For the Love of Airports


There are those who say that airports are all the same; that travel has become standardized and sterilized.

This view holds that airports exist merely to take passengers from one place to another, and that “real” travel begins only when you leave the terminal.

That’s one way to think of it. Another way is to embrace airports as a travel experience all on their own. An airport begins, continues, or ends a journey.

Besides, if you love travel, it’s hard to hate airports. It’s kind of like trying to be healthy while hating exercise… probably not the best idea. If you want to be healthy, better to make your peace with exercise somehow, and if you want to be a traveler, better to make your peace with airports.

When I speak to travel groups, I always open with an “airport code challenge.” Here’s an example: how many of these airports can you name?

ATL // YYZ // MUC // KIX // PNH // BJM // WLG // PVG

(Answers at the bottom of the post. Airport memories are below.)


Around the World

I liked the fact that ULN is known as the “Genghis Khan International Airport”—until I realized that almost everything in Mongolia is named after Genghis Khan. I remember doing pushups late at night in the corner, waiting to fly back to Korea. Genghis was also kind enough to provide free WiFi.

The most overrated U.S. airport is DEN. Apologies to everyone who thinks it deserves its accolades, but I think of Denver like I think of Southwest Airlines: if I didn’t actually travel very often or to many places, I might be impressed. In the case of DEN, it’s great if you’re not vegetarian, if you don’t mind “free” WiFi that works half the time and installs a bar with ads above your browser, and you’re not actually trying to get to the city that shares the airport’s name. But I digress.

Alternatively, there are some surprisingly decent airports in unexpected parts of the world: CMB, for example, which is also a good place to begin a RTW ticket. In EBL they have free WiFi and comfy chairs. But then they took every single thing out of my bag during an extended security check, and confiscated my AA batteries. Lesson: no batteries allowed on flights out of Iraq.

In ICN they give you slippers to wear through the x-ray machine. So courteous and comfy! Asia does hospitality right, even with airport security. And free showers? How kind—but bring your own towel.

In MDW (the non-ORD Chicago airport) they have a place known as “Euro Cafe”. When I went there I wondered if anyone associated with the cafe had ever been to Europe. There are no chairs to sit, only bad filter coffee available, and no one was chain-smoking. (I guess “Amero Cafe” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Euro Cafe.”)

I found RNO airport to be like Reno the city—a quirky little place with far more slot machines than people. But the restaurant had a good veggie burger, and they gave me free club soda. I have no plans to return, but if I do, I’ll know where to go for lunch.

In the land of paradise, MLE isn’t the best place to be stuck eight hours through the middle of the night. Hard plastic chairs. No WiFi. Misconnect on the flight from Singapore the next day. Lesson: when visiting paradise, be prepared to spend an extra day. If the $800 hotel rooms aren’t enough, think of the sleepless night as an additional tax.

In North Africa, CMN alternates between two temperatures: oven and freezing. The oven section apparently pipes in the Morroccon desert from outdoors; the air conditioning in the freezer section comes from Antarctica. For the best experience, start off in the oven area and then transfer to the freezer. Be sure you stay in the freezer long enough to be thoroughly chilled, because then you’ll move back to the oven and become somewhat acclimatized.

In LHR the high-security password for WiFi in British Airways Executive Clubs is “executiveclub.” Next door at the SAS lounge, the password is “SAS.” There are British Airways and SAS lounges in many airports around the world, which leads to another good lesson: whenever you need free internet, find a lounge, explore the possibilities of camping outside, and type in the name of the lounge in your best WikiLeaks move.

Also, the password for the “VIP lounge” in SID is password, a fact I thoroughly enjoyed upon discovering it. But alas—the network doesn’t work, or at least it didn’t when I was there. I guess the joke was on me.

Airport Sleeping

Sleeping on the floor of the airport is partly a question of economics, and partly a question of mere travel survival. You may not always know when you’ll be called upon to do it, but when you do know in advance, my recommended strategy is to prepare by carefully stocking up on blankets and pillows from the previous flight(s).

It helps to be in Business Class, because there will usually be a blanket and pillow. Good Business Class blankets must also be easy to borrow, however—some are so nice and fluffy that they are difficult to take off the plane without looking like an overconfident shoplifter. In these cases, a basic Economy Class blanket will suffice.

When you awake after a troubled sleep, hopefully not interrupted by police or third-shift cleaners, fold up any acquired blankets and leave them for the next weary traveler.


What can be said about the TSA in America? I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, many of them are nice, friendly, and even occassionally in good spirits. They are indeed “just doing their job” as the saying goes, so I try to be polite. On the other hand, some agents are on a power trip to intimidate travelers.

A few U.S. airports (SFO is the largest) are actually operated by private security that has entirely different rules than TSA-operated airports. When you ask why the rules are different from LAX or any other airport, you’re told “This is the way it is throughout the whole country.” No, it’s actually not—but that’s OK. Better to keep moving along and not protest too much.

