From Los Angeles to Luton: The world’s worst airports

Which airports have proved the most unpleasant over the past 12 months? The Independent travel team decides

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The Independent Travel

Perhaps the worst thing about travelling a lot for your job is the amount of time you spend in airports. The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder and head of travel Laura Chubb pick the ones that have proved most trying in the past year – take note, and learn from our pain.

Simon says: Iqaluit, Baffin Island

Understandably, remote airports in thinly populated areas tend not to offer great shopping, dining and rooftop swimming pools. Given the challenges in the far north, all you can do is hope the flight is on time. My incredibly expensive (£500-plus) hop to Ottawa was 13 hours late, because one airline refused to operate and another had to be found. For the last couple of hours of the delay, passengers were kept in yellow school buses rather than in the terminal.

Simon says: Madrid, Spain

Public transport from the city, in the shape of the direct train link to Terminal 4, was late and slow. The inter-terminal transit bus to the older terminals takes an age — they are so far apart that the charming town of Barajas intervenes. The easyJet flight was late for no apparent reason, and the facilities were so poor that most of us sat on the floor while we waited. MAD is both the airport code and the mood of the average passenger.

Laura says: Los Angeles, US

Transiting through LAX to catch a connecting flight to Tahiti last year was an ordeal. First of all, staff directing the queues at immigration had no idea what they were doing. I was ushered into the wrong line, which added an hour to getting through passport control – not ideal when you’ve only got two hours before your next flight takes off. Upon being called forward, the friendly chap at the desk took offence at the Arabic stamps in my passport, and made vaguely threatening remarks about the stupidity of my “countrymen” going to such places on holiday, adding the US wouldn’t be letting us in with stamps like this soon. Not even the sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger in line at security could cheer me up after that chilly reception.

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Happy passengers at Luton Airport (AFP/Getty Images)

Simon says: Luton, Bedfordshire

An August Sunday: delays on the approach to the airport (I was among the many who got out and walked), long security queues, and then airside there was such sclerosis that my Wizz Air plane was an hour late simply because everything took so long — cheating me out of 60 minutes of sunshine at my destination.

Laura says: Barbados, Caribbean

As if it weren’t bad enough that you’re leaving the sunny climes of the Caribbean to land back in grim London, Grantley Adams airport makes a point of ensuring your departure is as unpleasant as possible. It’s tiny, rammed full of sunburnt holidaymakers with nowhere to sit, and the duty free shop is really expensive, so you can’t even take the edge off with a splash of rum. I also witnessed staff willfully ignoring a solo, elderly wheelchair-bound passenger calling out for water at the un-air-conditioned gate. 

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Barbados: The beaches are heaven, but the airport is hell

Simon says: Abu Dhabi, UAE

In the 1980s, I used to visit Abu Dhabi airport a lot: it was a regular refuelling stop for flights to Asia and Australia. I remember the terminal comprising a ghastly green dome with lousy facilities. Astonishingly, given the way that Etihad has become a global force, on my latest visit the experience was no better. The only thing I like about Abu Dhabi airport is the Premier Inn, which offers a cheap and comfortable sleep.

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Abu Dhabi's skyline has changed a lot since the 1980s; the airport, not so much (Getty)

Laura says: Calgary, Canada

I can’t tell you what the inside of Calgary airport is like, because I never saw it. Instead, I sat on the snowbound runway for three hours on Christmas Eve, while the captain – who had made an emergency landing there to offload an ill baby – wrangled with the airport and his bosses over fees before we could take off again. (At least that’s what the captain seemed to say, sparking a near-riot on board.) Three cheers for the holiday spirit. 

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