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An Airport Review by Bruce Powell

Channeling Julie Andrews …

Movies with popcorn, and bars that serve Boodle’s

Hot tubs and palm trees, and spicy hot noodles

Premium lounges with Singapore Slings

These are a few of my favorite things

Well, when it comes to airports, anyway, and to be more specific, Changi International Airport in Singapore. They really do have free movie theaters with popcorn, an outdoor swimming pool and spa, endless dining choices, and the Singapore Airlines First Class Lounge serves a mean Singapore Sling made with Boodle’s gin.

Airports and air travel have held a fascination for me since I was a child, and to this day, even with the “enhanced security” rigmarole, I still find it thrilling to be able to begin my day on one continent, and end it many hours later on another. Every airport is unique, and even the bad ones usually have some redeeming quality, like the Eero Saarinen designed main terminal at Washington Dulles, or the Encounter Restaurant in the middle of LAX which is like a cross between Star Trek and The Jetsons (and serves a mighty fine martini with a view of the runway.)

I was asked to compile a list of my top five favorite airports here in the USA and overseas, and the reasons why. Now of course this is entirely subjective, and my reasons may not be primarily about the functionality of the facility, but rather what makes it unique and special to me. So if you ever find yourself passing through one of them, see if you agree.

 

Domestic USA

 

SFO – San Francisco International Airport

  • From dim sum at Fung Lum, to sushi at Ebisu, to aged Prime beef at Lark Creek Grill, some of San Francisco’s top chefs make it hard to leave for the gate
  • The only airport I know of that has an actual museum department with full fledged art exhibits throughout the terminals, and a library modeled on the original airport building with vintage uniform displays and books

A model from a current SFO exhibition: "Oceans by Air: Scale Models and Photographs by Jim Lund"

HNL – Honolulu International Airport

  • The only major airport in the country where you can stand in an open air terminal and watch a jumbo jet roar up to the gate
  • Tropical gardens for relaxation or flight delays
  • General spirit of Aloha

DEN – Denver International Airport

  • Views of the Rockies can’t be beat
  • A modern, well designed facility that adequately handles the crowds
  • An aged bourbon Manhattan and the Prime Rib Sandwich at the Denver Chop House make those inevitable snow delays much easier to take

PIT – Pittsburgh International

  • Designed like a big “X” so that transfers never require walking more than the length of a single terminal
  • The central hub where all four concourses meet is an airy, light filled space like a mini shopping mall, with shops and restaurants that guarantee not to charge more than their counterparts outside the airport – most unusual
  • Parking lots, car rentals and a full service hotel are all attached to the airport via moving sidewalk, making for easy arrivals and departures

SAN – Lindbergh Field, San Diego, CA

  • The only airport I can think of where the tops of the skyscrapers are above the aircraft wingtips as you make your approach over Balboa Park and Banker’s Hill, finally passing just 250 feet above a parking garage before touching down on a remarkably short runway
  • The busiest single runway commercial airport in the United States, and second busiest in the world after London Gatwick
  • The giant mural on the side of the Commuter Terminal was painted by John Whalen; it celebrates the airport’s pioneering namesake, Charles Lindbergh, and the fact that his historic airplane “The Spirit of St. Louis” was manufactured in San Diego

"lucky/spirit" by John J. Whalen

 

International

 

SIN – Changi International Airport, Singapore

  • The first paragraph pretty much sums it up; no other airport in the world offers the range of options to keep travelers occupied
  • If you have at least a four hour layover, they even offer a free city tour of Singapore to all transit passengers
  • The goal in Singapore is to have you from the door of your plane to the bed in your hotel in less than an hour, and most of the time this is reality

KUL – Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  • One of the newly designed “super hubs” that are sprouting throughout Asia; some 50km from downtown Kuala Lumpur, but connected by high speed rail that whisks you into town in 20 minutes
  • The main terminal gate areas are designed around an enormous glass atrium filled with tropical plants, making it feel as if this modern complex somehow sprouted from the jungle itself
  • The only airport lounge I’ve ever seen (Malaysia Airlines First Class Golden Lounge) that has an actual stream flowing through it!

One of the lounges at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

MFM – Macau International Airport, Macau, China

  • Whilst the airport terminals themselves are nothing remarkable, it’s the only airport I know of where you taxi more than a mile along a narrow, elevated causeway over the South China Sea to reach the runway

SXR – Srinagar Airport, Srinagar, India

  • As the gateway to one of the most beautiful places on the planet, the Kashmir Valley and Dal Lake, the pure excitement of touching down here is a thrill
  • The runway begins at the edge of a plateau several hundred meters high so you literally don’t see the tarmac until you touch down on it
  • Farmers actively till the soil and animals graze literally at the sides of the runway, making for an other worldly experience (as if just navigating India itself weren’t already that)

SDU – Santos Dumont Airport, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

  • One of the oldest operating airports in the world, pioneered in the 1930s by Pan American World Airways; the landmark building still contains the original giant paintings by Cadmo Fausto de Sousa entitled “Old Aviation” and “Modern Aviation”
  • Home of the original air shuttle, the Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo Ponte Aérea
  • Nothing beats lifting off from runway 20L and banking left, past Sugar Loaf mountain, the famous statue of Cristo Redentor, then right to skirt Rio’s famous Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, and finally another right turn inland towards Sao Paulo (make sure you sit on the right side of the aircraft)

2 comments on “An Airport Review by Bruce Powell

  1. Great post, Bruce and Molly. This is the kind of insight travelers need!

  2. Thanks for the wonderful insight Bruce!

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