I used to collect spoons from airlines around the world—but then I ran out of airlines. So I thought, maybe I’ll collect other kinds of silverware to compliment the spoon collection. I dutifully swiped a Virgin Atlantic fork on a flight to South Africa, but on my connecting flight out off JNB, they kept running my bag through the security machine over and over. Finally someone turned to me. “Sir, is there a fork in your bag?”

I had completely forgotten about it. A fork? What kind of idiot would pack a fork in his carry-on bag? Obviously not me. Then we opened the bag and found the fork. Oops. Since I already have spoons from twenty-five airlines, there won’t be any further silverware collections.

Earlier this year I went on a tour of Canada and visited many airports large and small, all starting with Y. Canadian airport security is much like the U.S.: different rules applied differently in different airports, but when you ask about the discrepancy, you’re told it’s all the same, there is no difference, you must be imagining things—as if you have no firsthand knowledge of the way it was yesterday in another airport.

They’re friendly enough about it, though, and after running the x-ray gauntlet, you can always look forward to a visit to the donut shop. This is because in addition to beginning all their airports with the letter Y, Canadian law also mandates that several Tim Hortons be strategically placed throughout every airport, no matter how small. And thank God for federalism! I do love a box of Timbits.


Many years ago I traveled homeward through CDG on an upgraded ticket and was given complimentary access to the Air France Business Lounge. Free croissants! Free coffee! Free vodka (although at 6am, I stuck to the coffee). This first lounge set a dangerous precedent—from then on, I was obsessed with getting lounge access, no matter the quality of the amenities inside. In KBL, for example, there is a regular seating area disguised as a Business Lounge—anyone can go in and sit, but there is nothing for the people inside. Weird.

Years later, the lounge obsession led to a more specific quest to gain access to the best airport lounges anywhere. FRA is an interesting place because travel is so segregated—it’s a notoriously unenjoyable airport to travel in Economy or even Business Class. But if you travel First Class, well, the story is much different. You get an entire terminal devoted to you, a chauffered car to drive you to your gate, and even a free rubber ducky in the spa room of the lounge. I didn’t get the duck when I was there, so of course I’m going back.

In HKG you can visit The Wing, which includes free bathtub suites. In ZRH you can have a drink from the longest airport bar in the world. In LHR you can visit the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse and get your hair cut where Richard Branson does… or so I’ve heard.

These are the holy grail of airport lounges. If you are able to sneak into a lounge like this, you should skip your flight and stay there all day. You also deserve to start your own Travel Hacking Cartel.


For the right airport, I show up four hours early. And in my strange attachment to forward motion (always keep moving!), sometimes I’ll show up four hours early even for a random airport. I love them.

What’s your favorite airport?


P.S. Here are answers to the airport code challenge:

ATL = Atlanta (no points for getting that one)
YYZ = Toronto
MUC = Munich
KIX = Osaka
PNH = Phnom Penh
BJM = Bujumbura
WLG = Wellington
PVG = Shanghai

Image: RML

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  • Susan says:

    Fun! I took like the Reno Airport, they are friendly and quirky just like their city with surprises. Surprises being – free club soda in airport. Or free kayaking water park that goes right through their downtown.

    I’m also quite a fan of Reykjavik’s airport. It’s simple, clean, reasonably ok food where you can get a beer and not spend an arm and a leg. I also appreciate a tour runs from the airport to The Blue Lagoon so you can hang-out and relax on a layover. They mind your luggage, you can rent a bathing suit, the whole bit.

  • Nick says:

    I haven’t been to a tenth of the number of airports that you have, but I’ve been to a few quite a lot of times. AMS consistently impresses me with how such a huge, busy airport can seem so small and easy to use.

  • Steve says:

    Chris, I’m a big fan of airports as well. And this from one who does not typically access lounges unless on an award ticket. My home airport is ORD, but my favorite has probably been ARN. I’m a sucker for Scandinavian design and style, I guess. Once I make my way to the first class terminal in FRA, that will probably be the new favorite for obvious reasons. Least favorite…LGA. Fun post!

  • Matt says:

    Santa Barbara’s airport (SBA) gets my vote for cutest U.S. airport.

    It’s just so darn cute you want to squish it and pinch its cheeks.

  • zeus says:

    I’m Canadian, Chris and sorry, have no love for Toronto airport. It’s a zoo and driving there is a nightmare. Fly out of a small one, like Thunder Bay, Hamilton, or Estevan and you’ll really know what a Canadian airport is like.

  • Aaron G Myers says:

    What are some of the hardest airports/countries to get out of customs on your way into the country. In Istanbul there is this table beside the exit. I have never seen anyone there. My wife and I moved with fifteen bags and boxes. No one asked us a single question. Blogger on the other hand has been blocked. They have to take their security seriously!

