Airport Adventures

For all of my traveling flying lifetime - which for me is since the mid-70's - I've seen signs in airports ominously warning that Lagos, Nigeria's airport is not up to snuff in one respect or another.

I never went to Lagos, and don't expect I will, but with 30+ years of flights and airports behind me now...I have plenty of opinions about other airports! Some of which will beg the question, just how bad *is* Lagos for the FAA to warn us to stay away?

North America: Los Angeles  | Tucson  | Alexandria | Anchorage | Austin | Baltimore | Boston | CalgaryCatalina Island | Chicago Midway | Chicago O'Hare | Cleveland | Dallas | Denver | Dulles | Houston | Huntsville | Killeen Ft Hood | Kodiak Island | Little Rock | Mexico City | Miami | National | New Orleans | New York Kennedy | New York LaGuardia | Newark | Oaxaca City | Orlando | Phoenix | Portland | Puerto Escondido | San Francisco | Seattle/Tacoma | Vancouver

Central America: Belize City | Guatemala City | Panama City | San Jose | San Pedro Sula

South America: Barranquilla | Buenos Aires | Caracas | Cusco | Lima | Merida | Puerto Maldonado | Santiago | São Paulo | Quito

Caribbean: Kingston | Montego Bay

Europe: Dublin | Dubrovnik | Frankfurt | London Gatwick | London Heathrow | Ljubljana | Madrid | Munich | Paris | Pisa | Rome | Salzburg | Split | Zadar | Zagreb

Asia / Pacific: Auckland | Christchurch | Delhi | Honolulu | SeoulSydney | Queenstown

Africa / Middle East: Jeddah | Nairobi


North America

Los Angeles (LAX)

My "home" airport, until we moved to Arizona in 2001. It's a lot nicer visiting than it is to be based there, as the parking is expensive, getting dropped off a hassle, and security is slow. The terminals are old, there's no quick/easy way to get between terminals (do not say the bus outside security), and the amenities (e.g. food) unexciting. At least I know where the Starbucks are, and the always-busy In-n-Out Burger not far off the airport loop is a nice welcome or send-off if you have time.

The volume of traffic thru LAX is staggering. And I remember it before the loop road went double-decker! The Bradley International terminal is the best. That, or I just like seeing all the international destinations and travelers. Southwest (1) is good. United's renovations in 7/8 can't hide the fact that they suck.

But overall...too big and busy for its own good.  And the Mary Poppins PA voice has to go.

December 2011 update: AVOID INTERNATIONAL CONNECTIONS HERE!  It totally sucks that you have to exit security to get to another terminal.  Customs is a zoo when you arrive here from overseas, with one person directing you one way, then the next yelling at you for going that way.  Left hand, meet right hand, and get out of my way!

And please, get some concessions outside security, ok?

Tucson (TUS)

My current home airport, 80 miles from Hereford. (Yes, Sierra Vista has an airport, but we have yet to make a convenient and cost-effective trip from there.) I like Tucson, liked it as a visitor (easy rental car access), as a local (cheap parking!), and as a host (easy pickups of visitors!). Recent renovations and a new parking structure have made it pretty nice.

Southwest and American are good here with friendly personnel. United dropped its shuttle several years ago, which is good, because they suck. :-)

Alexandria (AEX)

As in "Alexandria, Louisiana", otherwise known as England Airpark.  Gateway to Ft Polk.  What can I say ... a pleasant regional airport.  The bad part about visiting here was that Liza's luggage got lost en route, the airline (was it United? it is so like them) said it would take three days to get to me, and it was a three-day trip.  I never thought I would utter the words "thank heaven for Walmart" with a straight face.

