Thursday, December 06, 2007

Airports of Europe

Over the course of the last couple of years I have been “fortunate” enough to experience some of Europe’s major airports and thought I should probably compare and contrast them. If you ever have to change planes somewhere in Europe and have any choice about where to do so, this could come in handy. Also if you are involved in any way in airport design or improvement, you could do worse than visiting the first couple of places on this list. The list below is in rough ranking order.

Munich – clean, organised, efficient, well laid out, easy to find your way around, generally a very good airport, with every major facility you could wish for (bar one – there’s no free wi-fi access, which is a feature of a couple of other airports – if they added that it would be a clear winner) 9 out of 10

Vienna – excellent in nearly all regards. And, unlike Munich it has free wi-fi access all over the airport, which is a brilliant idea (see also Istanbul). It has only one major failing – when you enter the departure area you don’t go through any security check, just passport control. This obviously makes your passage into that area much easier, but obviously you still have to go through security somewhere. So at every gate they have a single security machine and set of guards. Of course nobody actually goes to the gate until the flight is called, so when that happens, the entire plane load of people are forced to get into one massive queue to go through security at the same time. It’s a ridiculous system. I have no idea whose brilliant idea it was, but they need to be made to fly in and out of the airport every day until the realise how bloody stupid it is. 8.5 out of 10

Istanbul – free wi-fi, fairly good selection of things to do. But some rubbish features too – the same gate-based security checks, which for whatever reason also involve you switching on your laptop when you pass through – this is the only airport other than those wankers at Tel Aviv that asks you to do this. It’s a pain in the arse. The business lounge is a bit rubbish too, though they’ve recently done it up a bit, so it’s slightly better. 7 out of 10

Prague – some good shops, fairly easy to find your way around. Inoffensive. 6 out of 10

Charles de Gaulle – Bit of a mess really, but a nice building, with very good use of natural light. Not brilliant by any stretch. 4.5 out of 10

Bucharest (Otopeni) – On the plus side, the business lounge is very good. On the minus side, the rest of the airport is pretty bare and functional. Nothing to do to while away the time, and the most overpriced snack bar of any airport in Europe (not in European terms, but in Romanian – charging 10 RON for a cup of coffee is disgusting, frankly, and is the kind of captive-market rip-off that most other airports have thankfully now abandoned). One day, hopefully Henri Coanda will too, but they’ll probably wait for prices in the country as a whole to reach airport levels, rather than daring to reduce theirs. 3.5 out of 10

Barcelona El Prat – great name, rubbish airport. Basically a huge shopping centre, that has planes leaving from it. Nowhere to sit, unfriendly staff, overpriced food/drink. 3 out of 10

Heathrow – Terminals 1-2-3 are horrible. Lots of shops (obviously, this being shopping leisure paradise England™), but always being renovated, uncomfortable, confusing and unhelpful. Terminal 4, to be fair is much better and would probably get a 6 out of 10. The lower the number of terminal the worse the experience. They also have this ridiculous system of calling the gate for the flight only half an hour before it is due to leave, so that the passengers have to then walk for 10 minutes plus to their gate, and thus obviously ensuring that no plane ever leaves on time. 3 out of 10

Amsterdam – I seem to remember a time when Schiphol was viewed as an ultra modern, very good airport. I don’t know when that was, but I’ve always hated it. Uncomfortable, nothing to do, very inhospitable. 2.5 out of 10

Frankfurt – Not just because of my wine theft experience, but because it’s awful – badly designed, ill-signposted, chaotic, dark, dingy and depressing. Everything that Munich is, Frankfurt isn’t. 2 out of 10

Milan Malpensa – God, where to begin. Just an utter utter mess. I can’t think of a single positive thing to say about it. You can see mountains from it. That’s the best I can do. Oh, and it’s better than Moscow. 1 out of 10

Moscow – miserable horrible dark and dank. These are just some of the words I associate with the place. Add to the general ambience the legendary surliness of Russian service staff, magnified to the nth degree by the grimy and inhospitable surroundings. Urrgghh. 0 out of 10

(Outside Europe bonus airport – Dubai. Like Amsterdam there was a time that Dubai airport was seen as the future of airports. Like Amsterdam, if it had better days, they are long gone. Utterly chaotic and overcrowded. 3 out of 10)

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