  • Sarah Russell says:

    MSN!!! (Okay, I may be partial since it’s super close, and it probably doesn’t count because it’s super small, but free massage chairs!!!)

    So I don’t travel much, but I actually really like airports. To me, they feel like possibility – it’s basically the most interconnected you’re ever going to be, and you have the opportunity to go literally anywhere in the world from one simple building. How freaking cool is that?! 🙂

  • Gillian says:

    I love airports, and train stations, and bus depots and ferry docks. I like the sense of people going places for all kinds of reasons. I like people watching as they leave, or greet, loved ones or leave for work or vacation. I find there is such energy in these places and, even when I’m tired, I love it.

  • Mike Schumacher says:

    In the US, I like ABQ because they have an observation deck where you can sit and watch the jets from Kirtland Air Force Base take off and land. The international terminal at ATL is eerily quiet at 5am though – it’s fun to sit, drink coffee and watch it come to life in the morning.

    I’ve either traveled to huge hubs or really tiny airports outside of the US. Probably the most interesting one is SFG/CCE: two gates, one minimally stocked airport bar, handwritten boarding passes, full international security, absolutely nobody in there until an hour before your flight (if that), no lines for anything whatsoever, and you walk to your plane.

  • Theresa says:

    Charlotte (NC) airport has rocking chairs. Or is it Raleigh-Durham? One or the other.

  • Clay Myers-Bowman says:

    I’ve also found that I like exploring new airports. My favorite so far would have to be Heathrow. It was my first truly “international” airport experience. I was dazzled by the crowds, shops, foods, and money.

  • sarah says:

    Ah, I love this post. One of my favorite airports is the MCO, Orlando International Airport. Nothing fancy to it, it’s just a manageable size, clean with plenty of sunshine. And it used to be my hometown airport so whenever I go there, family is waiting for me. Nothing really beats an airport with that amenity. 🙂

  • Karen says:

    Although I don’t travel much, I agree with Zeus – Hamilton is so much less crazy! It’s so small, you know where you’re going simply by lack of choice! 🙂

    And yes, I think it’s a law written somewhere that at least one Timmy’s must be stationed near a Canadian airport! 😉 I live in Hamilton (birthplace of Tim Horton’s) and there’s one on nearly every single street corner. No joke.

    This was a fun read – hopefully I make it to all the airports you listed!

  • Christopher says:

    NWR: Continental goes one way from NJ to Honolulu!

  • Nine says:

    Free wifi in Erbil?! That certainly wasn’t the case two weeks ago. There was no opportunity for internet whatsoever. But what did I care – I was just happy to discover I was actually on the flight. I’d arrived at Sulaymaniyah airport two days previously, as scheduled, only to be told that the flight was now leaving from Erbil instead (2+ hours away) and nobody at the airline had bothered to tell me. I thought I was prepared for all sorts of problems, but I never saw that one coming.

    I was always pretty fond of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, and I looked forward to getting vegetarian noodles at the kiosk whenever I was waiting for a connection. Then they told me one day that all their food was made with beef stock. That was a sad day.

  • Steve Jones says:

    My favorite airport is PUJ… Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It is an open-air terminal that looks and feels like old-world Caribbean. Also enjoy NEG… Negril, Jamaica. It is essentially a shack at the end of a narrow stretch of pavement that passes for a runway.
    Neither of those airports are on my list because of modern conveniences or great food, but simply for their unique place in the aviation world.

  • Sage Russell says:

    CDG in the morning, arriving from the US. Hands down. Nothing compares to the intensity of the Frenchiness of it as soon as you walk into the terminal. The smell: Espresso and Channel. The, duty-free shops, the architecture, the window-pane button up shirts, the clear-framed Fendi eyeglasses. It looks good, smells good, feels good… right down to the little Illy shop sunken into the national terminal. Everything delights the senses and simply screams; “You have arrived in France”…(of course then you usually leave).
    heck i even wrote an article about it.

  • Brent Sears says:

    SYR is my least favorite because it is and “international airport” with no currency exchange…really? ITH – Ithaca, NY is so small that there are only 2 TSA works and no line…so super-fast.
    ALT is huge so it has everything. Airports are tough, because they all have strengths and weaknesses. I would have to say that it is whichever one my trip is starting out at.

    As fars a airport sleeping – I have yet to try it, but I always leave enough room in my EMS carry-on backpack to “shoplift” the pillow and/or blanket.

  • Sean says:

    Very enjoyable and interesting post Chris! I laughed out loud about the fork incident.

    I love airports. They’re full of movement and change. My brain comes alive in airports and I have to carry a journal with me to jot down everything that I observe.