Anchorage (ANC)

Was just Anchorage International Airport, was renamed Ted Stevens International Airport in 2000 after the senator.  Most flights into Anchorage are Alaska Airlines out of Seattle.  This must explain then when we were in SeaTac!  :-)

Austin (AUS)

Austin used to have a lousy little airport unbefitting a state capitol, then Bergstrom AFB closed and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was born. Nice, clean, and they have a Salt Lick restaurant in case you weren't lucky enough to make it out to the real thing in Driftwood. Winner.

Baltimore (BWI)

Baltimore/Washington International Airport, aka Thurgood Marshall Airport (a former Supreme Court justice and first African-American on the court, if you didn't know), is a pretty good airport.   There are frequent shuttles to the rental car facility outside the airport.  Liza's only complaint is that the rental cars are all in a humungous parking structure, so if you are directionally challenged as she is and rely on your GPS, you can kiss off getting a signal until you have left the facility - at which point now you're on the road, it's probably dark, you don't know which way you're going, if you were here before you forgot how you got out, and it takes the darn GPS 5 minutes to find the satellites.  Print those directions from google maps and hope that the GPS turns on eventually.

Boston (BOS)

Logan Airport - full name General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport - is, uh, an experience.  Flying in is fine.  Getting out of the airport is another thing entirely.  It's out on some blasted island so you have to go through a tunnel under the water to get anywhere.  Prior to the Big Dig, eight or ten lanes merged down into one or two in seemingly 50 feet, which was just a mess.  I well remember a work travel companion, who had gone to school at MIT, shrieking at me not to brake (I was letting someone beside me merge in) because that would confuse everybody.  The Big Dig project included the construction of the Ted Williams Tunnel (extending Interstate 90 to the airport) which presumably, hopefully, made that bit of the trip better.

Calgary, Canada (YYC)

All Canadian airport codes start with Y - did you know that?  :-)  Anyway, we flew here in 2007 for our hiking trip (with Golden Alpine Holidays) up in the Esplanades of the Canadian Rockies.  Awesome trip.  The airport had a lovely hotel that we stayed in overnight before catching our next morning flight to Vancouver.  In retrospect, we probably should have just driven and enjoyed the scenery...

Catalina Island (AVX)

Catalina's general aviation (not commercial) airport, the "Airport in the Sky" completed in 1946. The 3,250-foot (990-meter) runway sits on a mountaintop, 1,602 feet (488 m) above sea level. Until the time of the airport's construction, the only air service to the island was provided by seaplanes.  I only know about this airport because my (now departed) cycling friend Dave Wilbur - a retired Navy F4 pilot - flew me there one day in his group-owned Cessna (out of Camarillo).  We flew over LAX (me: "are you crazy?"  him: "the corridor at 3000 ft over LAX is the safest place to fly"), then over San Pedro, and when I mentioned my mom lived there, he said "what street?" - and we buzzed her house (I don't think she was home :-).  We landed at Catalina not long afterwards, ate buffalo burgers (purportedly) in the airport restaurant, then flew home, after he gave me a spectacular aerial view of the back side of the island.  Was well worth playing hooky from work that day.  Thanks, Dave.

Chicago Midway (MDW)

Chicago's original airport pre-O'Hare?  A nice little airport to the southwest of Chicago, and for the most part home to Southwest Airlines.  We went there for the first time in May 2015.  It was bigger than I thought - three concourses each with 15-20 gates - but easy to walk.  It could use a few more food options at the end of the concourses, although I suppose I could have walked back to the center of things.  But it was 6:30 in the morning, and I wasn't going to do much of anything.  :-)

Chicago O'Hare (ORD)

