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The Best And Worst Airports, According to A Frequent Flier

The Best And Worst Airports, According to A Frequent Flier
Caroline Lupini

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?

View Comments (6)


  1. mike2003242

    October 8, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Everyone seems to like DO A, it’s not bad but to me it’s not good either! I guess I’m weird lol!!

  2. mike2003242

    October 8, 2017 at 12:59 pm


  3. strickerj

    October 9, 2017 at 5:53 am

    I concur on DTW (also my home airport), but would add that the North terminal only pales in comparison to McNamara in size – it’s actually the newer of the two, and it’s leaps and bounds better than the Smith terminal that it replaced. I got stuck flying United on a business trip once and was pleasantly surprised (by the terminal, not United).

    I’ll add ATL to my list of best, not for its appearance (it’s hit and miss in that regard, depending on the concourse), but because it’s logical and efficient.

    Admittedly I haven’t traveled that much outside North America, but my vote for worst easily goes to CDG (with the qualifier that I haven’t been there in 14 years, and I had to transit through concourse 2B). In the U.S., JFK is probably the worst I’ve been to.

  4. infinite97

    October 9, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Any real frequent flier knows that LGA is the biggest pile in the US.

  5. wavery83

    October 10, 2017 at 3:25 am

    Since when was LHR one terminal? Since you select individual terminals at Detroit for special mention, wouldn’t it be balanced to do the same with LHR which currently operates 4 with varying degrees of pleasure. T5 perfectly adequate and efficient though host to BA (personally not had bad experience with them but plenty will say otherwise). T2 (QE terminal) looks pretty slick. T4 decent if you can skip to one of a couple of good lounges (selective). T3 pretty awful but there are worse.

  6. kkua

    November 8, 2017 at 7:18 am

    Not a frequent traveller nor well travelled in my mind. All these places are mundane for an Anglo speaker. It’s a sophomoric attempt on travel journalism. What about the other airports outside N.America or Europe? NRT hardly qualifies as a great airport. What happened to the reasonably cheap massage parlors in BKK, or the rooftop pool in SIN, or the amazing lounges in IST, or perhaps the novelty of smallness in SXM, or even the human zoo in BLR, emptiness of the newly built RGN???

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