Pilots and Flight Attendants Share Their Most Loved (And Hated) Airports

Pilots and Flight Attendants Share Their Most Loved (And Hated) Airports

Not all airports are created equal. If you're planning a flight, it might be worth your while to see which of the following airports should be avoided or which you might prefer to have a layover at. Only a few airports are known to have amenities like IMAX theatres, fish ponds, yoga rooms, and even a gym; but there is bound to be something unique for everyone. Since airports are known to have long waits, strategizing your visit might give your trip the boost that it needs to keep your spirit sky high, even when you’re stuck in a long line.

Airline professionals have compiled their opinions of the best and worst airports so that you can be even more prepared next time you need to fly.


35. Imagine An Efficient Airport That's Actually Built For The Times

I'm going with 2016 (and 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2010) winner of ACI's "Best Airport in North America": Indianapolis.

IND has the luxury of being a truly post-9/11 terminal from the ground up. Due to size and location, they were able to build a brand new terminal and then bulldoze the old one without having to expand and add-on like most airports do. It's outrageously fast and efficient for both planes and passengers all around. Staff and TSA are as friendly as I've ever encountered. The terminal is clean and beautiful. As a bonus, you can get some world-class food including Shapiro's deli and St. Elmo's shrimp beverages (at Harry & Izzy's).

The old Indy terminal sucked. It was old and dirty, and its position with regards to the runways meant a 20+ minute taxi to the gate almost every single time you landed. They certainly redeemed themselves.


34. The Trend Of Fitting Many More Travelers In Than The Airport Was Designed For

I'm not seeing any Philly (PHI) hate! You have to take a bus across the tarmac to transfer terminals. The aisles are about 10 ft wide so it's perpetually jammed as people swivel through the crowd on both sides. I've missed several connecting flights as a result of that place.


33. Best Place To Fly For Tons Of Entertainment And A Ride

Hong Kong's new international airport which was built on an artificial island is hands down one of the best airports in the world. It's got an IMAX theater, spa, gym, concert hall, buffet, you name it. They also have an amazing subway system (MTR) that takes you to almost anywhere in Hong Kong right from the airport. It's huge too, I had a layover there once and I spent hours wondering around without seeing another human. It was quite an experience.


32. Mislabeled Signs Causing Trouble

MIA is pretty horribly bad. Long, boring to look at, nasty insides that need to be updated and it's really confusing. I was being picked up there once and told the people picking me up I was coming out of "Hall 3" or whatever. However, they don't see "Hall 3" or anything else. It was labeled differently depending on what actual side of the security you were on.



31. Locals Have To Make Sure This Airport Is State-Of-The-Art

I have friends who are pilots and they like the new YVR (Vancouver BC) for the art and better facilities. I took video of our departure out of the North runway and got a great view of the North Shore Mountains, then the Fraser River as we climbed out. I have a Canon 7D video of it I could post if could get the size down from 700MB

That being said, the locals get charged "airport improvement fees" to all tickets. Also, the amount of security is annoying.

The airport we landed and took off from in Huatulco was short and sort of scary. Tons of little hills dotted with houses visible on approach.


30. Slowed Down Because Of A Little Snow

I used to do consulting work in Madison Wisconsin. I had three options to choose from because I live in Omaha. I could fly through Minneapolis, Chicago, or Detroit and make a connecting flight. Minneapolis had snow removal and de-icing down. They could keep flights moving and reduce the time the airport had to shutdown. But if I flew through Chicago which I seldom did, they get an inch of snow and its like the whole airport needs to shutdown so they can decide on a course of action.


29. When You Get Stuck In Australia, Do The Tango

As an Australian Melbourne airport honestly does my head in. Have been stuck there (in uniform) for 4 hours after going through immigration, 45 on bag wait the rest for baggage screening. Admirably three other airlines had landed at the same time that can be known to bring 52 different things per person that are restricted.


28. It Never Hurts To Offer Something Sweet For Their Trouble

From my sister, who has been a flight attendant for over 25 years:

The people at the airport in RIO are truly very sweet people, I love all the gate agents there. I'd have to say the airport I like the least is ATL. If there is any weather, it's delays for days. The gate agents aren't the nicest, but I don't blame them. They work these full flights by themselves. I've been lucky for the most part with them. I bring them chocolates from wherever I've come from and thank them for all they do


27. Layovers Aren't Bad At All In This Korean Airport

Korea Seoul Incheon we had a 10hr layover returning from Thailand, and this airport rocks. Cultural exhibits, 2-7hr local tours. We went to a fishing village, spent a while at a temple then went to a beach. Afterwards, we were back at the airport, ate and went to a lounge where you can shower, get massages, sleep, read, watch movies.... Etc

Our 10hr layover flew by because of this airport.