O'Hare International Airport is United's biggest hub, but we won't hold that against them, because it is American's #2 hub.  Big-a$$ airport.  Can not be amusing if you have to change terminals.  Can not be amusing even if you don't change terminals but your connecting flight is late arriving.  We pulled an OJ (the race-through-the-airport OJ from Hertz commercials, not the knife-wielding OJ) when our being late from Tucson meant we had exactly five minutes to make it to our flight to Delhi, India.  We took off late, then made up time, then had to circle the airport, then got landing clearance, then the gate was busy...argggh!!!!  Luckily the source and destination flights were in the same terminal, but we had to race down one arm of the terminal and to another part.  If there had been luggage in the aisles we would have hurdled it all full speed.  We got to the gate, raced past two people at the counter, through the doors right before they closed, and even had overhead carry-on space.  Sat down...and along come the two guys who we had seen at the counter.  Yes, American figured we weren't going to make it and were giving our seats away.  "You're in our seats," say the two guys.  "Ha!  We have boarding passes and we were here first!" we exclaimed back, waving our boarding passes, probably a bit too excitedly. That trip was the one that made us resolve to have 3-4 hour layovers, preferably overnight layovers, before any connecting international flight again.  Especially if we're meeting a tour group and can't afford to screw around.

Cleveland (CLE)

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is southwest of downtown, and was maybe a 20 minute drive from there to our hotel in Beachwood, near ever-so-fashionable (and truly lovely) Shaker Heights.  Well, 25-30 minutes in rush hour.  We were there in May 2015.  We worried just a tad about how traffic might be at 5:30 in the morning on a Monday, but zoomed right there, no problem.  It was mildly annoying that there are no gas stations on the way back to the rental car return, but we had been tipped off by the rental car shuttle driver when we arrived which way to go.  (She didn't mention, though, that the one direction she mentioned had ONE station and it wasn't open early in the morning.  Whatever, we found another.)

Dallas / Fort Worth (DFW)

Ah, Big D. My hub most of the time since, unless we're taking Southwest to LAX, we're on American for the frequent-flyer miles. It's big, but easy to get around, not too much walking required if you are not so inclined - the relatively new SkyTrain monorail not only reminds me of Disneyland, but gets you across the airport in 5 minutes tops, without exiting security. Terminal B is a bit long in the tooth; United ought to be there. Best food is terminal D (international). A and C have good choices too. E is unknown and there is no F.

Denver (DEN)

Denver...the poster child for how not to build a functioning baggage handling system. Millions of dollars and a few years later, the system was scrapped after never actually functioning. At least when I went there, they did not lose my checked bicycle. Huge airport way out of town that got to pretend to be Dulles in the second Die Hard movie. The main terminal certainly is interesting with the roof design meant to evoke the grandeur of the Rockies.

Washington Dulles (IAD)

If you can't fly into National (I can't quite call it just "Reagan"), then IAD is the next best thing. Farther out, so takes longer to get into the city, but the airport does have those cool buses that take you to the inner terminals. Movie note, Denver stood in for IAD in the second Die Hard movie. The "Mountain Bell" sign on the pay phone (quaint in itself) was a giveaway.

On the downside, United is the major carrier at IAD, so maybe it should be avoided, at all costs.

Houston (IAH)

IAH is named, these days, George Bush Intercontinental Airport (named for George HW, not W, so things work).  There's also Houston Hobby, which I thought was the same thing, but no.  I think we went here on our way to Belize.  We can semi-happily report that Houston surpassed LA for worst air quality in the country a few years ago.  My freshman year at USC (1977) we went to the Bluebonnet Bowl in the old Astrodome, maybe I flew into Hobby then.  Dunno.  I do remember going to the Johnson Space Center and meeting an astronaut (Jerry Carr). Wound up there again in June 2013 for a trip to Colombia with Mark Pretti Nature Tours. Food choices not so hot.  Avoid the Uno's Pizza!  Cardboard!

Huntsville (HSV)

I know what you're thinking.  Sweet Home Alabama!  But no, really, Huntsville is very very nice.  Lots of defense contractor advertising in the terminal.  You have to drive by Redstone Arsenal while there and see the rockets, including a replica Saturn V.  Awesome.

