Consultancy firm Skytrax surveyed 8.6 million passengers at 190 airports for its World Airport Awards 2009. Incheon (S Korea), Hong Kong and Changi (Singapore) led the list – but it was the regional award for best airport in the Middle East that caught my eye: Tel Aviv, followed by Bahrain and Dubai. Tel Aviv? Were they handbagged?
Dubai, as always, impresses by the achievement on display, but it felt to me rather like checking into a very upmarket, contemporary styled luxury hotel – part of you feels like you really ought to deserve such surroundings, but mostly you’re struggling to ignore the artifice.
Bahrain I have good memories of – small, easy to navigate, approachable and straightforward in a cheery kind of way. Much like the people.
First-placed Tel Aviv, on the other hand, wins my award for Longest, Most Pointless, Grandiose Walkway – on the epic trek within Arrivals at Terminal 3:
– while it also has a (how can I put this?) unique requirement before you can enter the terminal, spelled out in pictograms:
(Remember to check everywhere, just in case you forgot about that little handgun you left in your suitcase after the last trip…)
For what it’s worth, this travel writer’s favourite Middle Eastern airport experience, in terms of character if not facilities, was in Jeddah’s South Terminal – built in 1981 and, tragically, due to be replaced in a couple of years. There was no air-conditioning (thank heavens I was only there in June, not August); zillions of people – lots on the journey of a lifetime and all willing to smile and chat, bar the check-in staff; unrenovated 80s decor, badly designed and grubby with fingermarks; incomprehensible announcements interspersed with Qur’anic recitation; stale coffee; uncomfortable seating – it had the lot. I loved it: such a relief to be back in the real world again.
Most of all, in a very unusual turnaround, the airport experience made me actually want to get on the plane (a Saudi Airlines shuttle to Riyadh) and get going: the buzz reconnected me with the excitement of travel.
It didn’t last long, though. Once I was installed, two fully veiled women wanted my window seat so they could sit together, which meant I had to move to a men-only row in mid-plane further back. Cultural nuances aside, flying reverted to an irritation to be tolerated…