Airports are like dentist’s waiting rooms: nobody really wants to be there. It’s just a part of the journey we have to endure.
That said, some airports are definitely worse than others. Recently, these world travelers and airline employees took to the internet to dish about the worst airports in the world. That’s a subjective thing, of course, and not all experiences will be the same. But it’s still worth getting some advice on which places you should avoid if at all possible, don’t you think?
22. I Left My Heart
21. Walking In Memphis
20. What A Welcome
I’ve seen a lot of the world’s airports over the past half century.
The nastiest airports in terms of sheer vindictiveness are American airports in general, especially those handling international traffic. Not just rude but vicious. One of the scenes I’ve never forgotten is something I saw in 2003 in Detroit: an elderly Swedish woman in a wheelchair. She didn’t speak English. They’d taken away her shoes and had simply abandoned her. And none of the airport officials were paying her any attention as she cried for help with tears streaming down her cheeks. What a welcome to the country!
In Chinese airports you really need to know what you’re doing. Chinese is a very direct language and shouting is the order of the day in much of ordinary life in China, so what is not intended as rude may come over that way to those Westerners used to a more subtle approach. The situation can be compounded since officials go monolingual when it suits them. I well recall an interesting “conversation” in Beijing when the Air France representative rejected the boarding cards which had been issued in Kunming in respect of the second and third legs of my flight. My Chinese is limited to a few conversational phrases, but she had no English and no French.
My worst experience with security was at Cardiff Airport in Wales — a strip search in public. But I’ve seen the same thing happening to someone else in Dulles, Washington.
In my experience, the most helpful staff of all are to be found in Bangkok BKK — lots of information desks and they all seem to be staffed by multi-lingual employees who really go out of their way to help.
And for me, the best airport overall has to be Changi, Singapore, where everything seems to have been designed and implemented with a view to the interests and welfare of the passengers.
19. Pretending Not To Notice
LAX in Los Angeles is the worst I’ve ever seen by far.
Every time I fly through LAX, I encounter rude staff who either refuse to answer questions, or outright give false information. “That’s not my job. Go ask the man in the purple vest.” (No one was wearing a purple vest, and it was her job.
Security yelled one word orders to people and and became aggressive when passengers didn’t understand. “LAPTOP!” The lady didn’t speak English very well and clearly didn’t understand what she was supposed to do. “LAPTOP!! LAPTOP!! YOU!! NOW!!”
The amount of eye rolling and obvious disdain for passengers is palpable in this airport.
To top it off, the restrooms are always filthy, and I once saw a huge pile of poo on the concourse floor. I witnessed staff walking past it, pretending not to notice.
18. The Joys Of Security
JFK in New York was probably the rudest.
I have been in much smaller, less flashy airports where I couldn’t understand the local language, but found that people were willing to try to help me and get me to the right place so I never thought of them as rude.
Beijing airport was really confusing, but, again, not rude.
JFK was terrible! Check-in was okay, but they just point to an area and tell you to put your check-in bag there. I did that and a man came up and just started yelling at me, saying how rude I was, how dare I put my bag there, why couldn’t I ask first. He said my parents should be ashamed to have raised a girl with such terrible manners. I was completely speechless and couldn’t believe that this man was so rude to me. I tried to tell him that I was just doing what the check-in agents told me to do and pointed toward them while they very much ignored me. He just kept going on. I was worried if I said something my bag would be lost so I just walked away.
Then the security line. It was so backed up we were lining up well before the ropes that lead you forward. In front of me was a man, woman, and two small children who were speaking Turkish. When we got up to the area where the ropes began, the man kissed the two small boys and woman on the cheeks, said something and then stepped aside.
The TSA woman at the front of the line began laying into him, just yelling endlessly that he wasn’t supposed to be standing in line if he wasn’t flying. He tried to tell her that he just wanted to help out until his family got in line (remember, we were not even at the actual roped-off TSA area, but lining up well back from that because of so many people). I chatted with the woman and found out that he was her brother who had met his nephews for the first time on this trip and that this was such a terrible way to end things.
TSA abuse continued in line with lots of yelling for things that didn’t need to be yelled about. People were moving forward as the line moved, but that wasn’t fast enough for the agents! And people weren’t stopping fast enough when the line stopped, but then didn’t start moving fast enough again! I’m not talking about at the metal detectors; this was happening 150 people back from where they check your ID. It wasn’t that people weren’t moving or paying attention, but apparently we weren’t doing it at the speed they wanted.
I opted out of the full body scan and asked for a pat down. I have done this at least 50 times at that point, but you have to wait in the area before the detector before they walked you through to the other side to perform it. They said I would have to wait for someone. That’s fine, I know that, but I waited for 15 minutes and asked a person if they could grab my bag so it wasn’t just sitting at the end of the belt on the other side. He said not to worry. Another 10 minutes and I asked again. He said there were cameras so if anyone stole anything, they could track them. That was very comforting.