Killeen / Fort Hood (GRK)

If only Ft Huachuca was as well-served by the Sierra Vista airport as Ft Hood is by Killeen (aka Robert Gray Army Airfield).  Nice little airport, free wireless, easy in/out.  Most of the guys on your flight will be wearing Army green.  The airport is not much for food but hey this *is* Killeen, normally described as three strip malls and a gas station. It is actually much better than that but let's not push it.

Kodiak Island (ADQ)

Of all of our flights, this one is on the top five list of e-ticket rides.  We flew out of Anchorage - enjoying a Dove ice cream bar en route - only to find Kodiak socked in with fog.  The pilot prudently turned the plane around and took us back to Anchorage, and to assuage our disappointment, the flight attendants handed out more Dove ice cream bars.  We sat in the airport in Anchorage for a few hours before they decided they could try again.  On the plane we went, got our third Dove bar of the day, and wondered what it would be like.  As it turned out, still pretty dicey.  The pilot basically headed for the "town" of Kodiak, then hugged the coastline under the clouds - Robert was spotting birds on the water from the plane ("look, puffins!") - until we got to the airport.  Water on one side, mountain on the other...the pilot basically dropped us in and slammed on the brakes before we wound up in the drink.  The passengers cheered when we stopped.  Except for the crusty gal next to us, who said "if that first pilot were any good, he'd have just put 'er down!". Getting there late hosed us with our rental car (that and the fact that everything was gone due to the workers on the island for the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup...) so we saw the island by taxi and on foot...but that's another story. http://www.kodiak.org/airport.html

Little Rock (LIT)

Another cozy, easy to navigate airport. But make sure you have an in-terminal rental car company, lest you go on the grand tour of airport environs as we did in 1988 with Enterprise. Tucson may be bigger in terms of number of gates.

One of the good things about Clinton being president was that there were more direct flights in/out of Little Rock during his administration.  Go figure.

Mexico City (MEX)

The first thing you notice flying into Mexico City is the smog. Yikes! If you can get past the horror, you might see the snow-capped volcano peaks that surround the city. But the airport itself, not bad, once you figure out where Mexicana and Aeromexico have their international departures.  Aeromexico just moved into a spiffy new terminal in 2007.  Getting out of the airport, just remember to get a taxi autorizado, arranging for it at a ticket booth before going all the way out.

Our first time here was en route to Costa Rica, and I remember seeing bleachers at the end of the runway where families were watching the planes land and take off. Two subsequent visits were to visit the city and en route to Oaxaca. The airport hotel was pretty nice, and there were good restaurant choices to walk to at the hotel and in the terminal.

If you speak Spanish, the airport is called Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México, and is also called Benito Juárez International Airport.

Miami (MIA)

There's no escaping it...if you go to Central or South America, or the Caribbean, chances are you are connecting through Miami. (Or Houston if you fly Continental.) Ok outbound, tolerably so; customs on the return, ay caramba. Sprawling, lots of walking required, long security lines with marginally friendly (not) personnel (probably in training to become United employees). I am still annoyed at losing a bottle of jamaican jerk sauce to security even despite the fact that I *was* actually wrong. :-(

On the bright side, you can get food purporting to be Cuban at places named Versailles. And I've bought some nice scarves there, too.

Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA)

DCA...District of Columbia Airport, get it?

For convenience once you are in DC, National can't be beat.  Step outside, get on the Metro, whoosh.

Getting there...you are virtually guaranteed of it being a one- or two-stop trip, since bigger planes can't land there. Nervous flyers may not want to think of how low you come to bridges over the Potomac (I remember a bad bridge-hitting crash one winter) or think about 9/11.

But despite that, it's clean and good for business travelers.

New Orleans (MSY)

"We're jazzed you're here!", proclaims the banner as you make the long walk to baggage claim. It may not be all that long really but when you're tired... The jazz reference and the music playing over the PA system underscore that you are in Louis Armstrong International Airport. (I wonder why MSY as a code; who or what got supplanted by the great jazz trumpeter?  Answer: it used to be called Moisant Field, although I still don't get MSY out of that...MSF must have been taken already.)