    As far as a favorite airport goes, LAX is one of my favorites although I think I’m probably the only one who thinks that. Look past the traffic, and bad security, and constant construction, and you’ll see a place full of super cool, super original people. And that’s half the fun of airports…people watching.

  • Charlotte says:

    I always thought I was a weirdo because I love the smell of jet fuel (to me, it’s the smell of adventure), and I love airports. The best part of being in an airport is walking along and looking at the destinations on the gates. It feels like you could go anywhere, and just keep going.

    I grew up in South Dakota, so I’ve been in the Denver airport many times. My dad liked to say you can’t go to hell without going through Denver first. I agree with you, Chris, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

    Great post–thanks for the tips!

  • John Carpenter says:

    What a great post! I have a longtime “love/hate” relationship with airports, and really enjoy seeing the people and the planes come and go, but what I really love is the DESIGN of airports and the range of products available for purchase.

    MAD, for example, I find gorgeous and I can’t help but walk the entire length of the T4 just to watch the colors of the overhead support beams change from one end of the spectrum to the next–plus a wine bar w olives, jamón ibérico, and manchego! Then I also love CPH in Denmark because it’s “announcement free,” giving a futuristic twist to the aural design of the place. At BRU you can buy Godiva chocolates in Tin Tin tins–how cool is that?

    Worst airports? ZRH was a disappointment, hot and smelly and crowded. But still, part of the adventure.

    Thanks for today’s post!

  • Sara Licht says:

    I love Atlanta Airport, for the collection of art work by Andrew Saftel in the luggage carousel area. Wall to wall gorgeous textural paintings on the theme of travel, and they feature his sculptural works in the center of the carousels. Makes the adventure of travel even more inspiring.

  • Ken Armstead says:

    Lax, Los Angles International Airport and DTW, Detroit Metro Airport the best airports world Wide.

  • Paulino Michelazzo says:

    SIN is the best, believe me 🙂

  • Emily Wenstrom says:

    By no means do I travel to the extent that you do, Chris, but I’ve always loved the Detroit airport. It’s well maintained and always clean, with a good variety of food options. And the best part is the tunnel that connects the terminals — it features peaceful new-agey music and a colorful ceiling-to-walls light display that make me feel just “aaaaaah … ” – a feeling I don’t get while traveling very often.

  • Staci says:

    I love JFK, partially because I know it like an old friend and can navigate it in my sleep, but mostly because it means I am going somewhere — preferably somewhere I have never been — to have a new experience and meet amazing people. I can’t wait for my next trip!

  • Gillian says:

    I was really impressed with Kuala Lumpar airport due to the surprise find of a mini rainforest you can walk around. Never seen anything like it in any other terminal building.

    Also, free internet access and plenty of chairs that you can stretch out fully on. It’s the only airport I’ve ever managed to sleep in.

    And, on passing through in the Christmas season we were treated to free carols and popcorn.

    And, ultra-clean.

    Excellent experience all round.

  • Sonia Simone says:

    Like Sage, I will always have a Frenchy fondness for CDG.

    I do like being in DEN. I like the big white tents, I just find the building enjoyable to be in. And the fact that the airport is more or less in Kansas makes life a little quieter for those of us who live here. 🙂

    I like Austin and the United terminal of O’Hare for the same reason. Just feels nice to be there, which is not (ahem) a universal quality of airports. Plus Austin has actual edible food.

  • Jason Jensen says:

    I totally second your thoughts on Denver!

    As a vegetarian…forget it.

    As a technologist…the frustration’s not even worth trying to hop onto their network.
    Better to just read a book, write notes, or just zone out instead.

  • Erin says:

    Hands down, the best airport to go through security is MCI. Instead of one large security checkpoint, there is security at EVERY gate. There are never long lines. You can see if your flight is boarding and make eye contact with the gate attendant. You don’t have to be at the airport two hours before your flight leaves. When you get off the plane you can see you party immediately. Baggage claims are next to the gates. And, you can get BBQ in every terminal. I’m a huge fan of MCI airport.

    Conversely, IAD is the worst airport. I have a son in a stroller currently, and last time I was at IAD we had to take NINE elevators to get to Terminal A. NINE. The place is a nightmare.

  • Cody says:

    You totally pegged me with the Denver Airport reference. I enjoy using smaller airports like Great Falls and Kalispell MT airports. Totally despise Chicago ORD. If I never see that airport again, I’ll be a happy man.

  • Shannon says:

    I went through MSP 2-4 times a week several years ago. One lounge is delightful; the other a glorified cafeteria. I learned that franchised Starbucks aren’t nearly as good as their corporate cousins, and as a result, that Caribou Coffee is where it’s at. I ate tacos that were actually worth recommending, and found a couple resto-pubs that had local micro-brews on tap. And I witnessed an elderly man panic when he realized the driver of the tram wasn’t on board. It’s a nightmare when you have 10 minutes to make a connection, but otherwise, pretty awesome.

