Worst airports EVER - which are yours?

28 June 2011

Once you've travelled through a few airports, you come to recognise which can handle large volumes of passengers better than others. At New York's JFK for example, there's far more space and more (manned) customs desks in Terminal 4 (which the likes of Virgin and KLM usually fly into) than in Terminal 7 (British Airways).Picture 8

Unfortunately, whether airports choose to do anything about the situation is another matter. With summer on the way, the queues will return; will airports increase staffing levels to ensure a smooth and relatively quick passage through them? Nope. Here's the scene at Gatwick last night, courtesy of avid Bitterwallet reader Amin:

The queues for passport control are out of control at Gatwick airport. I took this photo at around 7pm last night, and it took over half an hour to pass through immigration.

Bitterwallet - Gatwick queues

Over half an hour doesn't sound too terrible compared to some airports, but it's still not pleasant; usually a combination of poor design and low staffing can result in a long claustrophobic wait when all you really want to do is get home and stick Match of the Day on.

So over to you - as the Summer rush approaches, which airports are the worst at handling passengers leaving and returning home? Which terminal buildings fill you with dread at the mere thought of having to pass through them? And which are painless by comparison?

Let us know in the comments below.

TOPICS:   Travel

48 comments

  • dasher
    Heathrow T5 can be mad of an evening. Check your passport for a symbol on the front to see if you have facial recognition, could save you an age. Discovered this few weeks back when having queued asked about the IRIS scheme to be told, you don't need it, you can go through the other fast track queue. Doh!!
  • dasher
    McCarran - Vegas BA and Virgin fly into a designated customs arrival hall. So you have a 747 full of UK residents trying to get through at most I have seen 4 manned desks. Finger print scans, photos, US immigration cards (at the time still needed them even though ESTA was in place) for each person all adds up, so try and get to the front of the plane as possible when checking in.
  • Marketing W.
    US Immigration at Dublin. Just an horrific underground airless hellhole.
  • Robin
    Luton airport is terrible - after security the standard of shops are terrible and the general seating area is like a large holding pen until the flight is called. I spend as much time before security as possible - very limited food options after security.
  • Adam
    Rome Ciampino airport is utter chaos when departing. The queue stretched around the whole of the check in building when I went in December. It took 2 hours to pass through.
  • Russell
    Luton airport was terrible last time I was there. An hour to pass through at 1 am on a Sunday June 19th. Worst thing was that 4 out of 6 desks were manned, they just didn't have the infrastructure to handle the volume of passengers.
  • Sarah
    We went to Lanzarote a few years back and it took over an hour to get thru passport control. I was pregnant at the time and also desperate for the loo to boot! When we finally got to the man in the booth he didnt even look at our passports!
  • MrRobin
    Cancun in Mexico was a loooonnnnggggg old wait. Queues snake around the whole place like a theme park ride queue. It took over an hour to get through passport control and then another 30 minutes to get through customs. Yuk.
  • Sawyer
    Never had major issues with time, but last time I was in Heathrow there was a packed queue extending to the top of two escalators. The problem was that the escalators were still running upwards, but the constant stream of people joining at the bottom weren't aware of the lack of space at the top. It wasn't until the total collapse of escalator passengers over each other that someone (not a Heathrow employee) pressed the emergency stop.
  • Andrew
    Maybe it's just the US customs rigmarole - passport, questioning, photo, fingerprints - but the couple of times I've been to Chicago O'Hare (different times of the day), the wait has been ridiculously long, at least 2-3 hours in a long, snaking queue. :(
  • Al
    Philadelphia was a nightmare when there last October. We'd flown from Vegas to Philly for a connecting flight to Manchester - you are basically herded through what's little more than a corridor between International and Domestic terminals, though it's not just Int & Dom passengers so it's bloody chaos. The worst of it was I missed out on having a Philly Cheesesteak - was gutted
  • Dick