26. Unique Spots Always Stand Out When You're Used To Seeing The Same Types Of Runways

Not sure really about the quality of the airport itself but as for uniqueness I would say John Wayne in Santa Ana, CA (KSNA) is pretty cool from a pilots perspective. They have GA traffic all the time and actually have a dedicated GA runway. There are numerous GA fixed operating bases on the field in addition to a fair amount of Commercial/Airline traffic. Really an experience, especially as a Private Pilot.



25. There's No Way We Can All Actually Fit In Here

Moscow's domestic terminal is literally the worst. It was designed during the soviet era, so, like Moscow's road network, when the USSR collapsed, it got an influx of people too big to for it to handle. Plus, it looks awful. (also, Russian domestic airlines are terrible. Almost all the planes have forward-folding seats. You unbuckle during landing, and buckle when flying because otherwise, your seat folds in.)


24. Breathtaking Views And A Calm Terminal

Jackson Hole Airport is the best. In Grand Teton National Park, it has the best view imaginable. And with wood paneling, leather armchairs and fireplaces it feels like a hunting lodge. Takes about 10 minutes to get in and out of.


23. Underground Train Stations Are Hyper-efficient

Amsterdam-Schiphol: Like: There's a train station directly underneath the terminal that can take you straight to Amsterdam, Rotterdam or the Hague. Terminal is nice on both land and air side and because it's all connected into one big building you don't have to some train or bus to get to your connecting flight. Dislike: They're remodeling right now so half of it is walled off. They also changed the way security works from being checked at the gate to a system more like the TSA with a central room for checking luggage. I've been through it twice now and hated every second of it.


22. Please Just Let Me Do My Job

Minneapolis is notorious for micromanaging. An RNAV arrival is made up of GPS waypoints and altitudes and speeds to fly. Think a horizontal and vertical highway layout with speed limits. Everyone follows those, every should be in line and spaced nicely.

MSP controllers get twitchy and start messing with stuff. Speed up, slow down, turn, go back to what you were doing. Jk do what I say. This is all stemming from the fact that these RNAV arrivals are new and they don't know them like the tried and true old ones they used to use and knew like the back of their hands.

To make matters worse the arrivals are built to be runway specific. Think, everyone going to Minneapolis use this road, everyone going to Chicago, use this road, except for which runways to use. Well, optimized airports will tell you well in advance which runway to expect and will stick to it unless the wind drastically shifts. MSP likes to keep you on your toes and won't tell you early or will change at a point where you've already planned and set the plane up to make those speed and altitudes restrictions at preset times. When they change the plan last minute some planes have a hard time adapting to that last second change. My plane is one of those so now I'm jumping through hoops of fire to make the restrictions because ATC messed me up.

Just to be fair and clear, this isn't an occurrence unique to MSP. It certainly happens in other places. It just fairly commonly happens in MSP due to these arrivals and can frequently pose a challenge for pilots. Some airlines aircraft have no issues with this kinda thing. Some do.


21. Don't Land Too Late Or It Could Be A Close Call

Panama City's airport is terrifying because if you overshoot the runway, you'll be in the ocean. At least that's how it feels.... the airport was tiny, like 6 gates or something.


20. You Can Take A Mini-Vacation Between Flights In The Sunshine State

Not a pilot, but I travel along the east coast decently often. Orlando (MCO) is probably my favorite since it's such a big destination city where people vacation. There's a lot of shops, restaurant, and things to do there. Tampa's airport (TPA) isn't bad, but less stuff to do. I do like that the trams take you from the airport proper to where you can be picked up, and vice versa; I think it helps break up some of the crowds, especially during peak seasons. I enjoy both of them depending on where I end up (have family down in Florida).



19. Outdated Floor Plans Are Almost Bursting At The Seams

The worst. Designed in the '20s and '30s, completed in the '40s, LAX is drastically undersized for the number of travelers who pass through it's infernal gates every day. The "horseshoe" can't handle the traffic, but that's after you've fought your way to the West side just to get there. It's a classic example of Los Angeles' short-sightedness.