Anyway, a late arrival does nothing for your impressions of food, amenities, etc., as the place is empty and the concessions closed. But there is a quite reasonable shuttle ($15) to the French Quarter, which you can pay for in advance on the web. Loads better, if you are sticking to the French Quarter, than renting a car that stays parked and racks up high hotel parking fees.

Coming back through at a decent hour - 0900 on a Thursday - the place was busier. The seats are lousy and the amenities in the C concourse are minimal. And who wants to go out and back in Security to get to the good stuff, especially with a guard who inexplicably insisted that we walk the Disneyland-like maze up to his position instead of going under the barrier straight to him, this with absolutely nobody in line!

New York Kennedy (JFK)

Danger! Avoid!

Oh, maybe they are ok now, but in January 1984, they sucked. Mostly it was Pan Am (whose poor customer service philosophy United later embraced); our flight home from Zürich on our honeymoon was late and we missed our connection, and Pan Am unceremoniously dumped us without assistance. Surly customs agents didn't help. Or the fact that we had to take a taxi to get to another terminal. Nope, not a good experience. Haven't been back and don't plan to.

Brooklyn resident and friend Joanne Guralnick adds:  "JFK, which is purportedly our "gateway to the world", is a complete embarrassment. Inedible food choices and the bare minimum of services only begin to tell the story."  (Seems to Liza like not much has changed in 30 years...)

New York LaGuardia (LGA)

LGA is ok.  In Queens, it is a relatively short drive from our friends' place in Brooklyn.  Is easy to navigate.  And I always get a chuckle thinking about how Fiorello LaGuardia was at Ft Huachuca as a kid, where his dad was the bandmaster.  Interestingly Wikipedia cites some nasty comments about LGA: "LaGuardia has also been criticized for some of its outdated facilities. Vice President Joe Biden compared LaGuardia to a "third world country" and the airport has been ranked in numerous customer surveys as the worst in the United States. Among pilots, it is referred to as "USS LaGuardia" because the runways are short and surrounded by water, thus giving the feel of attempting to land on an aircraft carrier."

Newark (EWR)

Boo! My first trip to Newark was a work trip to Ft Monmouth. Arrived late, it was dark and snowing, the roads were icy, and for the life of me I could not figure out how to get onto the New Jersey turnpike. What idiot decided the signs should be tiny? Other people complain about the "jug handle" road design, but those were easier to figure out than the dumb turnpike signs.

Anyway road difficulties aside, Newark was ok. Beware with rental car, there are NO GAS STATIONS at the airport! Once you are the airport road, you're hosed. The nearest gas, no joke, is 10-15 miles out on the turnpike at one of those center service islands.

Oaxaca City, Mexico (OAX)

After the hustle and bustle of Mexico City, Oaxaca City was a nice place to wind up. We were meeting Mark Pretti for a birding trip, and his directions for getting seats on a colectivo were easy enough to follow. We'd have never found the hotel (Azucenas) on our own...

Orlando (MCO)

To quote Bette Davis...what a dump!  The joke (or so I hear) is that MCO stands for "Mickey's Corporate Office", but if Disney ran it, it would look a lot better.  They ought to sweep in and rebuild the whole thing, considering how much traffic goes through there destined for Disney World. Or they could give up and give it to United...

Old facilities, ripped seats, duct-taped carpets. Minimal, lousy food concessions who closed up way too early. We flew here in 2007 to go to Daytona Beach; maybe we can fly directly there next time from somewhere else.

Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX)

Phoenix...all the problems of LA, without a beach.  However their airport beats LAX.  The parking is all over the place but the shuttles are efficient.  Do try to park in a structure and not out in the open, especially in summer.   Pretty easy to get in and out of.  This is our fallback airport when we can't to where we are going from Tucson (or at least, not cost-effectively from Tucson).