  • Ann Dickie says:

    My favourite airport is YVR at Vancouver, B.C. Canada. It has several pieces of fabulous native art, a wall with water running down it and other architectural details and art. Yet most people just pass it all without a glance.

  • Holly Higgins says:

    For years I have carried with me a secret love affair of airports. After all, if I am in one, it means I am going somewhere.

    It’s shameless, but my favourite American airport is LAS (McCarran, Las Vegas). I love the bright lights, the flagrant kitsch and the view of the strip as you land, regardless where you’re headed.

    Abroad my favourite has to be ORK: clean, friendly, simple, and you can get a damn good pint of Guinness while you wait for your flight.

    Here’s to all those who have a secret love of airports!

  • Sarah Patrick says:

    Spent the night at MUC in January and it was actually a very pleasant experience: excellent restaurant (with lots of veggie fare), safe, good and free coffee and newspapers available, quiet, clean . . .. Came back to US through YYZ and have to say I had the WORST experience EVER being directed through US Customs. Awful! Rude! Poor signage! An absolute ‘I don’t care’ attitude expressed by multiple staff. I love Toronto as a city, but have to admit I have no desire to return to the US via that airport ever again.

  • Austin L. Church says:

    I like Knoxville’s airport. It’s small, it’s never busy, and all the security personnel are nice. I guess the pressure is off if you know you’re not a large enough city to deserve some kind of attack. I’m sad to say that in recent years finding someone in an airport who is actually has become harder and harder. That being said, if you assume that you’re going to encounter all kinds of hassles and rude people “just doing their jobs,” then you will be pleasantly surprised when someone really tries to help or give useful information. Maintaining composure in the midst of all that frenetic activity and angst is part of the adventure.

  • David Scott Lynn says:

    Well, I only recently started traveling much after 10 years of feeling/staying stuck in the Boston area. Although I did make it to NH for your book tour stop in Manchester!

    Anyway, I was REALLY impressed with Austin’s airport. You could actually go into ANY of the restroom stalls (at least in the restroom I was in) WITH your luggage and WITHOUT the usual shoehorn necessary to help squeeze everything into the stall so you could close the door.

    THAT was a REAL treat.

    And it is CHARLOTTE that has the Rocking Chairs. … But they’re kind of hard with NO lumbar support!

    I remember being impressed with Pittsburg many years ago, and Tampa is pretty easy to get around in. One of the bars in Detroit has a pretty good beer selection.

    And, I’m sorry to say, I kind of LIKE Southwest. Been on almost a dozen flights since mid-December and so far, it’s been really nice to pay 10 extra bucks & get a first shot at those Emergency Row seats with legroom. And their seats have lumbar support!

  • Becky says:

    In the US, I have been very impressed by DTW lately. Great restaurant choices and nice and clean. Agree with all the comments about YYZ and DEN. Abroad, LHR was always a favorite as most of my travel experience started there. When traveling through LHR or LGW, we always stop for a full english breakfast just to get in the mood and say hi, or goodbye to London.

  • Benito Ponce says:

    I love airports. And I enjoyed reading your little stories about each one. I still remember the first time I slept over at an airport terminal. I was so excited. I felt like a world traveler even though I was just flying from San Fran to Seattle. Haha.

  • Jeanne Shepard says:

    The Copenhagen Airport is like the world’s biggest shopping mall. I spent 24 hours there, recently, because I did not read my itinerary correctly and missed my SAS flight back to Seattle. Fortunately for me, SAS did not make me buy another ticket for the next day, and the airport itself had a cute little mini hotel in the basement, where I slept away part of the time.

  • Beth Cregan says:

    My favourite airport,especialy if am travelling with my kids is Changi – Singapore. Here while you wait for your flight, you can have a foot spa ( complete with live fish eating the dead skin off your heels!) and a shoulder massage. Or perhaps a dip and drink in the bar of the roofside pool while you catch up on your reading. Here, travelling just got a whole lot easier!!

  • Daisy says:

    I haven’t done a lot of flying, but my husband and I are enjoying more and more traveling by train. On our latest trip, Amtrak mixed up our reservation (we never found out how or why), so they upgraded us at no extra cost to a fancier bedroom instead of our roomette. We also had access to the first class lounge for the first time. Wifi, free beverages and snacks, and comfy chairs – not to mention the opportunities for people watching!
    I’m drafting a letter to my congressman and senators reminding them that Amtrak is worthy of continued funding. It’s a great way to travel and see the country outside the windows as you go.

  • Lucy says:

    Japan’s Narita (NRT) is definitively one of the best. It is not only an amazing engineering achievent. It is very friendy, and on your way out you can safely arrive much in advance and find a good shopping mall, with amazingly better prices than those you find in Tokio.

