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When Finding the Best Airport Matters

SmarterTravel

I’ve sometimes scoffed at those surveys that rank the “best” airports—after all, if I’m headed to Portland, what do I care if the Portland airport scores below Hong Kong? There are times, however, when choosing an airport does matter:

  • When you’re connecting from one flight to another. You often have a choice of different airlines or alliances that connect through different hubs.
  • When you have a choice of different airports at your destination.

When you have to connect, three main factors come into play in considering hub airports:

  • Typical weather—You want to avoid hubbing in areas with frequent bad weather.
  • Congestion—Congestion means delays; delays mean possible missed connections.
  • Terminal changes—You don’t want long schleps from your arrival to your departure gate, and you really don’t want a hub where you must exit one terminal and pass through security again at your connecting terminal.

{{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}Skytrax, the big British-based airline data source, just released the results of its latest worldwide airport rankings. They cover just about any airport you might think of using. And as with most Skytrax rankings, top scores are concentrated in Asia and Europe.

The world’s best airport, says the survey, is Singapore, followed by Incheon (Seoul), Hong Kong, Munich, Kuala Lumpur, Zurich, Amsterdam, Beijing, Auckland, and Bangkok. It’s probably no coincidence that six of these top 10 are relatively new airports constructed to international standards from scratch rather than by gradual expansions of older facilities. Of greater interest to many of you:

  • Top North American airports are Vancouver, San Francisco, and Denver.
  • Top European airports are Barcelona, Helsinki, Istanbul, Madrid, Oslo, and Stockholm.
  • The best airports for international connections are Incheon, Munich, and Singapore.

Most top-rated fields act as hubs, too, so you can often find connections that use them.

Although the latest Skytrax scores and the ongoing star ratings cover many key airports, however, complete worldwide airport rankings are still in progress. In fact, most major North American airports still await published scores.

As to those main U.S. airports, your general first choice among popular hubs depends on the type of trip. Winter weather problems, congestion, and public transportation are important regardless of your itinerary. If you’re connecting between flights on the same airline, you usually don’t need to worry about exiting and re-entering security—transfers are “sterile,” meaning you stay within a single secured area. But if you have to change airlines, non-sterile connections can be a major hassle. Here are my personal thumbnails for the biggest U.S. hubs:

  • Atlanta—Few winter problems, sterile connections, good public transportation.
  • Chicago/O’Hare—Famous for weather and traffic delays and non-sterile interline connections, good public transportation. Midway is much better if it’s feasible.
  • Dallas-Ft. Worth—Few winter problems, sterile connections, poor public transportation.
  • Denver—Copes with winter weather well, sterile connections, poor public transportation.
  • Detroit—Bad winter weather, non-sterile interline connections, poor public transportation.
  • Houston/Bush Intercontinental—Good weather, mostly sterile connections, poor public transportation.
  • Los Angeles—Few weather problems, non-sterile interline connections, poor public transportation. Burbank is a better bet if it’s feasible.
  • Minneapolis—Copes with bad weather reasonably well, non-sterile interline connections, good public transportation.
  • New York/JFK—Weather and congestion delays, non-sterile interline connections, good public transportation.
  • Newark—Weather and congestion delays, non-sterile interline connections, good public transportation.
  • Philadelphia—Delay prone, non-sterile interline connections, good public transportation.
  • Phoenix—Few weather problems, non-sterile interline connection, good public transportation.
  • Portland—Copes with winter weather well, sterile connections, good public transportation.
  • San Francisco—Unreliable in fog, non-sterile interline connections, good public transportation.
  • Seattle—Copes with winter weather well, sterile connections, good public transportation.

No matter what else, a nonstop flight always beats a connection. But when you have to connect, connect at a good hub.

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