Thursday, September 16, 2010

'Third World' Airports

For the first time a serving Pontiff is making a state visit to the UK, and Papa Razzi has kicked off his attempt to woo the locals by declaring that the UK is a 'force for good', if a little too secular and multicultural for his taste. He also praised us Brits for standing up to Hitler and his 'atheist extremism'. He did not however say what we are supposed to do about Richard Dawkins.

Not at his side was Father Walter Kasper, a close aide who spared himself the aggro of the arrivals process at London's busiest airport by earlier stating in an interview that "When you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country." (Though officially at least, health reasons, prevented him from accompanying the Pope on this occasion.)

It's not clear whether his drift was that the place is full of insalubrious wogs, or whether it's just the dumpiest major hub on the planet. Or indeed whether he was speaking synechdochially about the parlous state of our nation as a whole.

Anyway, I suppose he's right about Heathrow and we wish him a speedy recovery from Vatican mouth. I live in a proper Third World country but the airport here thankfully makes Terminal 3 look like a dirt strip in Kandahar.

Still, my recent round-the-world journey did incorporate one major international aiport that provides a marginally worse passenger experience: JFK.

As for the rest, here's my personal league table:

1. Hong Kong International: in a city which often feels like one big duty free lounge they were going to have to come up with something special and who can argue when this mini-metropolis claims to be the world's greatest airport?

2. Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok: could not be further from the shithole that appeared in all those movies where naive young western girls are detained by sweaty, mosca-encircled immigration officials for carrying dope that some low-life had planted in their suitcase. Filled with seemingly pointless rolling electric walkways and an entire floor full of top notch Asian eateries.

3. Narita, Tokyo: much like Hong Kong, but somehow not quite as swanky.

4. YVR, Vancouver International: smartened up and 'greened' in advance of the Winter Olympics, the gate areas feature massive glass windows and high ceilings and pleasingly soft-toned upholstery.

5. Changi, Singapore: the trouble here is that while T3 is as smart and shiny as Asia's other leading terminals, T1 rivals its equivalent at Heathrow for all-round outmoded skankiness. The food on offer in the departure lounge is more along the lines of generic international soggy croissant than what you would expect from a foodie's paradise like Singapore.

6. La Guardia, New York: some might quibble about the runway sticking out into the Hudson, but the terminal facilities are nicely compact and the staff remarkably friendly and helpful for denizens of this city.

7. Aurora International, Guatemala City: the old set-up had its charms, but I suppose this new glass and metal make-over with its American-style dirty blue departure lounge seats is a better advertisement for Guatemala's desire to be modern. The old ways are most visibly preserved in the form of unnecessarily long queues for check-in and the payment of a departure tax that only bank employees can be trusted to handle.

8. Miami International (MIA): my unlucky aiport, scene of two emergency landings and other major inconveniences, which this time included being told by an automatic check-in machine that my flight was cancelled and by the nearest AA employee that customer service was in Dallas. Father Kasper should give it a whirl some time.

9. Heathrow, London: They're doing their best by attempting to tart up the original sixties terminals. The brand new T5 looks like a failed British attempt to recreate the experience of those Asian glass palaces, which went wrong the moment they decided to pack it with the same tat that clutters up the other four terminals.

10. JFK, New York: Rather than create a proper airport, the designers of JFK sought to build an airport of parts, where all the facilities you might need are strung out in a circle of wide circumference and linked by slow-moving driverless trains which circulate in only one direction. Authentic blue-collar New Yorkers of the stereotypically coarse and dismissive kind operate in force here.


Mark said...

I was about to correct your claim about the first Papal 'state' visit but your nuance proved correct. Nice trivia point!

Inner Diablog said...

Thanks. JP II was the guest of GB's Catholic community. There might actually have been some previous state visits before the sixteenth century breach with Rome, but I'm not sure. The Queen did two in the other direction in '61 and '80.

Pope Benedict must have had several hundred years-worth of uptight English protestant politicians rolling in their graves when he addressed both houses in Westminster Hall, scene of (St) Thomas More's trial. It's not so long ago that this would have been unthinkable.