Updated July 2008
Heathrow’s Terminal 5 has been making the headlines recently and so it seems a good time to discuss what makes a good airport – not having it based in England would be my top tip to any airport designer.
I was thinking about this recently as I spent a few hours at Heathrow, waiting to check in. Having finally got to the end of the queue, I obviously got bumped, and then went home again. I’m English so do not possess the ability to make a fuss in public, but it really was a bit of a shambles.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Heathrow regularly makes it into the list of the worst airports in the world which is something of an achievement given cities like Baghdad and Kabul operate airports. As such, over the following few weeks (after I had eventually left), it was something of a relief to experience travel in two of the best airports in the world.
Skytrax, who we have mentioned before, produced results of the top airports in 2008 from an independent survey of 8.2 million passengers from 97 different countries. Hong Kong International has been voted the traveller’s favourite for seven of the last ten years and, overall, the Asian airports dominate the top five spots.
|Airport of the Year||2008||2007||2006|
|Hong Kong Int’l Airport||1||1||2|
|Singapore Changi Airport||2||2||1|
|Kuala Lumpur KLIA||4||5||6|
My very recent experiences of Asian airports suggest that these results are spot on and in particular I want to focus on Singapore’s Changi airport.
Arriving or departing from Changi is stress-free and extremely efficient; speaking to seasoned expats out there, the concept of check-in queues doesn’t really exist. Passport control and security is quick and efficient and having landed, I timed how long it took to get from the Boeing 747 to my taxi (including picking up my baggage): twenty one minutes. I spent longer than that waiting to get off the plane back in the UK. It was amazing.
Rooftop Pools and Bamboo Gardens
And then there are the facilities available: aside from being one of the world’s cheapest airports to buy duty-free goods, the airport boasts an impressive range of features to make life more comfortable for the passenger.
Changi has large and spacious gardens in which to relax – grotty, plastic chair surrounded by millions in Heathrow or peace and quiet in Changi’s Bamboo and Fern garden? Maybe a swim to wind-down? No problem – just go for a dip in the rooftop Balinese-themed pool in Terminal One.
There are luxurious spa facilities available, beauty treatments, jacuzzis or, if you have more than five hours in transit, you can take a tour of Singapore organised by the airport. Which is free. As are the multitude of internet terminals.
The range and quality of shops is excellent and what’s more, it’s always quiet. I know this can’t really be the case, but you just don’t feel like you’re in a busy international airport. Perhaps I was simply too busy looking at the Koi carp lakes or the 103” plasma TVs to notice.
Crowds and Cappuccinos
Heathrow’s entertainment facilities are a little less impressive and one of my favourite reminders of this is the enticing offer on the BAA website:
“With flights to everywhere from Algiers to Zürich, there’s nowhere like Heathrow for literally watching the world go by. Just find a prime spot and study the crowd over a cappuccino.”
So, drinking coffee and staring at people is one of the airport’s selling points? Excellent. I also like the way they equate alphabetical polarity with extreme distance (Algiers is only about 750 miles from Zürich).
Back to Reality
I sadly arrived back at Heathrow where once again, it proved a tough place from which to escape – the airport equivalent of Alcatraz. As I went through passport control, I pitied the people who didn’t have EU passports (of which I would estimate there were about 700) whilst they waited to be seen by the three (yes, count them: one, two, three) immigration officials on duty.
It was exactly like my memories of flying in Zimbabwe. My luggage miraculously turned up after a lengthy wait and as I walked through customs, my last view was of a large, ownerless cardboard box with writing on it in no language I could read, sitting in the middle of the concourse. Probably ticking.
Welcome back to England.
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