This list includes only airports I’ve stayed in and is entirely influenced by my own personal experiences. For that reason, I shall include a little story within each description. As I visit more countries and see more of these airplane resting places, the list will likely change. That said, here are the five best and five worst airports so far.
Manas International: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan - Most Chaotic
If I could summarize my experience going to and staying in Manas Airport in just two words, they would be: Sheer Chaos. I’ve never, in my entire life, been in such a place, let alone such an airport. And I’m not saying this to criticize (as I did not put it my ‘Worst Airports’ section), I’m just saying that the place is crazy. There are no lines anywhere to be found, just large clusters of passengers jockeying their way to baggage check in where the clerk never bothered to weigh anything (hurray me for flying with 4 extra kg!). If announcments are made, they are vague or contradictory, and even on my way there, my driver was pulled over for going over 100mph (160kph) and simply bribed the cop in order to keep going. Overall, it was far to exciting and bizarre to be a bad experience, but I must warn you to be prepared if you ever fly in or out of here.
5 Best Airports
5. T. F. Green International (Providence, RI, USA)
Most of the flying I have done out of the States has been from giant, crowded airports like JFK and Logan. Therefore, when I found a discounted flight last year from Providence to Ireland, I instantly went for it. Since then, I’ve flown out of Providence an additional two times and have absolutely zero regrets. Here’s why:
First of all, the airport is incredibly easy to get to. It’s right off of 95, rendering it nearly impossible to get lost, and since it’s so small, you don’t have to worry about the dreaded airport traffic.* On top of that, it’s small and clean inside with less that 20 total gates, and since the traffic is relatively small, you never have to wait in line for food or anything. But the best part, from my point of view, is that unlike most other American airports, the TSA staff there has always been nice and polite. Never once have they ‘randomly selected’ be for a search.
As of about 2 years ago, Providence now has discount flights on Norwegian Air to Ireland and the UK. If you buy early enough in advance, you can get round trip tickets for under $250 (220 euro) to cities like Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Belfast, and Edinburgh. Make sure to check on multiple days when searching since there are about three flights to each airport every week (meaning they aren’t daily).
4. Shannon Airport (Shannon, Ireland)
While the airport itself is very small and a bit isolated, there is something else that helped this airport reach this list. You see, I’m a history nerd with a caffeine addiction. And this airport holds the claim of being the birthplace of Irish coffee back in the 1940s (yes, to all you nay sayers out there, I know some have challenged this claim). Whether it is the exact birthplace or not, it is still pretty cool to visit a location that is strongly connected to the wonderful, sweet mixture of a stimulant and depressant. But regardless of that, I also met a elderly Irish brother and sister from Limerick at this airport who offered to drive me over an hour to my destination, thus helping me avoid the aggravation and cost of a public bus. So even without the drink, the company keeps this airport solidly on the list.
3. Helsinki, Finland
While I’ve only been to this airport once, I shared a experience with it that’ll stay in my memory until the Alzheimer’s sinks in. It was August of 2016 and I had an 11 hour layover (from 11pm to 10am) en route from Dublin to Moscow. I was fairly broke as usual, so instead of booking a hostel in the city for the night, I made the conscious decision to spend the night at the airport. Although I had several nighttime layovers before, this would be the first time I spent the whole night in an airport. And like a teenager being handed his first alcoholic beverage, I was excited to find out what it was like.
Being the largest international airport of a developed European country, I expected to be alongside a few other companion travelers. But for some reason, there were none. Shortly after my flight landed, the few remaining passengers exited the airport, the shops shut down, and by midnight, all airport staff had gone as well. I was entirely alone, and according to the arrival screen, no plane would be coming or going until 8:00 in the morning.
2. Keflavik International (Reykjavik, Iceland)
Despite never having been out in the open air of Iceland, I’ve had numerous layovers in this airport while transiting between North America and Europe. And no matter how sleep deprived I’ve been, this place has always been a pleasure. The place itself has a warm and comfortable feel, as most of the structures are wooden, and there’s nothing too flashy. The airport is big enough that it never feels cramped or crowded, yet small enough that you cannot get lost or feel intimidated. No one seems to be in a rush, and the staff (at least from my personal experiences) is pretty friendly and helpful.
I highly recommend looking for flights that stop here if you happen to be flying from Europe to North America. Since Reykjavik services both WizzAir and Wow Air (their own discount airline), you’ll likely save a great deal of money by taking this route. Plus, if you go in June, you’ll get to see the island’s famous 24 hour daylight as you gaze out over the horizon at what seems like it could be another planet. The best way I could sum it up would be by saying that it provides a welcoming solace for the weary traveler.
It was a cold, rainy day in February when I landed in Baku’s Heydar Aliev International Airport. I was sleep deprived and disoriented, having just flown for nearly 13 hours while changing 9 different time zones. Needless to say, it seemed like it was going to be one of those experiences I needed to just get through and forget about… that was until I walked into the airport and my entire mood changed.
After going through customs, I stared in awe at what stood all around me. People were few and garbage was non-existant. The whole surrounding area was clean and elegant, yet cozy and welcoming. The color tones were warm, and the floor was soft with carpeting. Here and there were coffee and snack shops, each containing many unoccupied padded chairs. There were no loud noises and no large groups of obnoxious tourists (I guess February in Baku hasn’t caught on yet). After wandering about, I laid down on one of the soft, padded benches to have a sort rest and wait for my connecting flight. While there, no one bothered me an no one (unlike in France) yelled at me and told me to get up.
In the end, I was in the airport for a grand total of two and a half hours before taking off to Tbilisi (my final destination). Usually, I leave airports with a cold, impersonal feeling of disgust, but here I left relaxed, warm, and with a positive outlook on the rest of my travels. It may have been just a short moment, but it was enough to land Baku in the top spot.
JFK International (New York, NY, USA)
Anyone familiar with this site (or me as a person) is probably well aware of my feelings towards this place. I don’t like it. Going here is about as pleasant as stepping on a infected nail while simultaneously collapsing due to kidney failure. Imagine a place where you had to pay $10 for a soggy, old sandwich, surrounding traffic was bad, and security was unhelpful. Well, that imagined place would seem like heaven compared to this airport. At JFK, the soggy old sandwiches are $15, traffic is a nightmare, and airport security actively makes your travel more stressful. I’ve been pulled aside and frisked during the baggage scan more time than I can count, and whenever I return back to the country, I’m questioned as if I’m on the terrorist-watch list. I could go on, but I recommend you read my story (see below) to get a complete picture of it.
For more detail of JFK’s awfulness, please read this harrowing tale:
For the first 27 years of my life, I was convinced there would never be an airport worse than New York’s JFK… that was until I had a layover in Beauvis, France (Paris suburb) on my way from Dublin to Kutaisi, Georgia. My entire layover was 10 hours overnight, and because I was nearly out of money, I planned to spend the night in the airport before taking off the following morning. And while the airport itself looked a bit cemetery end prison-like, I was willing to curl up on one of the old couches near the mini food court and wait it out. Unfortunately for me though, this airport closes at 10:00 pm and the staff forcibly kicks you out. Not only that, but the genius who planned everything decided that the last bus to the city would leave at 8:00. Therefore, if your flight gets in at 9:30 (as mine did), you’re entirely out of luck. And don’t even think about asking the staff for help, they’re more likely to pour salt on your wounds than assist you in any way. But anyway, if you’re curious to know how this harrowing night went, please read my story. (there are cartoons)
For reasons why you should never use this airport, read here: