2012 Airport Top Twenty

Having been to 203 airports now, I have a fair idea of what I want in a good airport.

I want first of all an airport that is easy to get around with good signposting. Short lines come next. Being well connected to public transit is more important than parking for me. I do like the car rental outlets located close by and not a shuttle bus away. Talking of shuttle buses, I hate being bussed to and from a plane, so give me enough gates please. Clean well maintained airports get my attention and I do like decent food outlets. Shopping not such a big deal for me except when I need something. Don’t make me walk through the shops to get everywhere.

My Top Ten favourite airports actually number twelve airports. Four are in Asia, two are in Australia, two are located in Europe and three are in the USA. The listing of the top ten includes more details including the number of times I have flown into or out of the airport and my rating out of 100%:


1.  Hong Kong, China (HKG)  17 times -100%    

Skytrax: 5 star  53.3 million passengers – Tenth busiest airport in world

When Hong Kong replaced their old airport, they did with style. The Foster designed Terminal 1 was the largest airport building in the world until beaten by Beijing and Dubai. Despite its size, the airport is very easy to get around and getting to downtown with the airport express train is brilliant. The terminal is airy and user friendly with brilliant signage. Luggage delivery is awesome and immigration usually very efficient. Good shops organised well. If you can get into the Cathay Pacific Lounge, do it! One of the best lounges in the world.


2.  Singapore Changi Airport  (SIN)  27 times -98%  

Skytrax: 5 star  46.5 million passengers – Seventeenth busiest airport in world.

An airport that has to be seen to be believed. Miles of carpet interspersed with fountains, fish tanks, massage centres, shops actually create a calming feeling. The airport has the most efficient immigration in the world and I have never seen anyone beat their baggage to the carousel. The taxi organisation is amazingly efficient and the subway stops right at the airport.


3.  Incheon International Airport, South Korea (ICN)   2 times -94% 

Skytrax: 5 star  34.5 million passengers – 33rd busiest

Fast, friendly, efficient check-in and security. Spotlessly clean departure lounges and restrooms. Great range of fairly priced restaurants and shops. Ground transportation is well connected and convenient.


4. Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia (KUL) 1 time -93% 

Skytrax: 4 star 37.6 million passengers – 28th busiest

Efficient and user friendly airport with amazing signage, good, well priced shops and easy public transportation. Free wifi, a jungle walk and children’s playgrounds make it top class.


4. Zurich Airport,Switzerland (ZRH) 6 times – 93%

Skytrax: 4 star 24.3 million passengers

I expect everything to be efficient in Switzerland and Zurich airport does not disappoint. Travelling to, from or through Zurich is a breeze. Amazingly clear signposting in German and English. Passport control is fast. Wifi is not free and Shops are a little pricey (what isn’t in Switzerland). Travel to the rest of Switzerland is fantastic with access via a station under the airport. And make sure you try the trick with the luggage carts on the escalators (surprisingly the carts are free).

6.  Charlotte Douglas, USA 14 times 92%

Skytrax: No rating  39 million passengers- 25th busiest airport

The staff here are some of the most courteous, helpful and friendly I have found in the world.  Connecting between the terminals is easy and it never feels congested. There are plenty of food outlets scattered throughout the airport.  The rocking chairs, piano player and giant aeroplane mobile in the central hub between the terminals are great touches. I always envy the people in the chairs as I whiz through. Free fast wifi is a nice bonus. spent at least an hour rocking in one of the chairs, using the free WiFi and reading my book. Passport control  is one of the fastest in the USA and definitely the friendliest!


7.  Amsterdam Schiphol Airport 4 times 87%

Skytrax: 4 star 49.7 million passengers- Fourteenth busiest airport in the world

A very efficient, if incredibly huge airport. Be warned: you have to walk a lot here. Lots of, shops, cafes and other leisure opportunities like a museum.  The cafes are a little expensive. Trains to the rest of Holland come right to the airport.


8.   Atlanta, Georgia (ATL)  25 times.  86%

Skytrax: 4 star 55.9 million passengers- Busiest airport in the world

Why do people hate Atlanta airport? I find it a very efficient, clean place with great shops, good wifi and easy access to downtown by public transport. The Terminals are well connected by walkway or shuttle. Signage is brilliant. Of the US airports, customs and immigration are good.