    Luton and EMA for the holding pen style arrangement. At least if you are in a corridor you can get out of the queue and go for a piss if need be. Also at these airports many flights arrive at the same time (esp EMA), then nothing for ages which makes the problem of queues worse. Same with take-offs, loads bunched together then nothing. I've also seen the escalator problem at Heathrow and Stansted. It is quite funny to see more and more people piling in with nowhere to go.
  • Phil76
    Don't knock Luton too hard, it's actually improved over recent years! My main complaint with them now is the "departure gate" which basically consists of an open area with about a dozen seats that they keep cramming people into until the airline staff open the gate for loading, when you have a mad stampede for the door. Doesn't help that they cordon off about a 1/3rd for the half dozen or so speedy boarders. Almost all American immigration is a pain in the butt. I've flown into a few airports now, and the only one that's been acceptable was San Francisco. Boston and Detroit was a nightmare of massive queues and surly staff, not the greatest way to start a holiday. Worst recent experience was Berlin. You'd think the Germans would have it sussed with their famous efficiency, but nope. Even before you get to passport control you have to deal with queues at the check-in desk where some poor sod's job is to check every Ryan Air passengers bag for dimensions. Seems almost everyone gets caught in this, and gets sent back to check the bags in, causing constant arguements that hold everyone up, even people who choose to fly with other airlines. Only place I've ever seen that's been so crash hot on bag size.
  • The B.
    Oy, where did my Gatwick comment go?
  • Flyer
    Another vote for Chicago, although it does sometimes vary when flying in (as sometimes it has taken an age, others its quite quick). Whats more shocking is flying out, once you get through security there is absolutely no-where to get a meal, only sweets and snacks, and to make it worse there is a huge glass wall with all the food stalls that are before security on full display so you can sit and enjoy others stuff their faces while you go hungry, great
  • Bawbag
    Gatwick is full of fuckwits who can't organise a queue to save their lives. London City FTW
  • Baconbuttie
    In their defence Gatwick are undergoing a fairly hefty refurb which explains the photo in the article (I went through exactly the same kind of queue length recently). My issue is that these lovely new automated security barriers for the new biometric passports are rarely used even though they clearly work and are much quicker. Agree on Mcarren (vegas) being shit but the worst ive had was Dubai, 4 seperate massive queues going at VERY different speeds, and your penned in so no pulling the old switcheroo... 1 'guard' was also playing on a DS, pisstake.
  • Philip
    Changi Airport. Absolutely lovely airport, but too many slitty eyes for my liking.
  • Darren
    Newark has a nice new arrivals hall for fingerprinting/security etc. Trouble is that the glass roof making it all light and airy acts like a giant greenhouse. Added to that, the nice staff point you toward the queue that somehow takes longer than the one you had your eye on. Went though in May and got nicely cooked.
  • Amin
    The Qatar airport is also terrible
  • Jeebus
    Qatar is terrible. The massive duty-free only has 3 tills. Want something to eat? You can have Costa Coffee or some random shitty fast-food place. No bar plus people sitting/sleeping on the floor (it's so packed).
  • dvdj
    Sharm Egypt on a Thursday night. Specific I know but this is when about 7 planes arrive in the space of about 30mins. Everyone has to go get either a VISA (if you intend on leaving the Sinai Peninsula) OR get a non-VISA to say that you're not leaving! What's the point in that? And only then can you procceed to passport control which is just as bad. Leaving at much fun either.
  • klingelton
    sharm made me laugh - we got a domestic flight from there once, they have 4 gates, but all use the same doors. we had no idea if we had got the right plane when they called 2 flights at once, we just guessed and sat down.
  • Ben
    Arriving to Marrakech Medina Airport in April this year was the worst I've experienced. Passport control had all booths manned but they were manually entering passport details. Took a long age - I think 1 hour 40minutes to get through. Just awful.
  • Ben
    ^^ Menara, not Medina, sorry!
  • johnny b.
    Come on already with the RFID chips implanted into our hands!!! We want faster check in's and boarder controls. Id buy that for a dollar!
  • Ian
