One necessary part of being a world traveller is spending time at airports. It might sound strange but I miss the things that used to annoy me about airports like having to wait 30 minutes at the bag carousel to see if your bag arrived on the flight with you, waiting endless hours in an airport because your flight got cancelled/delayed or racing between gates to catch a connecting flight.
Having traversed the world, I have spent my fair share of time in airports, from the best to the less than stellar and downright dangerous. These are some of my favourite airports along with a few interesting ones!
Singapore Changi Airport is consistently voted among the top airports in the world and, having visited and transited through the airport many times, I can understand why. The airport is a destination in itself and if there was any airport in the world to have to whittle away hours waiting for a flight, this is the place to do it.
There are as many shopping and dining venues in each terminal that you would find in a couple of shopping malls. From worldwide brands such as Apple, Bvlgari and Hugo Boss to a myriad of local companies, you could easily spend a few hundred dollars in the airport.
You also won’t go hungry in the airport with everything from street food, fast food to fine dining available.
What really sets Singapore Airport apart are the attractions, main among them is the new Jewel Changi Airport, connected to Terminal 1 and also accessible to Terminal 2 and 3 via a link bridge.
The Jewel is a nature themed entertainment and retail complex which includes gardens, attractions, a hotel, about 300 retail and dining outlets, and convenient early baggage check-in facilities. It covers a total gross floor area of 135,700 m2, spanning 10 storeys – five above-ground and five basement levels. Its attractions include the Shiseido Forest Valley, an indoor garden spanning five storeys, and the Canopy Park at the topmost level, featuring gardens and leisure facilities.
Vancouver International Airport
Vancouver Airport is the gateway to Canada and has been voted the best North American airport for the past 11 years.
The location of the airport on Sea Island in Richmond, B.C., south of Vancouver, gives Vancouver International Airport an ideal location just 15 minutes from the downtown area and it also allows Vancouver Airport to host a floatplane terminal.
The airport is also known for two rather unique exhibits. The first of the two exhibits is the Vancouver Aquarium operates at the airport. The main aquarium showcases more than 850 indigenous sea animals, and the smaller exhibit houses jellyfish. You will find these exhibits in the International Terminal, Airside, Level 3 (main exhibit) and Level 4 (jellyfish exhibit).
The other unique exhibit is the First Nations Art that is found throughout the airport. The airport has the largest collection of Northwest Coast Native art in the world - the Spirit of Haida Gwaii is a particularly popular sculpture.
Srinagar Airport, Kashmir
Srinagar Airport is a military airbase that allows civilian flights from Delhi and Mumbai into Srinagar, Kashmir and is the main airport in the Kashmir region.
The airport itself is not memorable however the process to enter or exit the airport area is. With the double whammy of the airport being a military airbase, as well as being in the highly disputed region of Kashmir, the airport security is some of the tightest in the world.
On my trip to Kashmir I had to go through 6 different security checks both in and out of the airport including :
- At the front gate with my driver and car being checked for explosives
- Going through metal detectors before entering the terminal
- On entering the terminal having an army officer do a pat-down and check passport and air ticket
- After check-in with all luggage going through a scanner
- Before exiting the terminal building to board the plane you are once again patted down and ticket and passport checked, and finally;
- On the tarmac where each person has to identify their checked and carry-on luggage prior to it being loaded onto the plane so it can be checked off and tagged
Although the security checks can be burdensome it was well worth it as Kashmir is among the highlights of my travels so far. I had the opportunity to stay in a houseboat on one of the great lakes of the region and trek in the stunning remote mountains of the area where the only other people were some local sheepherders.
Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla
By far the most interesting and hair-raising airport I have travelled to is the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in the Himalayan town of Lukla which is a 40-minute flight from the Nepal capital Kathmandu. The flight itself is beautiful as you leave the urban sprawl of Kathmandu and travel through the Himalayas.
Lukla is the entry point to most trekking in the Himalaya’s including the Everest base camp treks making it the busiest airport in Nepal.
Perched high in the mountains, the airport has some very unique features including the runway being sloped upwards at a gradient of 12% to assist planes in slowing down in time due to the short runway.
It is consistently voted as the most dangerous airport in the world due to a number of factors including the short length of the runway. The runway is a mere 527 metres long and as a comparison, Sydney Airports main runway is seven times longer at 3962 metres.
The weather is also a factor. With the airport situated at high altitude, the air density is lower meaning pilots have to land at faster speeds and combined with the harsh landscape that surrounds it requires an expert pilot at the helm.
At the landing end of the runway lies a stone wall and a steep mountain. If the plane doesn’t stop soon enough, the terrain will stop it. As for the take-off, that side of the runway ends at the edge of a steep cliff all which makes for a unique landing and departure!