Airports: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

First impressions mean everything. They do. It’s true. Think about it. From appearances to actions, they can make or break any potential relationship before the flame can come to fruition.

You see a girl across the way. Nice hair, dreamy eyes, pretty face, attractive figure, nice clothes. You want to talk to her. Same situation: ill fitting clothes, dirty hair, sloppy. Chances are, you aren’t going to introduce yourself. There’s no need. A guy walks up to you at the bar. He is nicely dressed, sharp, well groomed. He says, hi. Asks your name, compliments your accessories, seems like he wants to get to know you. Same situation: nice looking guy opens his mouth and is a blabbering douche. You’re probably texting your girlfriend 9-1-1 or throwing your drink in his face.

Two examples of parallel situations in which a first impression is the difference between friends, lovers, or soulmates; and, well…someone you don’t care to know.

The same holds true for things other than people. Books are often judged by their covers. But let’s take a look at something rarely discussed: airports. It seems that cities have been overlooking their airports. But why? Often times the airport is the first impression of a new place. Oh, but the city is why people visit, not the airport. This is certainly true. My wife and I visited Asia just last year. We made stops and stays in Bali, Siem Reap, and Bangkok. We had already booked our stays at these cities, and what a lovely vacation we had. All three places were exquisite and we didn’t give the airports much thought. While the airport didn’t matter at those destinations for this trip, others did.

We had two layovers: Taipei and Kuala Lumpur. As a result of these layovers, I will never book a vacation to Malaysia—ever. And why? Because of the airport…because of a first impression. Because the girl across at Starbucks was wearing a dumpy sweatshirt and looked like she hadn’t bathed in days. Because the guy had dirty teeth and an untrimmed beard. Because the whole place was dirty, the people were rude, and I felt unsafe. Because the walls were dingy, smoke-stained yellow, and I felt like I was in a horror film. My wife tells me Malaysia is beautiful. The beaches are nice and the city is lovely. I don’t want to see. I have seen enough. A first impression, a bad one, is all it took.

Taipei, Taiwan never was on my radar of places to vacation, and still isn’t. The airport was bleh. It didn’t sway me either way. I felt safe. The facilities were nice enough, nothing spectacular. The food (or lack of food) sucked, but not enough to make me say NO to Taiwan. However, it certainly wasn’t enough to make me think, “Wow, this could be a beautiful place and I would like to visit.” A lackluster showing, although not making me say no, you certainly didn’t attract me. Taipei airport is the guy that’s average looking, just sitting next to you at the bar. He keeps looking at you, modestly, but never says anything, and seems like he doesn’t have much to offer. You move on. And so did I.

“Rusty, what’s your favorite city?” When I visited Sydney in 2015, it instantly became my favorite. Pristine beaches, delicious food, beautiful people, there is really nothing not to like. In 2016, on our honeymoon, Amsterdam and Budapest muddied the waters a bit and gave me three favorites. Just like the Myspace top eight back in the early 2000s, cities were jostling for position on my favorites list. Paris jumped into the mix in 2017 and booted Budapest. I decided I was going to have a top three. Paris, Amsterdam, and Sydney, an easy answer to the often asked question of, “what is your favorite.”

Prague was knocking at the door, and another trip to Budapest actually moved Amsterdam off the list, but only for a short while. Why? Because Paris is the girl at the bar that seems to have everything going for her. She’s a hottie, ravishing in her sleeveless black dress with the plunging neckline. She definitely has the body for it. She sips elegantly on a classic martini, shaken not stirred. Her lipstick is perfect, and her eyes are devilishly inviting. I walk over and chat her up a bit. She smiles a perfect smile, teeth as white as snow with breath like cinnamon, and chats back in the language of love. She writes her number in red on a cocktail napkin. Yeah, I’m definitely into Paris.

As she raises her arm to signal for the check, the sex appeal vanishes and my smittenness fades into the night. I just can’t be into someone with hairy underarm, no matter how perfect the dress fits or how divine she smells. Sorry Paris, you’re off the list. Sydney, Ams, and Buda all shave. It’s the 21st century, come on Paris! Such a great city to have such a huge blemish. The Charles de Gaulle airport can be a nightmare, as it was recently. It took us over an hour to get from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 via the airport bus,. Terminal 1 is atrocious, riddled with inefficiency and rudeness. Crammed like sardines we were in gates 73-78 with only one small airport cafe trying to serve 1500+ passengers. Luckily, there are three terminals so I will be back. I still love Paris, she just can’t be a favorite. That neckline tho!

Cities should spend a little more time on their airports, especially cities that thrive on tourism. Often times, a passerby only gets one look at your country or your city, and that look is the airport in which he is connecting. So countries, cities, airports, trade your dumpy tracksuit and flip flops for nice jeans and a jacket. Groom your nails, have a shower, and shave. Maybe wear a nice watch. Smile and have something nice to say. It’s much better to attract than to repel, don’t you think? Make a good first impression, and you just may reap what you sow.

You know the bad, but what about the good? Here are my top 4 airports and why. Paris and Taipei, if you’re listening, take notes!

SIN: Singapore Changi Airport. It’s really not fair. All other airport are playing for second, because Singapore has already won. Let’s pretend for a minute you don’t have a long layover. So you don’t need the rooftop pool or have time to visit the butterfly exhibit. You only have 45 minutes so you can’t enjoy the nearly 100 restaurants offering every kind of food possible. Oh, and forget about going to the 24-hour movie theater or countless spas located INSIDE the airport. You have no time for any of those amenities, what you need is help to get to your next plane! Not to fear, people actually work at this airport. There are hundreds of Singaporeans in purple blazers with an iPad ready to get you on your way. Yeah, my entry point to Asia is SIN, pun intended.

PHX: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, AZ. Hard to follow Singapore, but ringing in as the best airport in the USA, is PHX. Rarely a cancellation or delay, perhaps because the weather in Phoenix is nearly always the same–hot and dry. Combine that with the friendly efficient staff and a plethora of dining options, and you have a winning combination. Oh, and clean. Very clean. It’s more like a giant mall with airplane terminals. The paint is always fresh, the floors are sparkling, and the smell isn’t of an old prison cell. Phoenix, great job.

IAH: Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, TX. My sample size here is quite large, as this is my home airport and has been since I began flying 15 years ago. Delays are very rare, and the facilities are clean. Y’all, Houston is the 4th biggest city in the USA so this place gets some traffic. With that said, you never have to get on a bus to get to a different portion of the airport. You can walk to all 5 terminals and never go outside, or you can take the interterminal train. The staff isn’t as efficient as some other airports, but with everything else going for it, Houston IAH makes my top 4.

AMS: Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Clean and efficient define the Dutch, and their airport is no exception. This is one of the busiest airports in all of Europe and they know how to get things done. Not to mention, the food is great. Passport control is a breeze. This is my go-to entry point to Europe. And serving as a hub for Delta by partnering with Air France and KLM doesn’t hurt things at all. Enter Europe via AMS if possible and you will see the view pictured here.

Let’s get going! I’ve only been on the ground for a few days, but I’m ready to get at it again! Happy travelling!

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