I spend too much time in airplanes
Eating peanuts and getting high.
Generally speaking, airports are more pleasant than airplanes. I don’t mind airports. And despite my once upon a time claim that all airports are essentially the same space, well, that’s more of a metaphysical than a practical contention. Practically speaking the experience of airports does differ. What follows is a totally unsystematic, entirely anecdotal, non-ranking of some airports I’ve been to.
LaGuardia (LGA) in New York is actually a pleasant surprise. Clean, minimal but sufficient food options, phone chargers in the seats, proximal to Manhattan. The folks at the coffee stand messed up like 15 orders in a row, but that’s OK. I forgive them.
Verdict: LGA is fine.
Newark Airport (EWR), on the other hand, is terrible. If I had the choice of sleeping in an outhouse or spending a day at EWR, I’d take EWR. But not by much. It’s a pit.
Verdict: EWR is terrible.
Seattle Airport (SEA) is poorly run. There’s been news about it. Compared to Portland (PDX), and admittedly smaller airport that is solid, or even San Francisco (SFO), an operation of greater complexity, SEA struggles. Maybe they’ve turned things around, but I doubt it.
Verdict: SEA sucks. PDX is solid. SFO is decent but could be cleaner.
The best experience I’ve had at a U.S. airport is Tampa (TPA). Now this is not a major hub, however I found it super convenient. I stayed in a hotel right in the terminal, security was a breeze, everything was efficient and sound. When folks say that U.S. airports suck, relatively speaking they are correct. Omit TPA from the list though. I like it.
Verdict: TPA is excellent.
O’Hare International Airport (ORD) in Chicago exemplifies the fall of the U.S. Basically. It’s not BAD, it’s just faded. Faded glory. U.S. public infrastructure is weak and everyone knows it. ORD is a case in point, but it’s survivable.
Verdict: ORD is OK.
The Los Angeles Airport (LAX) was under construction for like two decades. It’s probably still under construction. LAX is far from everything. It is not a destination airport, although it is major.
Verdict: LAX is f***ing far.
Airports Outside the U.S.:
Let’s get out of Milwaukee and we’ll talk about it.
The Singapore Airport (SIN) is everything it is cracked up to be. Singaporeans have a great deal of pride in their airport, but it’s totally justified. I find SIN tranquil in the extreme. They’ve got butterflies. The’ve got Indian food. They’ve got a great attached hotel. They’ve got nap rooms, showers, a gym. Security is omnipresent and unfelt. Sure you can call Singapore a soft-authoritarian state if you like. I could care.
Verdict: SIN is the best.
The Bangkok Airport (DMK), on the other hand, is not pleasant. Sinage is bad. Information is thin. Food options are minimal. It’s simultaneously packed and cavernous. I have not enjoyed my time here.
Verdict: DMK is bad.
The Dubai Airport (DXB) is strange. It’s a serious hub and runs 24/7 (as does DMK). Unlike DMK however, DXB has ample food and drink options and is pretty comfortable. The customs staff moves at their own pace, to say the least. The dichotomy between an (apparently) efficient and gleaming modern airport and a snail’s pace customs experience is interesting. DXB is lit and feels kind of like a casino in the sense that 3:30 AM feels like mid-afternoon. I have found DXB to be disconcerting in this respect, but otherwise perfectly pleasant.
Verdict: DXB is big and better than most.
Osaka’s Kansai International Airport (KIX) is decent before security and weak after. My buddy Doug loathes the neon lighting of the airport–this bothers me less. My issue is the food options after security leave a lot to be desired. Since this is my home airport, I am not in a position to give an objective reading. Security lines can get super long during peak hours, but usually it’s fine.
Verdict: KIX is so-so.
Osaka’s Itami Airport (ITM) has recently had a facelift. It’s marginally improved. Just because you have a Wolfgang Puck’s pizza place doesn’t mean you’ve got it made, baby. Wolfgang Puck is f***ing overrated. Also, you almost have to take a bus to get anywhere from ITM. Buses sucks.
Verdict: ITM is fair at best.
I’ve been to the airport in Kuala Lumpur (KUL) several times but I forget everything about it.
Verdict: KUL is unmemorable.
The Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG) has super high ceilings. Obviously a lot of money has gone into it. There is a super long train ride from customs to the gates. And, you are most likely to get delayed or re-routed because of weather or something. The airport itself is fine.
Verdict: Prepare to be delayed from PVG.
The Adelaide Airport (ADL) is in Adelaide, Australia. I went there once. The restaurants in my hotel were closed because it was a Sunday. There was nowhere to eat in the whole city and only stoner kids were on the street. The next morning the streets were packed. Adelaide is super strange. I have no idea what the airport was like.
Verdict: Pack a lunch.
That’s all the airports I have off the top of my head. Obviously there are more. If you agree or disagree or want to pitch an airport for my consideration, please leave a comment!