    Leeds Bradford International has become a joke recently. Not only have they introduced a £2 minimum fee for dropping off in front of the terminal, they charge £1 for trolleys now! How many foreigners arrive in blighty with a pocket full of English change? Thieving scumbags.
  • WARWICK H.
    Zante - a right little shithole - Dalaman for sheer chaos - Thessalonika - total disorganisation Corfu - 8 euro for a coffee in a plastic cup - Las Vegas - all automated so you had better know what you are doing - Newcastle - for claiming to be an international airport.
  • Ali
    I've had a couple of hellish experiences: Nice airport, there is literally nothing to do there. The only food available before going through security is Burger King or some dodgy baguettes, and after security it is only even dodgier baguettes! Madrid has possibly the longest walk to exit I have ever seen - while they have a fancy new terminal which BA fly into, passport control, baggage reclaim etc are all in the old terminal meaning not only a massive walk from the plane but also a tram ride! Still, availability of good quality cold beer once you are through lessens the pain.
  • Jeebus
    The discrepancy within airports is bad too. Manchester Terminal 1 is just awful whereas Terminal 2 is pretty decent. As a frequent flyer between Liverpool/Manchester and Korea I generally (within price/time contraints too) pick a flight flying out of Terminal 2 as opposed to Terminal 1 or JLA. Having said that Moscow Shemrovets is really bad (I was there just before the bombing at the one of the other Moscow Airport). Although it is the main international airport it's complete chaos, I arrived for a transfer on a Thursday about 5pm and a few other flights landed at the same time. Yet the transfers at terminal we arrived at only had one passport control desk (with someone working there) and one x-ray scanner and metal detector working. Cue chaos, 600 people packed into an enclosed space, the workers in their broken English trying to communicate with people who didn't speak any. Eventually flights were getting held up as so many passengers were stuck in transfers. In the end they just waved everyone through. Still they did sell beer in the vending machines!
  • Gulliver
    Charles De Gaulle, just for the shear lack of things to do/buy/eat. There were literally two shops that sold the same four sandwiches and a newsagent. Beauvais airport is a tiny little fart of an airport that Ryanair calls "Paris". There is no regular public transport service, and the train station is not on a major line, so long waits were had by all. I know that's to be expected by a Ryanair airport, but it was pretty piss-poor.
  • Sean B.
    London Stansted Airport make you pay to collect passengers by only allowing them to be picked up in a car park - even when the incoming passengers are waiting to be collected and no parking is required. A RIP OFF.
  • klingelton
    stark contrast and something that rarely gets mentioned - a GOOD airport. Leeds/Bradford. sensibly laid out with an appropriate level of food stuffs/cold beer after security. There's Entertainment and an ample amount of seating for the size of the airport. you don't need to pay for pickup and to top it all off, it's a 20 minute journey once you've clearned UKBA (if you live in Leds/Bradford). If i fly, i always try to fly from there.
  • SgtMunky
    Yeah it's pretty bad you have to pay to use the collection area at Stansted, its something £2 for 5 minutes, £4 for 12, £8 for 15 and so on, in really weird step's I turned up 20 minutes early, paid to get in because the sign's were being replaced and had no idea where I was going, and once realising I was about to get stung for £20 I had to leave for a nearby town and come back and pay the £2 charge again.
  • Jonathan M.
    Charles De Gaulle: Served chilled red wine (erm... I'm in france, right?!) Then when we got through security there was only a vending machine, and no toilets.
  • br04dyz
    Another vote for Chicago - lovely if you fly home via Chicago (from Minneapolis for example) as you use mainland connection terminals, but oHare to LHR is dire.....best get there just in time and eat out first.
  • Stewart
    For me, it will always be City Airport in London. It's the smell...not inside the terminal, but outside - and I've never been able to find out what it is. It's a harsh, 'metallic', all-pervasive background smell that catches the back of your throat and stays there. Once you've locked your car up, the standard practice is to bolt to the terminal whilst holding your breath.
  • Elizabeth