  • Linda says:

    SIN hands down the best airport in the world. I am going to live there for a month and blog about it.

  • Angela May says:

    Fun post! YVR is my home-port, and while it’s not the BEST, getting to walk through the first-nations/nature themed “spirit walk” is always a wonderful homecoming. It’s true that security is getting a bit crazy in Canada too, but the most I’ve ever been scrutinized was in Prince George (YXS). Security really took their time with my laptop… probably because there were only four of us in line!

  • Twangy Pearl says:

    Loved this post. I have to give a shout out to the new Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi, as previously it was by far the worst mosquito infested, falling appart, filthy, totally lacking in any amenities whatsoever sad excuse for an international airport that I ever had the displeasure of having to sleep in (with a smashing computerized ‘how can we do better’ comment terminal – so India). Now it’s shiny, and well, international airport like. Except you can’t use the wifi unless you have an Indian cell phone. Otherwise my favourites are HKK (love love love the Cathay lounge there), BKK, SIN and YVR (homeport – love the waterfall and the jellyfish tank, and the new self check out customs for Canadians). I am however one of very few Canadians that doesn’t like Timmy’s coffee or timbits 😉

  • Daniel Mick says:

    Singapore airport (and Singapore Air and Thai Air) opened my eyes to how bad US airports (and airlines) are in comparison. Free WiFi, free gaming, free computers, free TV, comfy chairs, interesting shops, long couches…and that’s just for us economy fliers! I didn’t mind at all when I had an 8 hour layover there. =D

  • Laurie says:

    At this point in my life I don’t get to fly that often, maybe once a year, so being in ANY airport is fun and different for me. 🙂 I get on the plane and sit in the window seats with my nose pressed up against the glass, soaking in the experience for all it’s worth. People probably think I’m flying for the first time in my life. I just love staring at the earth from the windows of a plane, and I hope that never loses its magic!

  • Maggie Dodson says:

    Great post, Chris. And I love all the stories almost as much as I love airports. It’s the energy and the activity in airports that makes them exciting, the idea that anywhere on earth is within reach especially when you can hear the sound of so many different languages and see a trailer of what a place might look like in the few peoples present from that culture. It never matters how long I have to wait as there’s so many people to watch!

    I like MEL because having lived there for many years I associate it with someone being very pleased to see me when they meet me and vice versa. But my favourite so far is DKR. Arriving at 3am when a plane has just returned from the Haj is wild. There’s so many people, so much luggage and soldiers with guns and languages I don’t understand on the periphery of French which I do; and there’s the noise of all this, the colour, the costumes, the heat of the night and everyone’s black. I like being out of my comfort zone.

  • Niel Malan says:

    My favourite airport is AMS, because if I go to the UK via there I don’t have to use LHR! Lots of space to walk for exercise between flights, and no buses to take between terminals.

    The other airport that stuck in my mind was ABQ, because of the wooden chairs with stuffed seats. Very homey atmosphere.

  • Wyman says:

    My most memorable airport was American Soma. Open folly with a foot of water everywhere during a big rain. The trash can said “wubbish”. Everyone you know comes to see you off and puts shell necklaces on you and cries, even if you are coming back next week. Great people.

  • Lorraine says:

    I also LOVE airports. Favorite lounge so far is the DOH (Doha, Qatar). The First Class Lounge was in a separate building for First Class passengers. Lounge was like a lovely restaurant!! Fabulous buffet, free Wi-Fi.

  • Diana says:

    I knew Toronto and Munich really because I’ve flown in and out of them. This may be TMI but I carry powdered soluble fiber with me for digestive issues. When I flew into Munich to connect to Tirana, the Germans pulled out my white powder that I put in a mini tupperware (I kept the packaging with the name just in case) and just stared at it, at me and then at each other. I said, “Oh it’s fiber!!” They seemed skeptical but let me go. They probably thought that I would have a lot of guts to bring any other kind of powder through an airport! I took the risk, figuring it would be okay.

  • Joe says:

    Sea-Tac is great. Free Wi-Fi, the central terminal is a nice open area near all the restaurants with large floor to ceiling windows with a great view of the runway…plus an Ivar’s!

  • connie b says:

    Hey Chris, This is a very funny post; do more humor. I’ve made my peace with airports because I travel a lot, but like them? Never. However, my favorite airport is Koh Samui in Thailand. You walk off the plane and get into a Disney looking little brightly colored chain of cars and chug off to baggage claim. The restaurant, bar, baggage area are all outdoors in little buildings with thatched roofs. What a welcome and clear message that this place is different! I like this airport because it doesn’t look or feel anything like an airport

  • GutsyWriter says:

    Did you read Alain de Botton’s book as writer in residence at LHR Terminal 5. That is a job I’d love to do. He basically interviewed passengers at Heathrow and wrote a book. One thing he said, is travelers are far more open to telling you their dirty secrets. One guy flew from LAX to LHR monthly, as he had two separate families and kids in each city who were unaware that he had another family across the ocean. That would be a cool job to do at the airport.

