After spending a month in Africa, I sincerely believe they have a lock on the world’s ugliest airports, apart from perhaps Cape Town. Some are just a dirt field, with a shack made of old and rusted aluminum siding and scrap wood. It serves as a snack shop, dispatch for tour operators, and often have an outhouse in the back. I would feel better if they had at least a wind sock flying on a pole near the earthen runway. Or how about planting some trees for shade? It seems nobody wants to think about tomorrow in this Dark Continent.
The story goes that we all “hate” the airport we use the most. Since I use both Oakland and San Francisco airports, I can tell you Oakland is much easier to use and navigate. But the International Terminal at SFO is superior to most airports, perhaps just for its newness and space. It offers some decent and varied food, as well as plenty of quiet areas and airline lounges. Above all, the noise level seems better, probably due to the high ceilings and modern sound proofing. Remember most U.S. airports were built back in the 1950s and 1960s. Time to rebuild, America!
SFO International Terminal
The corollary to this entire story is that when any of us are fortunate to travel to far away places, we should not complain about the airport itself. As long as the commercial flight meets FAA safety regulations, and they have a cold drink or hot coffee on board, we should be happy. But if you have spent anywhere near the time I have in airports around the world, the amenities and comfort become increasingly important.
So, was the airport with the dirt runway near the Serengeti the smallest, most rustic, and simple airport ever? How about Chico’s little airport, once served by the now defunct Hughes Air Worst? They had those bright yellow planes as I recall. Or how about the gravel runways in Xieng Quang, Laos, lined with scarfaced hillsides from our “secret” CIA bombings during the Vietnam War? Or on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, where your luggage must be sent ahead by truck to help control the weight of precious cargo (me!)?
Oakland is quick for me, about a 25 to 30 minute drive when there is no traffic. BART goes to the Oakland airport using first, its trains and a bus called AirBART. It will soon have a “spur” of the BART line from the Coliseum station to the front door of the airport. SFO, on the other hand, can easily be a 40 to 45 minute drive with no traffic. But BART goes directly into the airport near the International Terminal (about an hour), with easy walks or the free airport AirTrain to all three terminals.
But Oakland, at best, is a marginal airport, simple, functional, and quite linear. Terminal One is old, having been refurbished more times than Joan Rivers’ face. Terminal Two, which is mostly SWA flights, is a little more palatable, but still quite linear. But the airport is simple and straight forward, no thrills and spills, making it quick and comfortable for departures and arrivals.
In southern California, Los Angeles International has been described as mean, spread out, and incoherent. I agree, and it should be demolished and begin anew. Burbank (now called Bob Hope) airport is easy in and out, but about as ugly as a coyote dressed as an old lady. I vote for it to be demolished as well. The food is bad here, and it smells like day old injera. The one redeeming feature of old Burbank Airport is the plethora of famous people who use the airport.
Yes, this is important!
The rest of the American airports are not much better. JFK, O’Hare, Dulles, and Hartsfield (Atlanta) are nothing to brag about. It seems like most of them just purchased overstock building materials from non descript high rises, and pieced together a patchwork airport. Then there is the nightmare that is the new Denver airport. Out in the middle of nowhere, it is a loooong ride into downtown Denver, and the “white tent” architecture reminds me of a cheap circus.
Among the better airports in Asia, I would list the obvious, like Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong. They are clean, offer a wide variety of above average food, and plentiful shopping to kill time. Among the stinkers in Asia are: Kathmandu, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, Luang Prabang, Hanoi….never mind, just put all of them in the stinker category. Almost as bad are the South American airports, like Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paulo.
Pet peeve #1: Why do I have to tip the “attendant” in the airport loo when it is a public place?
Over in the Old World, Heathrow London is a nightmare to navigate, and certainly not pretty to the eye. Perhaps it is, at best, a reflection of the U.K. itself. I would also place major airports, like Frankfurt, Paris, Berlin, and Rome in this same category. Old and tired! Close behind are smaller airports like Lisboa, Sofia, and Milan. War zone airports like Baghdad, and Kosovo should not even be mentioned here.
What is the common thread in almost every airport? The best word, borrowed from the curator of the Museum of Modern Art, is “placelessness“. The airports are ugly by choice, perhaps to make the cities and countryside they serve, a little more appealing? Perhaps they are afraid we travelers would just hang out at the airport!
Which is my favorite airport? I place my vote for Lima, Peru. Why? They had the best bowl of tomato soup, with a tasty grilled ham and cheese sandwich. It was totally unexpected! It was so good, I do not remember how dreadful the airport really was.
Bottom line, I guess the ugly airport finds its place next to the ugly baby. Just ignore it, and hope it goes away quickly. Who goes to an airport for fun anyway?
Pet peeve #2: Why can’t the shuttle buses from hotels and off airport parking lots let us off directly in front of the terminal?