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World's 10 Worst Airport Terminals

Posted on January 27, 2012 at 8:25 AM


           Chicago Midway Airport                                                      Paris Beauvais Airport, France

By Sascha Segan Frommer's Travel Guides


Most airports are awful. At best they’re joyless econoboxes, at worst purgatorial warehouses of stalled lives. Some airports deserve special condemnation, though. In some cases, they deserve to be literally condemned. Assembling this top 10 list of misfits I scanned professional surveys and delay statistics and asked my frequent-traveler friends to come up with the 10 airports where you'd least like to spend an extra hour.

I'm sticking to major airports here. There are small airports around the world that consist of a shanty that swelters in the summer and freezes in the winter, with a hole in the wall for baggage claim and a single sad concession stand. (I'm actually describing my experience at Udaipur Airport in India in 1999). But that's not fair. These 10 airports should deliver better service, and they don't. I'm listing them from least worst to the absolute worst.

Chicago Midway Airport

Chicago's Midway airport ranked as the nation's worst for on-time departures in the most recent federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics data, earning it a spot on this list. It isn't a bad place to hang out, with a new food court and a frequent subway connection to downtown Chicago, but any airport is the worst airport if you're stuck there and you aren't getting on a plane. Consider this the least worst of our set of bad airports. Midway's curse may come more from Chicago's notoriously difficult weather than from any problem the airport itself can fix.

"Paris" Beauvais Airport, France

A solid 50 miles north of Paris, this depressing low-cost box of an airport in Picardy got saddled with a bait-and-switch name by Ryanair, the ultimate bait-and-switch airline. It rated as one of the world's worst airports by friends because of its lack of seating, lack of services, and general half-tent, half-warehouse atmosphere. It lacks a rail link to Paris and closes overnight, so hope that your flight doesn't get too delayed, or you may be camping out on the lawn.


For years, Ryanair liked to play this trick of stamping the names of famous cities on distant small-town airports with poor transit links that weren't designed for much tourist traffic: thus Beauvais and "Barcelona Reus," which is more than an hour and a half from Barcelona.

Newark Airport Terminal B

All three major New York City airports are on this list, in large part because they're run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a hideously mismanaged money sink that does a poor job of responding to air travelers' needs. Newark got two stars--the worst rating--in JD Power's 2010 airport study. It's also the nation's worst airport for on-time arrivals in the most recent federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics data.


Newark Airport Terminal B                                                La Guardia US Airways Terminal,NY

Fortunately you'll be stuck waiting at your point of origin, because Newark is an awfully dull airport to wait for a flight in. The airport idiotically puts security before individual piers in Terminals A and B, which means that rather than have a whole terminal's food and shopping to entertain you, you're stuck out on a single pier. It's pretty quiet out there.

LaGuardia Airport US Airways Terminal, New York City

I don't hate LaGuardia, but it was recently rated the worst major airport in America by both JD Power and Associates and Zagat Survey, so who am I to argue?

LaGuardia has no rail link to anywhere--even between its own terminals--and regularly suffers from congestion, overcrowding, and delays. While its terminals are shaping up, they're still each smaller and with fewer services than you'd expect from an airport at one of the top tourist destinations in the world. I'm giving the US Airways Terminal the worst-terminal award here because at least the central terminal has an atrium and the Delta terminal just got some new food options. The US Airways terminal is dull and sad.

Amman Queen Alia Airport, Jordan

One of the two airports rated "two stars" by global consulting firm Skytrax, Amman gets lousy ratings for services that might be useful if you're hanging around--bathroom cleanliness, places to rest, children’s play facilities, and service counters. Reviews on the Skytrax website make it clear that you may just want to "hold it" in this airport: they're almost universally appalled at the state of the bathrooms. Those reviewers have probably never been to JFK Terminal 3, but still, that isn't good.


Queen Alia Airport, Jordan                                                          Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 3

Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, Terminal 3

CDG got the "worst airport" award two years running from, but this year site owner Donna McSherry decided to give it a break, in part because now "the homeless population was being segregated" to "the Third World-inspired Terminal 3." Big takeaway here: If you're worrying about how to distribute your homeless population, you're one of the worst major airports.

De Gaulle is a huge airport where many people have to transfer, but it's an awful airport to change planes in; many flights require a change between CDG's various scattered terminal buildings, which are connected primarily by slow, confusing shuttle buses. Changing planes here is tiring, irritating, and sometimes a little terrifying. This being Paris, there is also usually a strike on.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi

Nairobi's airport, which aspires to be an international hub, was built to support about 2.5 million passengers and now averages about double that. As a result, the Kenyan government announced plans to expand the airport. That was in 2005. They aren't done yet. I've been to JKIA, and it reinforces all of the bad stereotypes about Africa that you wish weren't true. It's hot, ugly, dirty and confusing, full of touts and scam artists and perpetually overcrowded. African airports don't have to be like this, of course: the Marrakech airport is one of the most beautiful in the world, and Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo airport is at least efficient.


Jomo Kenyatta, Nairobi                                                       Sheremtyevo,Terminal B/C,Russia 

The Kenyan government says construction on a new terminal will begin in January. Perhaps someday, the Nairobi airport improvement project will be finished. Until then, this Third World construction site remains a place for travelers to avoid.

Moscow Sheremtyevo Airport, Terminal B/C, Russia

One of the two airports rated "two stars" by global consulting firm Skytrax (nobody got one star), SVO B/C got particularly bad marks for anything where you have to interact with airport staff: their attitude, their language skills, and the speed with which they process passengers. Reviewers suggest that you brush up on your Russian if you intend to transfer flights, because signboards and staff tend not to work in English.


Depressingly, SVO Terminal B/C is partially a new terminal, but it still got one or two-star rankings from Skytrax on "leisure facilities," "baggage hall," and "meet and greet." It's also several miles away from the rest of the airport and from its rail station, making inter-terminal connections difficult. Fortunately, there's a better alternative nearby: Domodedovo Airport, which generally gets better rankings and reviews.

Manila Airport Terminal 1, Philippines

Last May, the ceiling at Manila airport's Terminal 1 caved in, injuring two people. That's part of why Sleeping in Airports rated it the world's worst terminal last year. "The terminal has been a frequent target of criticism with travelers and the business community complaining it is congested, run-down and filthy, with toilets that do not work," Agence France Presse commented. According to Sleeping In Airports, bribery and theft are also rampant in the terminal.


The negative press attention seems to have had some effect; this November the Philippine government said it would renovate the terminal starting in January. It looks like changes can't come too soon.


Manila Airport Terminal 1                                                             JFK Airport Terminal 3

JFK Airport Terminal 3, New York City

In 1960, Pan American Airlines built the Worldport: a grand, flying-saucer-shaped gateway to the Jet Age. Fifty-one years later, this decrepit, crumbling chunk of concrete is still used by Delta as an international hub. Terminal 3 is the worst single airport terminal in America, and probably in the Western world. Even Delta acknowledges this: they're tearing it down and replacing it with a giant glass structure connected to the nearby Terminal 4. It's unsalvageable.

Terminal 3 is known for endless immigration lines in a dank basement, for an utter lack of food and shopping options, three crowded and confusing entry points, hallways that could have been designed by M.C Escher and for vomiting international travelers out onto an underground sidewalk with no cabs available. There's also a sense that the cleaning crew gave up in despair a while ago.

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