    Houston - Bush International - one immigration officer questions everybody coming through his booth for no less than 20 minutes. After waiting in the long queue for 30+ minutes you think you're almost through when you get in the short line of about 5 people in front of a booth, only to get this guy.
  • MartyParty
    Mumbai airport is appalling avoid the monsoon season and getting stranded there. Another vote for O'Hare miserable place although Philadelphia is another one where unless you have 4 hours to make a connecting flight onwards across the US you wont.
  • Morris G.
    Coming or going? Welcome to Inverness Airport @ the Scottish Highlands. Small but perfectly formed. Everything you require from such a facility but absolutely no distance between the front door, check-in desks, departure lounge and the aircraft. Modern travel...old fashioned service. Simply grand!
  • Captain C.
    At Orlando a few years ago, it took longer to get through security than the bloody flight from Gatwick took!! I will also single out Charles De Gaul; the airport is fine, but 99.9% of the Air France desk staff are tossers. I was there at Christmas and none of the boarding pass machines were working, there were TWO staff manning the desk to handle 1,000s of passengers all trying to get away (one for First Class and one for the rest of us!!). Even though it was obvious there was a problem, these two staff were taking 5-10 minutes to sort out a simple boarding pass, and no extra staff arrived until I had been queuing for over 2 hours; and I was only 60 back from the front of the queue when I joined it!!!! Even though I had a 4 hour transit time, I barely made the flight; and then only by running the full length of CDG to get to the departure gate. I will NEVER EVER FLY AIR FRANCE AGAIN.
  • Rich
    ...as someone above said...Chicago T3 is rediculous if you have to check in. I found the BA desks at Chicago T5 a breeze though.
  • gatwickworker
    The immigration queues are precisely that, immigration. Nothing to do with the airport. UKBA are a government agency and they've been cut back and cut back so there's barely any staff left, when they're not on strike. I wouldn't say security was pleasant but it's a damn sight more efficient now than a few years ago. If only the authorities would permit a smoking area airside the place would be tolerable.
  • warwick h.
    Anyone notice Delta Airlines hostesses ? No ? thought not, they are all pensioners, not that I have anything against pensioners as I am one myself but on a long flight one wants to see a nice arse or firm pair of tits now and again the brighten the flight up and not your granny coming down the aisle.
  • trisha
    whoever designed Dalaman airport in Turkey needs to be made to sit on the slats that pass as seats, food and drink is the most expensive of any airport i have ever gone through, MacDs burger and chips is 30 Lira which is about £15.00. what a rat hole, avoid if possible
  • thepeacehappiness
    GATWICK - way the worse airport in the world, passport control takes hours, passport control staff rude and slow, when asked why they are only have two officers checking passports was told that they were entitles to take breaks and they will take all their breaks, pathetic.
  • Gatwick W.
    Reply to: thepeacehappiness Gatwick is not the worst. Gatwick does everything it can to reduce lines but it cant control UKBA (immigration). Gatwick is working in partnership with UKBA to reduce lines and there is a system in place. I believe lines should not exceed 20 minutes on UK/EU side and 1 hour on the non UK/EU side. People are now using e-gates more often as they become more aware of them but we cant do anything else as its all UKBA. Gatwick is committed to reduce lines all over the airport and they would be really small if immigration was controlled by Gatwick staff but there's no winning with Government. The main problem lies with lazy UKBA staff who are well paid for what they do but want more. They really don't give a shit for passengers or even staff like me who tries to reduce lines, they just want to sit on a chair and expect a passenger to randomly walk up to the desk. Not everyone is lazy but a lot of them are. The best time to clear immigration is when they go on strike. Speaking from experience strike days are the best but the media turns it into a negative thing which worries passengers. When lazy UKBA officers go on strike its actually a lot quicker to get through, literally only takes a few minutes to get through on the UK/EU side!!! Don't blame Gatwick, Blackjack, G4S or any other organisation there, the blame can only be put on to the Home Office and the UK Border Agency.
  • 9 B.
    [...] This can mainly be enjoyed in British airports. [...]

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