The world's worst airports

travel108323 An experience: Over at terminal one at LAX, the security queue often snakes hundreds of metres outside.

So many unpleasant things can happen at airports. Flights missed at great cost, and greater inconvenience, terminal delays, rudeness at immigration, body searches at Customs, interrogation at security, missed connections, lost luggage or bomb alerts.

Then there's the merely dull: the interminable queues, the hours before take-off, the boring shopping, the long walks to the departure gate.

A few of the 2,2 billion travellers who fly annually suffer a far worse fate. A new guide to the world's most awful airports, by Foreign Policy magazine, offers: Dakar in Senegal; New Delhi in India; Mineralnye Vody in Russia; Baghdad International, Iraq; and Charles de Gaulle in Paris.

Starting with the most dangerous, it notes that planes landing in Baghdad have to execute a "stomach-churning" descent in case of missiles, before travellers head downtown on the "highway of death".

For most of us, the abiding experience of airports is not horror. It is tedium.

Clifford Coonan: Beijing

travel108322 Not impressed: The new addition to Charles de Gaulle airport is actually six terminals, scattered and difficult to find your way around.

The worst airport is Beijing Capital International Airport. Although generally very efficient, it is blighted with nervous tics and quirks.

The introduction of Norman Foster's new terminal in time for the Olympic Games will most likely change air travel in the Chinese capital completely but for now it remains a throwback to the days of central planning and socialist realism. This is no consumer paradise - mostly what's on offer is shrink-wrapped fruit and cheap panda dolls. And don't even think about buying a foreign newspaper.

There is a useful row of trollies for holding your hand luggage as you disembark, which are taken away 30m later, as you approach the first of many customs and health checks. And you could be stuck on a bus for half-an-hour as you head back to the terminal.

Initial changes ahead of the Olympics include the removal of the emergency exit notice reading: "No entry on peacetime". And I shall miss the hands-free sign above the taps saying: "Unnecessary touching".

Other candidates include Kunming in southwest China, which signalled its true intentions in the early 1990s with a sign on the runway saying, "We welcome our foreign fiends", and conjested Dublin.

Graham Keeley: Madrid

Madrid Barajas masquerades as the Spanish capital's shiny new airport, with its undulating Terminal 4 designed by Lord Rogers. But it's really a huge shopping mall. Just to reach the boarding gates, passengers have to tackle a 20- or 30-minute walk. Earlier this year, a British couple lost their dog in the airport. It wasn't found for weeks. Other European horror shows include Malaga (enormous but not big enough); Venice (constant delays, in spite of which the bars and restaurants close early); and Athens (guaranteed to lose your bag).

John Lichfield: Paris/CDG

I nominate Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris. The old part is a cramped and crumbling concrete doughnut with no windows; and the new part is actually six terminals, scattered and difficult to find your way around. Part of it fell down in 2004, killing five people.

Marginally less awful, but only just, is Beauvais, northwest of Paris. This has developed in the past 10 years from a prefab in a muddy field to a tent in a muddy field and, now, a new cardboard building in a muddy field. It's miles away from Paris, and only reachable by a long coach ride.

John F Kennedy in New York is tatty, scattered about and poorly interconnected. Dublin is always being torn down and rebuilt; it never seems to be finished.

Donald Macintyre: Heathrow

Douglas Hurd, the former British foreign secretary, once described Heathrow as a "camp" - and he was getting the full VIP treatment. The very word conjures images that are almost wholly negative: the foreigner-baffling approach to Terminal Four, which always feels like a temporary diversion, but isn't; the massive, shuffling queue of arrivals at passport control on, say, a Saturday evening; the mournful stocks of hairspray and aftershave discarded at departures; the breathtaking costs incurred by anyone ignorant enough to take a taxi into the city, and - more personally - the peculiar humiliation of being forced after a sleepless 20-hour flight from the Far East, to pay in duty half the cost of a Hong Kong-made suit that falls apart two days later.

Security is a fact of life - though Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, apart from the harassment of even Israeli Arabs, seems to do it so much more efficiently. And the sheer volume of traffic means that expansion of Heathrow, even at an unfathomable environmental cost, will never be enough. Runners-up are Baghdad, because of the world's most terrifying approach road and - a cheat, this - Gaza International Airport, which has been closed for seven years.

Peter Popham: Delhi

The marble walls and floors of Delhi's Indira Gandhi international airport are the colour of dead flesh under the fluorescent lights, the carpeting is a thin scarlet runner, and paan stains are splattered in corners. Creature comforts are negligible. Passport control takes an eternity. Half the trolleys are broken down. They force you to x-ray your luggage coming in to the country as well as going out. The taxi stands strategically located before the exits snare innocent tourists and charge them several times the rate of the regular taxi wallahs outside. The duty-free shops are a joke.

Still, there are others: Heathrow is horrible; Frankfurt destroys the soul; Dhaka had no signboards the last time I was there, and Mae Sot (in Thailand), in my experience, has no aeroplanes.

Ruth Elkins: Basel-Mulhouse

Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg Airport is "a symbol of international co-operation". At least that's how the "EuroAirport" website tells it. It's a tri-national gateway to Switzerland, France and Germany - all of which co-exist in perfect aviation harmony. Great in theory. So bad in practice.

It would probably be okay if Basel were an entirely Swiss-run, neutral affair. But it ain't. Although it boasts a Swiss "sector", it's actually in France and the faux-Tyrolean caff in the "French Sector" refuses to open before 9am. It's also difficult to get back in, should you wish to go to Switzerland but mistakenly leave through the unmarked exit for France. But what really makes Basel hell is the Carestel News Café. The circular bar, perched between French and German departure lounges, has one French waiter. Sandwiches are displayed on the French side of the bar. And the waiter stays that side, too.

