Ranking airports — does a waterfall make up for that long line?

by | Mar 19, 2023 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

The best airport in the world, according to a new survey, is in Singapore. The second best is in Qatar. The third is in Tokyo. The fourth is in South Korea.

An American airport doesn’t show up on the list until No. 18, behind Rome, Helsinki, Madrid, even Istanbul.

We don’t have an airport that ranks higher than Istanbul?

Well, no, at least by the standards of this survey, which was conducted by Skytrax, a U.K.-based ranking service. Skytrax asks its respondents to rate all aspects of the airport travel experience, from the moment you arrive to the moment you take off.

Singapore’s airport, known as Changi, features a massive indoor waterfall, a butterfly garden and an IMAX theater, along with over 400 food and shopping outlets. Qatar’s airport offers transit passengers tours of the city while they wait for their connections.

Personally, I’d be embarrassed to admit I missed my flight because I was staring at butterflies. Or finishing a movie. And if I wanted to see Qatar, wouldn’t I book a hotel there?

But all of this got me thinking about what you really need from an airport. I have spent a big chunk of my life on planes. I’ve been to every major American airport, every European capital airport, and a number of Asian, Australian, Middle East and African airports.

So I made a list of my own.

How to make the perfect place to fly

Here are some things you DON’T want to see at an airport.

1. A massive backup of cars on the ramp to “departures.”

2. Nobody at the sky cap kiosk.

3. A huge line at security, with a bored, glaring TSA worker saying the “the pre-check line is closed.”

4. Those yellow plastic mop bucket things that sit in front of a bathroom and say “Closed for service.”

5. A floor in the men’s room that has more urine on it than is in the urinal.

6. No soap in the dispensers.

7. No paper towels in the dispensers.

8. An “all purpose” shop that sells pre-packaged turkey sandwiches for $17 apiece.

9. An airport that has A, B, C, D, E and F concourses, but never tells you how long it’s going to take to get to them.

10. Moving walkways that don’t move.

11. Airport trains that don’t run.

12. A shortage of signs that tell you what gate your plane is leaving from.

13. A sign at your gate that boasts “On Time,” when you’ve already passed your scheduled departure.

14. Gate agents who refuse to tell you what’s going on as you sit during a long delay.

15. No seats at the gate.

16. One worker at the Starbucks, and a line the size of Missouri.

17. Another one of those yellow mop bucket things — or is it the same one, just put there by an evil maintenance worker?

18. A door that leads not to the plane, but to the tarmac, where you have to brave wind, rain or snow to get to the plane, then pull your bags up a long staircase.

19. Arriving at your destination and being told “There’s no Jetway yet, folks. We’ve called for one. Hopefully, it’s just a few more minutes …”

20. Spending half an hour staring at a baggage claim carousel that is rotating aimlessly with no luggage coming out.

It’s an airport, not a hangout

You’ll notice my list did not mention hundreds of shops, a movie theater, or any of those massage places that have now grown quite popular at airports.

That’s because, when you fly, the goal is to get to where you are going, not to spend a leisurely day between G concourse and H concourse.

Speed and efficiency should rule when you travel. Which sadly is not the case, and may be why no American airport made the top 17, and only Seattle-Tacoma cracked the top 20.

But we can dream, right? So if I could create an airport from scratch, here are a few things I would install.

1. An additional level where you could drop passengers off and pick them up humanely, without being shooed away by ticket-happy police.

2. Rent-a-car stations INSIDE the airport — no need to take a bus — where your paperwork is already done and the keys are waiting for you.

3. Showers — clean, sanitary, private and cheap — that you could use on long days of travel.

4. Water fountains at every gate — so you don’t go broke buying $4 bottles for your kids because TSA won’t let you travel with fluids.

5. A national cap of $8 for an airport sandwich. Give me one reason those things need to cost more than that.

6. Drugstores inside every airport — where you can buy all the stuff they won’t let you take through security.

7. TSA pre-check lines open 24 hours.

8. Mandatory staffing of skycap stations, and staff that comes to your car and takes the bags, the way they used to do.

9. Help kiosks every 10 gates.

10. Money-back policies if you have to wait for a Jetway to disembark, or more than 10 minutes for bags to hit the luggage carousel.

Find me an airport that has all that, and you can skip the movie theater, the atrium or the shopping mall experience — that place goes to the top of my list.

No offense. But if I wanted to see a nice waterfall, I’d book a flight to Niagara.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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