes in at #83). I’ve never been to any of these airports so I have to accept these numbers at face value. Ranking Newark’s airport at #93 strikes me as generous, as it has always been a hassle for me whenever flying in or out of there. JFK rose in the rankings this year, climbing up to #63 from #74. This makes sense, as all the terminals have gotten some work over the past couple of years; though some fancy restaurants hardly make up for snaking security lines and long delays.
In the last two years, I’ve traveled in and out of four of the top eleven airports: Amsterdam’s Schipol (#3), Zurich (#7), Heathrow (#10), Frankfurt (#11). I’ve enjoyed the bars and restaurants, watched people shop at designer boutiques, sipped boozy free samples in the duty-free shops, exchanged currency, and done some serious waiting. In both Amsterdam and Frankfurt, I’ve been subjected to multiple security lines, which can be hugely frustrating and time consuming. I’ve also found that these airports are very similar to one another in many ways, looking like fancy malls with many of the same stores. Of course, these airports are hubs and from any of them you can get pretty much anywhere in the world. So it makes sense that they have invested in creating pleasurable user experiences.
Years ago, I had a layover is Seoul and loved it. It’s another one of those airports through which people move between all points on the globe and it had that feel. It’s probably very different today, but I’ll always remember those few hours slurping noodles and watching the flights come and go on the arrival and departure boards.