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Monday, May 18, 2009

The developed world's worst city airports?

What are the developed world's worst city airports? And what makes an airport bad for you? I'm convinced Melbourne and Perth's airports must be somewhere on a worst airport list. Due to bad plane and bus connections, I spent a fair bit of time at both of these Australian airports this past week, and it was painful. Perth's domestic airport seems to work 9-5 despite flights arriving and departing at midnight. It's small, has few shops, fewer eating options, and needs a good scrub. But because Perth is a city with a small population, I'm going to be a bit more forgiving. Melbourne on the other hand has no excuse. It's Australia's second largest city, a busy business/finance hub, and a major tourist destination. There's no excuse for Melbourne's Tullamarine airport to be so appalling. So what makes it so dreadful?
* Opening hours - nothing was open when my flight arrived at 5.30am, and most cafes and shops didn't open until 8.30-9am
despite the airport being busy with commuters; if there are flights coming and going, then the whole airport should be open for business.
* No public lounges and few seating options – apart from the departure gates, there are few places to sit other than the airport's dismal cafes; there's not a single comfortable seat, only wooden benches and hard plastic café chairs, so plan your connections carefully or you'll have a sore bottom before you've even boarded the plane.
* No decent business facilities – can't get comfy and want to work instead? Forget about it. At Milan's Malpensa we can at least pay to work in a business lounge for the day with free internet, lots of desks, soft sofas, and complimentary refreshments. Nothing of the kind in Melbourne. Not only could I not access the expensive wireless internet service (and airport staff members had no clue either), I couldn't find any space to work and nowhere to plug in my laptop, apart from a dirty cafe. As I had a three hour wait I was prepared to pay for it too, but no such luck.
* Few enticing shops - nowhere to relax, no place to work, so you want to browse? Get that idea out of your head too. I found one average bookstore, an okay newsagent, three luggage shops, a music store that was closing down, an overpriced L'Occitane store, and a cheap fashion accessories shop (everything was going for $10). The only decent place worth killing some time was the Gourmet Traveller store.

* No appetizing places to eat or drink – of the four café/bars I found, one didn't have any food
(“Saturdays are quiet” the guy said), the other had muffins and soggy white-bread sandwiches that looked like they had been made when I passed through the week before ("You're probably right!" laughed the girl when I told her), and who really wants to hang out at Gloria Jeans or Subway for godsake? And everything was expensive, from $7 sandwiches to $5 coffees.
* It’s dirty, stinky and tatty – Melbourne airport needs a good bath! From the food crumbs, hair and cigarette butts on the floors of the cafés (I thought it was non-smoking?!) to filthy, smelly lavatories with clogged toilets and dirty washbasins, this is one grotty airport. I finally found another bar just before I was about to board my plane - "Yes, this is the airport’s best bar" the bartender assured me - yet the furniture was dirty, scuffed and ripped (no, it wasn't shabby chic), the tables were sticky, drinks that had been spilled on the floor hadn't been mopped up, and there was that lovely all-pervading stench of beer.
I'm not looking forward to returning next week. So, do you have a city airport you hate? And if so, what are the factors that make it so bad in your eyes?

Pictured? Not Melbourne or Perth - that's Koh Samui's airport in Thailand, which is actually pretty darn cute.

10 comments:

Dr Sandy O'Sullivan said...

I hear ya, but Melbourne is glorious when compared to LAX. If you fly into LA on Qantas or American Airlines you go into Terminal 4 - a few of the new flyins from Aus, go into the Tom Bradley and I do understand that they have fixed it up a bit, but the whole airport is just seedy, dirty and poor functioning. Even the Airport Clubs are dirty. Melbourne is just boring and has poor facilities, at least it's not entirely putrid.

Dr. Jessie Voigts said...

one thing that breaks an airport for me is their disability services. whether it is waiting for hours at a gate for someone to bring a wheelchair, or careening through huge crowds with someone that does not understand disabilities, this is one quick way to make a trip even MORE difficult for someone with disabilities.

so what do i look for? kindness. ease of transportation within the airport (wheelchair or cart). understanding of disabilities. not punishing people with disabilities for needing extra time to get into a seat, etc.