Another 5 minutes (I did time this), and I got a nose bleed (happens sometimes as I get some bad allergies). It wasn’t terrible but I asked for a tissue. The man declined without looking at me. I asked him to look at me and he got a paper towel and berated me for getting the nose bleed. I said I had been waiting for 30 minutes for a pat down. His supervisor heard that, came over, and apologized, before pulling me through. The other man said that was a lie, and I had not been waiting that long. I said I had been watching the clock and he balked and walked away.
They found a female agent to do the pat down who started out by telling me that asking for it was a waste of time and the machine was perfectly safe. She then began to ask me extensive medical questions in that area to figure out why I wasn’t going through. She asked if I was pregnant, had cancer, autoimmune disorders etc. I said I just wasn’t comfortable going through the scanner and was exercising the right to opt out. She huffed and spent the whole time getting more and more angry and muttering about “stuck up rich girls.”
I am most definitely not rich and I hope not stuck up. I didn’t day that the reason I didn’t want to was because the TSA has been found keeping the pictures of passengers, and female passengers pictures have been used for less than amazing purposes.
17. We The North
16. Line Up Where You Want
15. Golf Carts>Guns
14. Hello, I Am Not A Criminal
Boryspil International Airport in Ukraine. There’s a coffee shop that sells god-awful $6 a cup coffee. Or you can go outside to order a coffee from the very grumpy lady outside for about 80 cents. Then once you go in, you have to get searched again.
I went to the toilet three times, and after the 2nd time a security guard followed me in, waited for me to finish and followed me out again.
Oh and there are about 40 “taxi drivers” asking you to come with them. I wouldn’t have used quotation marks, but one of them said to us in very broken English: “Hello I am not an Albanian gangster. Do not worry if you come with me you will be safe.” I didn’t trust him.
If anyone has been, which no one has, imagine Southend Airport but with more shady taxi drivers.
Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta is a nightmare.
12. Big Easy
11. Minnesota? No!
10. Frankfurt, Frankly
My experience with Frankfurt airport has not been very good. I have transited via Dubai and Hong Kong and found the security and procedures there more traveler-friendly than Frankfurt.
Frankfurt airport feels cold. Immigration views all Asians, especially from the Indian subcontinent, as potential asylum seekers.
The security screening is the worst. My wife was wearing a salwar kameez. The guard mocked her in an Indian accent and said, “No samosa, rasagulla and paneer tikka in the hand baggage,” while his colleagues were laughing.
Somehow our family was the one picked for random screening among all others. My wife was pulled out for a full body check and the security guard in full view checked her and touched her breast, buttocks, inner thighs. She was in tears.
My daughter’s bag was pulled out for explosive and substance testing randomly. The security person dumped her stuff on the table and when he saw crayons and a coloring book he smirked. He rummaged through the belongings looking for bombs. Then he said “okay take your stuff.” I was gathering her stuff when he shouted, “Move quickly I have others to check.”
The whole process took 1 hour. We almost missed our connecting flight. There was no one from Lufthansa to help and guide. We felt bullied, intimidated, and racially profiled.
The guy who was separating business and economy class lines assumed I was a economy class passenger as were other Asians as he saw us and waved his hands and disgustingly said, “Your line is that way; this is for business class,” without checking or asking us.
I understand the security and immigration are doing their job and it is important. But a humane and more passenger-friendly approach will help people transiting. If other airports can do it why not Frankfurt?
I will avoid transiting via Frankfurt airport in the future.
9. “Everybody Is Confused About Everything”
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The airport is a cross between an insane asylum and a charnel house. Everybody is confused about everything: passengers, agents, government employees. There are hordes of vest-wearing people who are trying to take your bags or tickets to “help” you. They are really taking hostages for payment. Outside you have to wrestle verbally and sometimes physically for control of your baggage and cab fare.
There is no working air conditioning most places inside the airport. The worst part is that the staff fight among themselves fight and quarrel about everything in public display. It’s disconcerting. It is not unusual to have two or three very noisy arguments going on around you all at once. You get used to it, and you aren’t paying attention so much, but it is impossible to even compare it to a normal airport.
8. Insider Insight
As someone working in the airline industry, allow me to give you my comprehensive list.
Well, the Kathmandu airport has a runway where the tarmac layer has potholes all over the place and the embedded lights are covered so it can’t really be used after dark. They still do, though. Does that count?
6. A Pretty Good Run-Down
Inside Europe, the worst experiences are in Heathrow-London and Portugal (Lisbon and Terceira). In the case of Heathrow, not only the movements between terminals are slow and complicated. Again, security is a nightmare and people there are not concerned at all about your time, whatever are your conditions, for instance, if you are traveling with little children exhausted from a long flight or alone.