8 Melbourne, Australia (MEL): 269 times. 86%

Skytrax: No rating  28 million passengers- 50th busiest airport in the world

Connecting between terminals here is a breeze: just walk next door! Friendly staff and good signposting help with navigation.  Shops and restaurants are good. Immigration can be a crush and the failure by the authorities to build a rail link is almost criminal. There is limited free wifi in the Qantas terminal.


10.    Dallas Fort Worth (DFW): 28 times. 82%

Skytrax: No rating  58 million passengers- eighth busiest

The first thing that you need to be aware is that this airport is huge but the way makes it feel not so big. It is laid out well with four airy and light filled terminals. It is almost impossible to get lost if you know your terminal and your gate. There is a “Skylink” Train that loops around the airport with trains running every few minutes. Just make sure you hold on because it does zoom! The walkways are wide, the restaurants plentiful and the shops are great with some reasonably priced stuff for an airport.


10.  Detroit, USA (DTW), 4 times.  82%

Skytrax: No rating  32 million passengers- 42nd busiest airport in the world

DTW has two terminals with a bus shuttle between them. The McNamara Terminal is for Skyteam flights (Delta, Air France and the North Terminal handles all other airlines. The terminals are officially seven minutes apart but am not sure many people would need to connect between them because most connections can be done within the one terminal. The terminals are well laid out with lots of restaurant options. There is a Skytrain to get from one end to the other of the McNamara Terminal. Immigration very friendly and very efficient. Ground transport could be better. Wifi is good but not free.


10. Adelaide, Australia (ADL) 69 times. 82%

Skytrax: No rating  7 million passengers

It has to be one of the most beautiful and easy to navigate airports in Australia with great signage and a good range of shops and food outlets. Wifi is free and there is a very regular bus service to and from downtown, the Northern Suburbs and beach. The airport is very airy. Can be a long walk to an end gate. Customs and immigration is usually very rapid. Adelaide Airport staff I are universally helpful and friendly. If you get bored while waiting between flights, Ikea has a store at the airport entrance which can be walked to! Parking has been annoying this year while they rearrange the parking garages.

13. Portland

14 San Francisco

15 Denver

16 Munich

17 Wellington

18 Las Vegas

19 Seattle

20 Frankfurt


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  1. Is this a ranking of only airports you’ve been to ? I’m surprised PEK DXB YVR YYZ MAD etc didn’t make the list.

  2. I have not been to PEK.

    I do not like Vancouver (YVR enough to include it as a top airport). Yes, it is a clean and new airport. Despite it being new, signage could be better. Immigration queues in and out are a nightmare. I find the agents very curt and unfriendly. Check in feels crowded. The Skytrain service to Richmond and downtown Vancouver is a dream. They do have really good free wifi.

    YYZ (Toronto) is awful. First of all, how do you get there? Roads are often jammed to the airport.There is a pricey and slow express airport bus. The TTC run a “rocket” to the nearest subway station. It is cheap and handy but no one at the airport knows about it and you need exact change (not an easy feat flying in from another country) to board. The worst aspect of Pearson is that getting anywhere air side is a nightmare. You feel like you are marching through grey, brown and white corridors for kilometres before joining lines, lines, lines. There are even long lines for Tim Hortons Donuts! Security is slow and stressful. Signage is very poor and confusing. They have great free wifi which is brilliant boon.

    Sorry Madrid does not make my top 20 either. Skytrax give it a three star rating. Waiting times at immigration and baggage claim are way too long. The check in area feels crowded and disorganised. Signage is awful. Wifi is slow and pricey. People were not friendly. Don’t use the lavatories. The Iberia lounge is okay.Travel to downntown Madrid is excellent either with Metro line 8 or the Renfe regional train service.

    Dubai is also 3 star and it comes close to scraping into my Top 20! It looks modern but already feels crowded. Many planes end up parked on remote stands. This is a peeve of mine. At Dubai,. this can add 30 minutes to time spent at the airport. Have you seen the immigration and security queues?? Signage is not adequate. Good shops, good wifi and good transport to and from the airport. Lavatories are clean.

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