Flights: Six essential features of good airports

Posted in: Airports


Taking the train at Amsterdam Schipol. Photo by JenWaller
Taking the train at Amsterdam Schipol. Photo by JenWaller

This week, let’s set our sights on six key features that define a good, contemporary airport, whether in Europe or elsewhere. Here the focus is on those areas of the airport open to all passengers, not just the frequent-flier set. What makes a business-class lounge good is a matter for another investigation.

1. Public transportation between airport and city.

An in-airport rail—train or metro—is usually better than a bus link. Happily, there are many airports across Europe with rail stations underneath or adjacent to airports. London City, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Rome Fiumicino, among many others, deserve positive evaluation. Bus links are fine in theory, though nobody likes jockeying for tickets and playing finicky ticket vending machine roulette games. (Are you listening, Ciampino?)

2. Good, affordable restaurants.

Big international chain restaurants don’t add much value. An outpost of a good local restaurant is always preferable to a placeless chain restaurant. And while we’re it, prices wildly out of tune with the local cost index are alienating, and surely end up convincing many passengers not to purchase any meals at all. An airport pricing structure keyed to local pricing norms might very well translate into people actually spending more money on meals in airports.

3. Free wireless Internet.

Kastrup. Photo: Terry Wha

Not so hard to set up, increasingly anticipated by many travelers, and thankfully more and more common. If Chisinau International Airport can provide free wifi to its passengers, then every European airport should.

4. Time management tools.

An information feed at Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport lets passengers arriving at the airport know how long security lines are going to take. This is invaluable, even if it runs the risk of overkill in a country as efficient as Denmark.

5. A distinctive sense of the local.

Lisbon and Helsinki both have little shops stocked with smart Portuguese and Finnish products, respectively. A shop selling local products fulfills an essential ambassadorial function. It offers departing passengers the opportunity to purchase last-minute gifts of local relevance. Any airport can install shops hawking traditional duty-free items. A smartly-managed airport will attempt to tie its identity to that of the surrounding city, country, or region.

6. Scale.

Small airports are often the most user-friendly, but scale is more important than size. Kilometers of corridors are institutional and annoying. Space should be filled up with restaurants, shops, and lounge spaces. Amsterdam’s Schiphol may be enormous, but it is well scaled, with an appropriate density of retail establishments and frequent postings notifying passengers of walking time between terminals.

What features did we miss?

Anything this list misses outright? Let me know what you value in an airport in the comments section.

About the author

Alex Robertson Textor

About the author: Alex Robertson Textor is a London-based travel writer and editor. He has written for Rough Guides, the New York Times, and Public Books, among other publications; he also guided the tablet magazine Travel by Handstand to two SATW Foundation Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism awards. With Pam Mandel, he writes copy and generates ideas as White Shoe Travel Content. He is on Twitter as @textorian and maintains his own blog,

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6 thoughts on “Flights: Six essential features of good airports”

  1. Vendi Ciampino

    Hello, Alex. This is one of the ‘finicky’ Ciampino ticket vending machines and we’re not afraid of you. Catch you the next time you’re in town! Or, should we say snarl?

  2. Oh, and about that Motown airport. They now have a wall downstairs that’s been signed by any Motown signed singer (Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross etc) passing through. Check it out.

  3. I’m a major fan of the Leif Ericson airport in Iceland. Love those video kiosks that show free tourism messages. That’s how I first learned of those amazing ponies with four gates. There’s also a great shoe store in this airport. 😉

  4. I’m partial to the new’ish (and vastly improved) Detroit Metro airport. All sorts of Motown memorabilia, clean as the dickens, and plenty of dining options.

  5. Lots of awesome BBQ restaurants at the Memphis airport. And, Elvis. When I deplaned in October 2009, I could smell smoked ribs from the skybridge. Not for everybody, of course, but I loved it during a stop-over to and from New Orleans.


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