Rarely have i found an airport that is both understanding and efficient in this manner. sigh.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Sandy

I haven't been to LAX in about 16 years actually and it was a cruddy, unwelcoming airport then so I'd hate to see what it's like now.

Melbourne is boring but it's also filthy - not sure when you were there last - but I spent two days there last week and couldn't find anywhere to sit, dirty chairs, filthy floors, sticky tables - eek! - and whenever I complained, staff just shrugged, not one person picked up a cloth or even seemed to care.


Hi Jessie

That's terrible to hear!

You have so much experience in the travel field, have you ever thought of consulting to airports on the subject? You should! I would certainly love to design airports after last week's experience.


Thanks for the comments, you two!

Jessie V said...

hi lara - i've never even thought of that, but i would assume that ANY airport would be interested in learning about disability issues. airlines certainly aren't - when i write complaint or congrats emails about accessibility, i never get a response. crazy,eh? well, good service can cost money, so...;)

David Whitley said...

Melbourne Tullamarine is pretty bad - and such a long way out of the city.

But compared to Berlin Tegel, it's a complete joy...

Lara Dunston said...

HI Jessie V - I write to airlines a lot and get responses either. I really think you should consider consulting on the topic...


Hi David - Milan Malpensa is another one that's a crazy distance away, but then, as badly in need of a renovation as some parts of it are, they have a handy pay-by-the-hour/day business lounge that we've used, and fantastic food - just a few options, but they dish up delicious food for an airport.

Xander said...

I'm going to agree with Sandy-- LAX International Terminal is one of the worst in the world. There is nowhere to eat, nowhere to shop, nothing to do. There are loads of places to sit, which is good, because that's about the only activity available. And I'm actually quite fond of the city of LA-- so I find it disappointing that the airport is so bad. It makes no sense to me-- LA has great cafes, restaurants and bakeries- couldn't the airport be a good place to show off some of that to an international audience? And it's a city with a huge design and architecture industry-- couldn't they make the airport a bit more attractive? Really, I can't imagine why they don't glam it up a little, to be a bit more fitting of their setting. -X

Xander said...

I'm going to agree with Sandy-- LAX International Terminal is one of the worst in the world. There is nowhere to eat, nowhere to shop, nothing to do. There are loads of places to sit, which is good, because that's about the only activity available. And I'm actually quite fond of the city of LA-- so I find it disappointing that the airport is so bad. It makes no sense to me-- LA has great cafes, restaurants and bakeries- couldn't the airport be a good place to show off some of that to an international audience? And it's a city with a huge design and architecture industry-- couldn't they make the airport a bit more attractive? Really, I can't imagine why they don't glam it up a little, to be a bit more fitting of their setting. -X

Suzy said...

I'm with you on that...Melbourne airport is terrible...which is bad when it's your "home" airport. Everytime I leave Hong Kong to go back home I dread the airport. And apart from bad facilities, why can't Australian immigration get their act together and have bags checked for fruit etc. before you board the plane like the US does with liquids etc.? I'm sick of lining up for hours to have my suitcase scanned after a 10 hour flight...its just insanity. Hong Kong airport is definitely the best in the world that I've been to...and its such a pleasure coming back to after "home"...

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Suzy

Glad someone agrees! And I totally agree with you about checking luggage/getting the sniffer dogs etc... try it after a 17 hour flight... even worse. I'm now besotted with Dubai's new terminal, which has my vote for the best, but I also love Bangkok's new airport, as well as Hong Kong's... I was at Singapore's Changi a couple of weeks ago and was disappointed after coming from Dubai... think it needs a makeover.
Still haven't found my perfect airport yet.

And Xander! I can't believe I overlooked your comment - two of them! I'm so sorry!!! It would be interesting to know what the deal is with LA and why it's not more glam... curious.


Thanks for dropping by you two!