  • Jeanne M. says:

    What a fun post! And reading the comments too. I just wish I knew what all the acronyms stood for. I’ve flown a bit but nothing stands out that much but I find airports fun because they’re like little cities. Years ago, just hanging out at the airport to watch the people and the planes coming and going was great fun also, better than going to the mall. I have had occasion to be stuck in an airport for bad weather and all the mayhem and although not fun, not boring either. About 15 years ago went through an airport in southern US maybe in North Carolina which was the size of a postage stamp and they looked at the bottle of water (which I had just purchased at their store) like it was poison and made me open it and take a sip. Guess they didn’t like the looks of this Yankee!

  • Daniel Mick says:

    Oh, and Chris, where’s the love for our homebase PDX?! It’s a great and beautiful well-planned. And how many cities are regularly known by their airport code? Yay Portland!

  • Gene Jennings says:

    SIN (Singapore) for three reasons:

    1. It’s just plain cool.
    2. It has a SWIMMING POOL!
    3. I’m a pastor and I like telling people that I am in SIN.

  • Brett says:

    PDX (Portland) and SEA (Seattle) are my favorite. I fly from these airports most often and find them to be comfortable and pleasant to travel through. I love the large central areas to watch airplanes land and take off. A big plus is that security in both airports know how to work with families.

  • Jennifer Blair says:

    After dealing with the monster that is LAX for the sixteen years I lived there, I have fallen in love with my current home town airport. Nashville (BNA). They have stages set up in the terminals so passengers are greeted with music, the universal language.

    They also provide comfy lounge seats behind a glass wall for loved ones waiting for arrivals.

    Outside, they have timed 15 min parking spots for pick ups and a free cell phone parking area as well.

    And no more hour long security lines.


    I’ll be there Monday for a trip to SJO via MIA.

  • Randi says:

    My favorite airport is the one from my home town of Sioux City, Iowa. Airport designation? SUX. No lie.

  • Joe Le Merou says:

    I love airports too !
    I think the best one for me is Changi (Singapore).
    The worst would be Charles De gaulle (Paris), i’m sure everyone agrees on this…


    I love to travel despite airports. Lounges are the lifesaver for me. In contrast I love railroad stations and don’t mind bus depots.

  • michael says:

    The US airport landscape is pretty bleak compared to Europe. I guess if I had to name a fav it would be DET. Nice architecture, and the last time I was there, you could still smoke in the bar, so that gives it a certain European flair.

    In Europe, the architecture at CDG is amazing as long as it’s not collapsing. AMS is probably the coziest on the continent with a wide variety of seating arrangments, including little living room-type areas for small groups or families.

    MUC is teutonic beauty on full display. Walking out into that breathtaking plaza after an overnight from the US is my favorite way to be welcomed to Germany.

    Sadly my very favorite airport in the world – TXL – will close soon. It’s very small, and everyone checks in at the gate. Security is also directly at the gate. There is always free good coffee and a plentiful selections of international publications. After deplaning, passengers walk only a few steps to the baggage carousel. Unparalleled convenience

  • Andre says:

    FRA is a definite for First Class, otherwise my vote is on SIN without hesitation. Great article! Thanks

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures says:

    I loved the airport on Easter Island! Who would have thought the most remote island in the world would have had free wifi!

  • Elina says:

    My favourite airport so far has been PVG. I love the way it’s been built so that all the usual airport background noise just disappears… And customer service there rocks!

    The worst, no competition here, SVO. 10hr wait there was a nightmare… We were supposed to get a free meal from the airline but by the time we arrived they were out of food. They managed to get some cold soup at some point – hurray…

    Overall, I love airports. They’re the best part of travelling! Much better than the long flights… 🙂

  • mary s says:

    When I lived in Fla, I did a lot of traveling thru Tampa Airport. Very easy to go into and out of-love the tram! Looking out the tram window and seeing palm trees, I knew I was home!

  • Benny says:

    I love airports! When I’m traveling I don’t get excited about the destination first but the experience of being in an airport. I love seeing people going to all different destinations. I love knowing in a few hours or twelve hours I could be in a far off city or completely different country.

    Jetblue’s terminal at JFK is really nice.
    Like Seoul’s airport

  • Sarah says:

    Love the Timmies shout out! You’re practically Canadian now!

  • Brian says:

    I collect forks and once swiped a fork on a Virgin Altlantic flight out of South Africa. It was plastic and not metal so it was never confiscated by security but I put it in my checked luggage on the flight back to South Africa and the baggage handlers manage to break it into multiple pieces. Looks like we’re not meant to swipe forks on Virgin Atlantic flights.