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico (PXM)

A nice small (2 gates or so) airport on the sunny Mexican tropical coast southeast of Acapulco. Sit and watch the trees sway, hope the ceiling fans stay on, and watch for your plane, the plane, to fly in.

San Francisco (SFO)

The main thing to note about SFO is the fog. On time? Ha. We used to be routinely delayed when we took the United shuttle from LAX to Tucson, because the plane invariably came from SFO. We have managed to largely avoid this airport except for a flight to Australia.

Seattle-Tacoma (SEA) and Portland (PDX)

I know - I really should not lump these two northwestern airports together.  Problem is I know I've been to both, and can't remember when.  Portland undoubtedly to visit our friends the Moshers in Salem and to go to a football game in either Eugene or Corvallis.

Vancouver, Canada (YVR)

Well, one good thing about Vancouver, you can go through US Customs there instead of when you get back into the US.  That's very handy.  Also you don't have to change money, you can get by with credit cards and dollars.  You wouldn't catch any part of the US accepting other currencies, now, would you?

Central America

Belize City, Belize (BZE)

Nice airport on the coast, but we didn't stick around, as we were headed to Gallon Jug airstrip and the Chan Chich "resort". There was a nice observation deck on the top of the terminal building where you could watch the few planes come and go.

Guatemala City, Guatemala (GUA)

See San Pedro Sula...

Panama City, Panama (PTY)

Strangely, not memorable. That's probably good. :-) We likely had a nice view of the canal from the air.

San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO)

Don't remember the airport per se - only how we got there (via Mexico City, Guatemala City, and San Pedro Sula), and the tech-less approach to ticketing and check-in employed by LACSA (the national airline of Costa Rica). The check-in line at LAX took three hours to negotiate and I don't think SJ was much better. Seemed like my pre-conception of what a mexican bus ride would be like, if only someone were carrying a chicken or two.

San Pedro Sula, Honduras (SAP)

The swaying palm trees, blue skies, wispy clouds, the warm scent of humidity, soldiers with AK-47s in the shadows of the palms...welcome to Central America.

This was a stop on our way to Costa Rica in 1991. The sign on the terminal - Generallisimo something-or-other aeropuerto internacional de San Pedro Sula - was bigger than the building. Didn't leave the aircraft, so your guess is as good as mine what it was like inside.

The airport is actually named for Ramón Villeda Morales, who served as president of Honduras from 1957 to 1963.  I swear there was some other name on the terminal.

If you're wondering why "Sula", in the native language "usula" means "valley of birds".


South America

Barranquilla, Colombia (BAQ)

We flew into Barranquilla from Panama City in June 2013, most convenient for our trip with Mark Pretti Nature Tours to northern Colombia, specifically the Santa Marta de Sierra Nevada mountains and the Guajira peninsula.  They had Juan Valdez coffee in the airport!  :-)

Buenos Aires, Argentina (AEP)

There are two airports in Buenos Aires, EZE is about 22 km from downtown, AEP is closer (Palermo) and more convenient.  Seemed nice enough and was easy to get a taxi - stop at the counter just as you exit immigration - and get our ride to the airport.

Caracas, Venezuela (CCS)

We flew into Simón Bolívar International Airport of Maiquetia (aka Caracas international airport) at night, and the city lights seemed beautiful. Later we found out most of the hillsides were populated by migrants ("nicaraguans", sniffed our local guide) in shacks, who tapped into the electric lines illegally, often with tragic results. The airport? No recollection, but we were met and handled by the local tour operator, who shepherded us through customs. Certainly leaving did not live down to our Quito experience.

Cusco, Peru (CUZ)

Flying into our highest airport, just short of 11000 ft, was exciting. Cusco occupies a very high, long valley. We flew along one long ridgeline and could see the runway below. After passing the end, we made the expected big diving u-turn to drop into the valley and land on the uphill-sloping runway. Andean musicians in colorful dress greeted the arriving passengers, making you feel you'd really arrived. Posters of Machu Picchu and a bottled oxygen stand (unnecessary, IMHO) added to the ambiance. Cusco definitely marked the start of our Peruvian adventure.