Kathy Marks: Jakarta

The minimum one-hour journey from the city centre, battling along a traffic-choked motorway, is a poor introduction to Jakarta's airport. Things don't improve much when you arrive. First, the check-in desks at the international terminal are concealed behind a false wall. And don't bother trying to find airline ticketing desks.

The cafés and duty-free shops are woeful. If your flight is delayed, there's a small and expensive hotel within the international terminal. Jakarta's domestic terminal is always busy, and if you need service at a ticket desk, you have to use your elbows. taxi touts can be oppressive. The only saving grace is the courtesy of its Indonesian staff.

My other contenders for the world's worst airport are Bogota, an extremely scary place to emerge from at night, and Heathrow.

Patrick Cockburn: Baghdad

Baghdad airport is hell. It is approached down a dangerous highway. Suitcases and cars are searched, and searched again. Everything is done in a miasma of fear. Everywhere, there are cement blast walls and razor wire to impede the enterprising suicide bomber.

Some passengers fall at the first hurdle: they do not have an exit visa. Why this is necessary is unclear, but it adds to the earnings of the interior ministry. Last year, I saw a wounded French photographer with shrapnel through his shoulder being turned back. You cannot get in to the airport complex without a ticket, but this may not be enough. Some airline staff systematically sell more seats than there are on the plane. It is wise to be first in the queue. One American whom I was standing next to almost had a nervous breakdown when he was "bumped", and paid a $1 100 (R7 700) bribe to get back on. The departure lounge is also testing, because there are no announcements.

Andrew Gumbel: Los Angeles/LAX

It can be argued that all American airports became the world's worst after September 11. I retain a special dislike for LAX. Nothing approaches the horror of American Airlines losing control of Terminal 4 when - at least on a couple of occasions - it refused to staff the check-in desks adequately and made no provision for passengers with imminent departures. Over at terminal one, the security queue often snakes hundreds of metres outside.

Experts have pointed out that the queue itself is a risk - any terrorist could drive by with a sub-machine gun. The scrapping of in-flight meals on domestic flights has caused fresh hell, giving passengers the choice of queueing all over again for overpriced sandwiches and coffee, or going hungry for hours on end.

Andrew Buncombe: Rangoon

There's nothing bad about Rangoon's Mingaladon airport in itself. It's clean and bright - and the recently completed facilities hum with efficiency - but I shall always associate it with a feeling of intense anxiety. The last time I visited Rangoon (or Yangong, as it's officially called), like 99 percent of journalists who ever fly there, I was posing as a tourist and afraid of being caught.

In the past, I've had similar stomach knots flying into Havana: the Cubans are also reluctant to give journalists visas, so I was trying to cover the preparations for Fidel Castro's 80th birthday while posing as a holidaymaker.

In Cuba, I was detained for hours after getting out my laptop in the departures lounge. Officials put me on a later plane after confiscating my notebooks.

Steve Bloomfield: Mogadishu

The approach into Mogadishu's international airport - swooping over unspoilt white and orange beaches, the deep, blue waves of the Indian Ocean crashing into the shore - is one of the most beautiful in Africa. The arrival is quite different. Insurgents throughout the city have been known to lob the odd shell in the direction of the airport. To leave the airport requires an escort of at least four men with AK-47s.

In a country where al-Qaeda's East African wing is now considered fully operational, Somali immigration officials are naturally keen to ensure no one unauthorised smuggles their way through immigration. Unfortunately, the checks seem to consist of little more than handing out letters informing disembarking passengers: "After a thorough investigation it has been established that 'insert name here' is not a member of al-Qaeda".

No other African airport is likely to be bombed as the plane attempts to land. But there are a handful of others that scare passengers in different ways. In Freetown, Sierra Leone, the seven-minute helicopter ride from airport to city on old, rusty Russian-made helicopters (flown by old, rusty Russian-made pilots) makes it an experience to forget.

Kinshasa is a nightmare in a different sense. At some airports the corruption is low-key. At Kinshasa, things are upfront and strangely businesslike. Want to collect your bag? That will be $20. Want to get your passport stamped? That will be $10, plus an extra $10 if you want it done today.

Sophie Lam: Gatwick

Disappointing is the word that best sums up the world's busiest single-runway airport. Nowhere makes me more eager to leave Britain, while making it more difficult to do so. It's the South Terminal I really loathe. Once you've made it to the end of the interminable security queue, past the understaffed security checks and into the claustrophobically circular airside concourse, you're in a maelstrom of human traffic, hemmed in by mediocre shops. The passages leading to departure gates seem to be in a permanent state of renovation.

Shaun Walker: Moscow

Moscow Sheremetyevo is a drab shoebox of an airport reachable by a single road that also leads to Ikea, St Petersburg and half the world's dachas. It can take three hours to get there from the city centre.

Once there, the only acceptable food option is at TGI Friday's that takes an age to prepare the simplest order.

At passport control, scan each line for anyone of black or Asian appearance and pick the one with the fewest such people - the border guards give anyone who isn't Caucasian extra hassle.

Outside, you'll be accosted by taxi sharks demanding R700 or more to get to the city centre. Bargain them down to R350, get into a Lada that reeks of petrol, and look forward to that three-hour drive.

Next-worst is Yerevan, Armenia. Every time I go I forget that, on leaving, there's a mysterious $25 "tax", payable only in Armenian drams and handed to a hirsute Armenian who doesn't take credit cards and gives you a slip saying "Passangar Departure Tax". - Foreign Service


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