Portugal is a case apart. Usually, the Portuguese are polite but the slowness, bureaucracy, and the lack of solutions under any contingency can be exhausting. Very often, the best offer from Spain to the USA or the reverse is by accepting a stop in Lisbon and, after the experience with Portuguese airports, I always look for other options.
I have heard terrible comments about airports in Saudi Arabia but I do not have that direct experience. In other places, things are very different: Dubai and Singapore are fast and correct. I was surprised by the speed and kindness in Shanghai, Melbourne and Sydney are equally fast and correct, Incheon-Seoul and Hong-Kong too, Taipei a little bit disorganized and, after living there and going in and out of the country many times, the best experience in airports is, by far, Japan, whatever you are entering or leaving the country.
5. Three Times
4. It’s Probably The River
Laguardia is by far the worst airport I have ever been in. I’ve flown multiple times on my way to Jersey because it’s often cheaper than Newark, and every time it’s a horrible experience. I feel like I’m breathing in mesothelioma every time I step off the plane.
3. Moscow Mule
I nominate the Sheremetyevo Airport of Moscow, Russia. I had a connecting flight there.
At passport control, the signs were confusing and I asked airport officers where I should go for connecting flights.
A young male pointed me somewhere but the woman he was with cut him off and asked me: “NO! Where are you from?”
She pointed me another way and I went there. Why my country of origin mattered was of course quite the mystery to me.
I then waited for 20 – 30 minutes for my passport to be checked. (Apparently, a standard waiting time in Sheremetyevo Airport.)
When I got to the passport control officer, I said (wait for it!), “Hello.”
Now I am not sure how offensive my “hello” was to him, but he started murmuring in Russian, “What are you talking? you came here and what do you talk?!” or something in that regard. (I understand Russian but I am much better in English.)
Already quite angry and shocked, I wanted to punch him in the face but I restrained myself. Then he told me that I came to the wrong place and connecting flights were the other way.
Now, I understood why my citizenship mattered. I guess the female officer didn’t like Armenians…
Then I went to the connecting flight’s passport control. There were no officers there. It was closed. No, seriously, I was stuck there. Funny, right?!
I asked an airport worker there and (no less rude than the others) he told me he would call the officers to come.
I waited 10–15 minutes and my patience ran out. So I asked the same officer in a demanding voice: “I am not sure I fully understand the situation, am I stuck here?!”
Finally, the officer came, and I, freaking tired of their nonsense didn’t even say “hello” or “thank you” anymore.
I went to my gates and the Wi-Fi didn’t work. I walked from one end of the airport to other until my anger calmed down.
Of course, I always knew that foreigners do not have the most fun experience in Russia. But, at least in the airports they could be polite. Perhaps the Russian Airports should re-evaluate their choice of employees and morals.
2. At Least You Know Where To Find Staff
1. Charles De Gaulle Would Be Appalled
My worst experience was in Paris at Charles De Gaulle.
Because of an issue with my return ticket, I was rejected at the gate while trying to board a flight to Milano MXP. It came out that my ticket had been canceled by the travel agency due to a misunderstanding. This could have happened anywhere else, not a problem attributable to Paris CDG.
Of course, my flight around 9 pm was the last for the day to my destination, with any airline, and of course I was extremely tired after to days of work at a business fair. When it was finally possible to understand what had happened and that I had no ticket home, I rushed to the ticket counter to buy one for the first flight available. I absolutely needed to be in Milano the next morning. When I finally had a ticket in my hands, it was already later than 11 pm. My flight was around 7 am, so I calculated that, if I went to a hotel, I’d have had to wake up around 4:30 am.
I looked around and there was no hotel booking place still open. I asked someone and I learned that the only hotel in the vicinity was one with with outrageous prices (that my company would have never reimbursed to me). Instead, I decided to spend the night at the airport and went looking for a bar or a restaurant. Everything was closed and I could not even find a vending machine to buy a bottle of water. The terminal was now deserted. Just a few cleaning teams where around.
“Okay,” I thought to myself, “let’s find a comfortable seat.” I was pretending too much: no seat was comfortable in any way. At no place I could rest my head and my back simultaneously. Any row of seats had an armrest every two seats: no way I could lay my tired body horizontally. After an hour or so of attempts and a double complete tour of the whole terminal I resolved to lay against a wall on the floor that, at least, had just been cleaned.
I had just fallen asleep when a policeman (or a guard, can’t remember) politely told me that I could not lay on the floor. I asked him if he could suggest a place to stay, but he said he was new to this terminal and had no idea, apart from the uncomfy seats. Great. I could not sleep a minute that night. When I finally sat on the airplane, I fell immediately asleep. The cabin crew had to wake me up when most passengers had already disembarked.