What is a good airport?

Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Not too long ago, that was not a frequently-asked- question. Airports were taken for granted as basic infrastructure, like bus-stations or taxi-stands. True, there was a certain glamour about them, but that special aura in the old days was more due to the aeroplanes and the ensuing exotic travel than to the actual airports themselves. Airports were seen but not noticed. In this millennium, however, everything has changed.

Air-travel today has become a norm in many societies, with people travelling for leisure, education, employment, business, family-reunions, meetings and a host of other reasons. Thousands even commute regularly on commercial flights, making air-travel quite a humdrum routine. In such a scenario, airports become more important, and people become more particular about the place where they spend an increasing amount of time.

The aviation industry has also evolved to a stage where airlines can pick and choose which destinations they want to fly to, or where they wish to hub. This millennium has seen the development of a new phenomenon – airport marketing. Competition is keen, and airports are being forced to think of more innovative and imaginative ways to attract airlines and air-travellers. As such, airports are becoming interesting places in themselves! Again, the concept of ‘airports as destinations’ is still new, but it is rapidly gaining currency as the travel industry evolves into this new millennium.

Airports are also becoming more lively as the retail sections become more extensive and comprehensive. This is because more airports are depending on non-aeronautical (read: shopping!) sources of revenue in order to remain competitive for airlines, and turn a profit at the same time.  However, many airport-operators are taking the shopping-concept to extremes, clogging up passenger traffic areas and deliberately directing harried air-travellers through their retail areas. In our opinion, if an air-traveller misses a flight because the shopping areas slowed the speed of transfer to the boarding-gate, an airport has defeated its purpose of existence.

A good airport, then, should first and foremost be efficient in transferring passengers from their point of arrival at the facility to their point of departure.
The passengers should pass through all checkpoints and connecting pints easily and swiftly, with minimal fuss. Secondly, it should be pleasant to use – be it for arrival, departure, transit, to accompany someone else, or even as a destination in itself. Thirdly, it must be as secure and as safe as is practically possible in this age of real and perceived threats. Next, a good airport will not be over-priced. While luxury travel for the elite still remains a significant sector of the market, air-travel is now a mass-industry and a good airport will reflect this broad-based demand in its fees and retail offerings.

Finally, and very important in our own book, a good airport will have a unique and attractive sense of place. In this respect, we are sick and tired of enormous look-alike glass-and-steel edifices with more ego than identity. A point to note for all airport-planners and builders of airports in the future:- in designing your futuristic monument to air-travel, it would be a very good idea if you worked with the tourism professionals and culture experts in your country. Only in this way will the airport truly reflect the national character and identity of the country to which it is an international gateway.

In our own extensive travels around the world, however, certain airports stand out from the crowd for specific attributes. In our own quirky and entirely subjective evaluation, these are our Best Airports Of The World. … read all about them here.