18. It's Always Nice To Not Feel Like A Packed In Sardine

Travelling as crew, the important thing for me is getting out of an airport quickly, especially after working a 10-16 hour day. Getting in quickly is good too. US airports are a hotchpotch, some have separate crew lines at customs, some don't. Some have separate crew lines going in, others don't. There's no continuity, I guess it varies by state, and sometimes even within a state. But how am I meant to remember all your varying rules? JFK/SAN/BWI set the standard. US airports are better for leaving, poorer for entering.

Some airports are beautiful to look at (BLR, DEN), but I don't always like them as they don't offer rapid egress. I generally don't care about facilities, WIFI, restaurants. Cheap Duty Free is good. It's all a bit of a generalisation though, some days are better than others, and your time of landing can change everything when there's 28 Korean Air crew in front of you.

Some countries like their paperwork too much. Some airports insist on the crew all waiting to go through together. Airports I like as crew, are not necessarily ones that I like as a passenger.


17. Be Early Or You Might End Up Frantic In Frankfurt

Frankfurt has got to be the absolute worst if you're getting a connecting flight. I normally have a little more than an hour to make the other flight and I always barely make it. It's a massive airport and my flight is always on the complete other end. If your flight into Frankfurt is even a tad bit late, you can kiss your connection goodbye. I'm lucky I don't have the extra stress of a family or elderly people with me, I don't know how I'd do it otherwise.


16. Don't Land On The Wrong Taxiway

Tokyo is a maze of taxiways. A confusing maze.....with no cheese at the end. I was told it was designed by the USA after WWII and since expanded and added on just compounding the mess. The controllers are always patient and watch us closely and never report us for minor mistakes. All other airports in Japan are quite nice and very efficient.


15. Pack Extra Patience For Older Airports

LEMD - Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas Airport.

Worst. Airport. Ever.

First of all, what's up with the name?! Why not just "Madrid Airport"? That's not the worst though, the taxi-time is awful if you're going to the old terminals, we're talking 20 min.

ATC is amongst the worst I've witnessed in Europe, once got told to slow down to 160 when we were 10 miles out at full scale deflection above the g/s with 220kts. Apparently, there was an aircraft at 1 mile final an they started to worry about separation.

And those frequency changes man... 6 frequencies before you get to tower, even when you're the only aircraft taxiing at the moment.

Oh, and the security is a joke. I've never seen a lazier bunch of people not even trying to do their job.

Nice city though, lots of nice people and culture :)


14. Be Sure To Quickly Head Over (Not Into) The Alps

Heathrow's great once you eventually get out of the hold, especially at night when your taxi clearance is just, "Follow the greens to stand 128." Munich I don't seem to recall ever having any issues at, a model of Bavarian efficiency...

Bad places? Hmmm.... Italy tends to be not bad but awkward to get into a lot of their places, designers seem to think pointing runways at the nearest mountain is a good call. Also some interesting requests from ATC whilst going over the mountains, not understanding the whole "slow down or go down" thing.

"We'd like to descend." "You can't descend, you're not clear of the Alps and there's someone below you anyway." "Well then can we slow down?" "No. In fact, speed up."



13. Home Sweet Home And Her Brutal Affection

Pilot here. I love Newark, but I’m based there, and it’s a love only like someone who has been abused repeatedly for a long period of time can develop. I love her because I don't know what love is, I’ve grown to accept it as the way it should be despite some things. ATC says you have a 2-hour ground delay to EWR and I just smile and say, "Oh that’s just her way of saying she loves me".


12. A Free Workout Or You'll Have To Go To A Gate Next Door

Every British airport sticks the flights to Ireland in at the end of the terminal, and it annoys me every time.

It's always a different inconvenience, as well: At Heathrow you have to walk about half an hour, at Stansted you have to go to a special shed out the back, at Edinburgh you have to go along a mile of travelators.


11. Being Prepared For What You're In For Can Help Curb Impatience

London Gatwick. From an operational point of view, it is just plain bad. If you see LGW on your roster, you know you're going to be late. Taxiing in to the gate, no ground staff. Delay. Ground staff work in teams, so it's not the same guys that load and unload the bags, delay. Dispatchers like to go missing, delay. Gatwick is hugely congested, so you always receive a take off slot, delayed again.


10. Flawed Modern Accomodations Leave More To Be Desired

Charles de Gaulle International Airport (France):

Where you sit in traffic for twenty minutes before getting off the plane.

Designed to make people tired of France before really entering it.

4 on Times Magazine's "Best places to never visit", behind the Khorengal Valley, the surface of Venus, and the Mariana trench.

A perfect example of modern dysfunctional public infrastructure.

