First of all, I’ll save you all some time and call myself out.
There is no worst airport, nor is there a best airport. Not really. There are airports with the longest lines, the smallest budgets, the widest selection of magazines, the best support for TSA, the sassiest border control agents, the fanciest artwork, the dirtiest bathrooms…the list goes on and on.
However, to classify the world’s airports into a best/worst listicle pretty much requires that I develop a universal algorithm that takes into account all of the above variables and more, assigning affinity values to each one, scaling them without bias, and presenting a fool-proof, completely consistent definitive ranking of the world’s airports from which I would then slice four from the top, four from the bottom, and deliver a thesis-level commentary for your curious, ravenous eyes.
I don’t really have time for that, and you’re probably not interested in that.
So instead, here’s my totally biased list of airports I like, airports I don’t like, and why I think so. Have I visited every airport in the entire world? Of course not. Do I have a few strong opinions anyway? Of course I do!
Best: Detroit Metropolitan Airport, McNamara Terminal
There truly is no place like home! Detroit Metropolitan Airport is one of my very favorite hubs, and incidentally, it’s was my home airport for most of my life so far. However, in the spirit of honesty and criticism, you’d best be flying Delta (or a Delta partner) when you fly in or out of Detroit because those airlines will bring you to the best terminal: McNamara. This terminal has everything: comfy individual seat pods, full-service bars, direct access to the airport tram, a PF Changs, and the famous light tunnel! It is huge, accessible, comfortable, and often pretty quiet. I don’t hate it.
Worst: Detroit Metropolitan Airport, North Terminal
So, North Terminal isn’t really all that terrible, but if one were to compare it to its upper-class co-partner McNamara, it’s underwhelming at best. Not to mention a recent scandal, making it arguably one of the most gross airport terminals in the world. Better avoid this mess altogether, and only fly into DTW with Delta!
Best: Denver International Airport
This place is amazing and is my new home airport. From Blucifer the demon mustang to the spectacular view of the Rockies to the chill Colorado vibe, I enjoy DEN. This airport is also the source of several theoretical conspiracies, centering on its network of underground tunnels. If you’re headed to Colorful Colorado, definitely fly Denver.
Worst: London Heathrow Airport
Just the code LHR is enough to give me heart palpitations. I don’t know how, but this 12 million square meter building somehow feels as claustrophobic as a frat house basement on St. Patrick’s Day.
Sometimes the internet works, which is great because as a general rule, I don’t like going through LHR on anything less than a three-hour layover (though I once somehow managed on a 50-minute layover). This gives me enough time to squeak through several different security checkpoints. Don’t worry; they’ll eventually tell you where your gate is located. Eventually.
Best: Helsinki Airport
I really like HEL because it’s just spectacularly Nordic. It isn’t particularly busy, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Since it’s so easy to move through HEL, I once found myself with several spare hours which I spent seated inside a lovely little wooden open-concept minimalist clubhouse. It was charming, and I loved it!
Worst: Chicago O’Hare International Airport
I do love Chicago, but there is a reason why folks always used to tell me, “If there’s a cloud in St. Louis, O’Hare shuts down.” Being a coastal Midwest airport is not always easy, weather-wise, but I always expect irritating delays of some variety at ORD. If you love bottlenecks, crowds, and non-intuitive directions to the El, then fly ORD every time!
Best: Narita Airport
Traveling to Japan is a great adventure, and it is only made more smooth by the flawless operations at NRT. Organization, accessibility, and service make this an ideal airport from an ops standpoint, but there is always a little something extra in Japan. For example, they have an Oxygen Lounge…and it’s everything you probably expect. Try it out!
Worst: Beijing Capital International Airport
You’ve gotten this far in the article, so you probably recognize a pattern that isn’t altogether surprising: I don’t love crowds, I don’t like delays, I’m not a fan of overbearing security checkpoints with under-supported staff, and I need signage that doesn’t send everybody in circles. With that in mind, I suggest skipping PEK altogether, as it’s pretty reminiscent of Walmart on Black Friday.
Honorable Mention: Keflavik Airport
Since I’d like to end on a more positive note, I’ll briefly mention KEF. As do a lot of frequent fliers, I pop in and out of KEF on a regular basis. With the recent boom of Icelandic tourism, KEF is constantly having to evolve in order to accommodate the millions of people funneling through Iceland per year, and it is functioning relatively well. Keep on keeping on, my little KEF!
What are your best and worst airport experiences?