  • Stanley Lee says:


    Fun post to read. Speaking of which, I would have been at least 5 different airports on the trip I revealed to you during your UBT stop (may include a 6th stop as well): YVR, HKG, PVG, NGB, CAN, and maybe PEK).


  • Estella says:

    I spent an entire week, day and night, at LHR this past December when the whole place shut down for several days, and all the flights got backed up due to combined bad weather and Christmas travel. No one was allowed beyond security during the whole time, so there wasn’t much in terms of comfort or hospitality. Needless to say, it doesn’t hold the most savory place on my personal-experience-at-airport-list, but being that it is the easiest one for me to reach in London, and is one of the largest gateways to the world, I don’t dislike it! I will always adore airports and their unique atmosphere, and will do almost anything to spend a little time in them… just maybe not THAT much!!

  • Iris M. Gross says:

    What a fun post! Resonated with lots of people. I’ve only been to about 7 airports: SFO, OKC, BOS, CVG, ORD, LGA, and whatever Reagan National is. Love reading everybody’s posts about airports. I hate that you can’t go to the airport and watch planes take off and land like you used to be able to. I remember once as kids my brother and I drove down to our airport in OKC and watched the British Concord fly in, and then we went in to the gate where it was parked and got to ogle it for a good hour! Couldn’t possibly do that nowadays. But I did want to mention one thing that nobody’s touched on: control tower design! I think Boston Logan’s control tower is the neatest I’ve ever seen, but then I haven’t seen all that many of them yet! Great post guys!

  • Gunja says:

    Great post Chris!.specially the tips n tricks..and the fork incident really cracked me! 😀
    for me, the Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport in mumbai holds a place really close to my heart…it was the year mumbai was flooded in monsoon..we had an early morning flight and when we reached the airport, it was only drizzling.But soon the drizzles changed to massive downpour flooding the entire city.All flights were cancelled,so were every form of transport.The sound of the incessant thunder and rains,water everywhere,in the airfield, the giant aeroplanes getting drenched with their wheels all was really scary, yet uniquely beautiful, in its own way.we were stuck in the airport for over 24 hours- we ate from the airport canteen and slept on the floor with hundreds of other commuters.we even befriended an old lady who was staying in the airport for the past three days,waiting to be picked up by her son,who never arrived…it was an experience I would never ever forget 🙂

  • michael hewstone says:

    Nice article … got to tell you my favorite airport is Singapore. Why, cause I know I can hop on a train and go down to Little India and sit in an open air cafe and have myself a nice cold Kingfisher [Indian beer]. It gets better. When I’m back at the airport I can have a shower, a nap and a nice vegetarian dosa. And the best part of being at Singapore airport is I know I’m only 4 odd hours away from my favorite place on this beautiful planet … India!

    May peace and love travel with you always, michael.

  • Kelly Knights says:

    I love AKL for the last minute gift Kiwiana gift shopping, HKG for extended layovers (food! beer! shopping! showers — a def plus after a 15-hour flight!!). Im also a fan of SIN — watching the sun rise a massive red ball of fire on my way to BKK, I actually stopped in my tracks and said “you’ve got to be kidding me!”. It was pretty amazing.

    Being a Toronto girl, I have to stand up for our airport: YYZ is one of the busiest airports in North America, so a little bit of chaos is par for the course. It’s easily accessible by the TTC (despite popular mythology to the contrary), and if you give yourself enough time to get yourself sorted, I’ve never had a problem with lines or waiting. Personally, I get a flurry of excitement whenever I go past Pearson, even if Im not even going to the airport! LOVE IT.

  • julie says:

    Rating airports throughout the world (including military airports)….SeaTac (SEA), Seattle is the absolute best, most convenient, cleanest, best wi-fi, appropriate security, etc.

    Absolute worst? LAX (I’ve been there dozens of times, so this is a fair enough critique) — in my opinion, it is far worse than airports in many “third world countries.” As one of the ‘gateways’ into the U.S., you’d think L.A. could spring for some new carpeting that is from this decade…or at least last decade? (1970s carpet with the stench of cig smoke, so many stains and signs that it has obviously been cleaned VERY rarey just doesn’t reflect “USA” to me….but I guess it DOES reflect L.A. …..) — no wi-fi…not even the opportunity to pay for it … needing to SHUTTLE between terminals … 150 people fighting for ONE power outlet to charge the cellphone or computer (some of us are wise enough to bring their own mi-fi source) per terminal is ridiculous.
    And the food options are nil.

  • RJ says:

    If you ask nicely, sometimes the Delta lady at CVG will print you a “non-passenger boarding pass”, so you can just go through security and people-watch. It’s great.

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