Even the trams are whiney.

Where they decided to put a piano in this wing with great acoustics, so everyone's ears gets pleased by the sound of 5-year-old fingers terrorizing and punishing a classical instrument.

Let's put stores everywhere that sells everything besides regular cold drinks like water and pop.

But look! Expensive chocolate! And ties!

Standing in the line is optional... Or so it seems.

... I, too, despise CDG


9. Mayhem On The Ground, Chaos Trying To Land

I'll add White Plains. On approach, the controllers will get you close to the airport and then give you a visual approach. The approach basically says fly at this altitude until over the water, then turn to follow the shore at this altitude before lining up to land (keeping noise away from the expensive houses). Once you land, it's a packed little airport and you have another aircraft right in your tail to takeoff or land, and a relatively small runway.

They don't give you your gate assignment until you call them on a separate frequency from how they control the aircraft, so you have to clear the runway, get a taxi instruction, call for a gate, then call back the ground controller so they know where you park.

When you leave, the ticket kiosks are tucked to one side (and all out of paper, so you wait in line for one agent). Then backtrack to the middle against the flow to wait in the security 'fishtank'. Once through, you reach the "gates" which is just a bunch of benches crowded together. All flights seem to depart at once out of random doors, so you'll have numerous lines of people waiting for the wrong flight.


8. Welcoming Quaint Spot With A View Helps Pass The Time No Matter Where You're Headed

Innsbruck in Austria is a cute little airport. It has some of the best views of the runway. There is an observation deck looking directly to it from the terminal, with the snow capped mountains just sitting there in the background!


7. Every Airport Should Invest In Gardens and Yoga

If you know where to go in ORD, it can be... okay. I used to wear leggings & a black tee under my dress, take it off in the bathroom, and nap in the urban garden area. Sometimes I'd even do yoga in the yoga room. It was a nice break from the reality that I worked for a really bad regional airline in the industry.


6. Nothing Wrong With Putting In A Full Day's Work Before Work Starts

As a pilot, I love going into LGA because I make money literally all day. Over block everything, especially when the winds bring the runways down to 1 runway for both arrivals and departures. Theres nothing like making your entire block time before you've even taken off. However, that does get old fast.


5. Please Keep The Noise Down As Much As You Can

The worst airport to fly in to is National (Reagan) because you're not allowed to just fly in, you have to follow the river in to reduce noise over the city.


4. Hire A Fast Driver And Ditch Any Planted Weapons

Manila, Philippines. I'm just a tourist, but dang. I thought 3 hours was plenty of time to get from one terminal to the next. I thought we would have time to eat, time to rest, time to do nothing. No. The terminals aren't connected. My significant other's cousin picked us up soon as we landed and had to DRIVE us to the next terminal. We barely made it to the connecting flight on time. They actually told us if we were any later we couldn't go through ticketing.

Besides the above atrocity, they have this bullet scam going on with dirty airport security workers. They plant a bullet on you and make you pay absurd amounts of money to not go to Filipino jail. What? Our whole experience there was just awful. They even made us show our ticket information before getting into the airport again. We had them saved to our phone, but they wouldn't take that. They needed to see a print out for some reason. Took a lot of arguing to get through.


3. Avoid Daylight And Head To The Casino During Layover

Cleveland Hopkins Airport is nice. They recently finished a ton of renovations and are working on more. The current construction can be a little frustrating, but overall is really nice. Also extremely easy to get to as one of the train lines connects directly into the airport and can get you to downtown Cleveland in about a half hour. And actually where you get off the train downtown is under Tower City which includes a mall, casino, the Terminal Tower (2nd largest building in Cleveland) and a hotel meaning it is possible to travel to Cleveland for business and never go outside.


2. Overbooking Seems To Be A Non-Issue For This Far-Too Laid Back Airport

Rome- Leonardo Da Vinci. Flying out of there in 2011 and we all start boarding the plane. No seat assignments on the boarding passes and no one checked the boarding passes as we boarded. It gets confusing. Turns out they let too many people (about 20 too many) on the plane. The general attitude was "ehhhhh. Stuff happens whaddya gonna do?" And then all the crew got off and loitered on the Tarmac while some other employees made some people get off. It was so strange.


1. Chrisoned With White By The Hospitable Newark Birds

I was in Newark and there were pigeons inside the terminal hopping and flying around, POOPING EVERYWHERE. Had to dodge white droppings for the whole 1 hour I was supposed to be there, then for the next 3 I shouldn't have been (Delays).