The airport is CUZ and not CUS because not only does CUS belong to the Columbus Municipal Airport in New Mexico, but because the spelling of Cusco has varied (it's a transliteration, after all, from a language (Quechua) that wasn't written - the closest they come now is Qosqo or Qusqu.) and only relatively recently was decided to be officially Cusco and not Cuzco.  (Well, English-language documents still say Cuzco.  Whatever.)   One interesting tidbit from Wikipedia - they say the runway is "fully paved".  That's nice.

Lima, Peru (LIM)

13 degrees south, coastal, big city, fog...can you say Los Angeles or San Diego? We arrived in the wee hours, so baggage claim was alarmingly slow, I think there was one guy shuttling between the terminal and the plane. But eventually our bags arrived, having negotiated transfers in Dallas and Miami. Getting out and finding our driver was easy, and traffic not a problem (so early in the morning). On the return the check-in and security were efficient. And we even (and finally) found Cusqueña dark beer. Winner!

Merida, Venezuela (MRD)

Merida was another high airport, but what I remember most was looking out the window, past Robert's pale face, at the mountains *right there*. A tight, high valley.

A web search reveals that the airport - Alberto Carnevali Airport - is listed on a page of "world's most dangerous airports".   They say:

We love checking out the world's most dangerous airports--at least via YouTube. The latest to join our list is Alberto Carnevali Airport in Merida, Venezuela. Reader maky0317 writes:

The airport of the city of Merida, Venezuela is in between a valley with 17,000-foot mountains and houses at the end off the runway... As of matter of fact a passenger plane crash after take off on the 21st of February.

That was Santa Barbara Airlines Flight 518, and the crash killed all 46 people on board. The turboprop plane didn't get far from the airport because of the mountains surrounding the runway: Flight 518 slammed into a rock face just 6 miles from MRD.

Thanks for sharing...

Puerto Maldonado, Peru (PEM)

A lot like Puerto Escondido, except with some nice crafts concessions (ok some good, some schlocky) with wares from the rainforest. I bought a pretty embroidered red shawl here and an embroidered folk art wall hanging (which at $60, was a quarter of the cost in Lima). Terminal though was hot and sticky; good thing we didn't actually try to clean up before getting there, since we just got soaked again standing in line.

Santiago, Chile (SCL)

We flew into Santiago en route to Buenos Aires, Argentina in late October 2014, on an AA round-trip from Tucson.  The round-trip from Santiago to Buenos Aires was booked separately on Aerolineas Argentinas, who screwed us royally in Santiago by cancelling the flight and doing basically nothing to get us to our destination.  So we got to see the immigration area in Santiago a few more times than originally intended.  Nice airport; the only weird thing is no ATMs in the international zone, I guess they figure you have no business getting any Chilean currency out, and the foreign currency exchange counter only sells other currencies (because you're leaving, after all!).  Luckily you can use credit cards in the shops/restaurants there, at least.

If you're arriving internationally (duh) and are connecting to another international flight, you don't have to do the customs and immigration thing, which is nice.  We were forewarned to watch for people approaching you to ask, "are you on the connecting flight to ...?", making you think there's a problem, when really they just want to take you to the third floor (departures) and show you where to go for money.  That didn't happen to us (perhaps my "don't bother me" face worked).

São Paulo, Brazil (GRU)

Robert really enjoyed the deep female voice sexily announcing flight arrivals and departures. "Campo Grange...Recife...Cuiaba...

She was better than the fake Mary Poppins voice at LAX, at least.

Quito, Ecuador (UIO)

At an elevation of about 10000 ft, not our highest airport - Cusco gets that nod at closer to 11000 ft - but exciting nevertheless. We were warned about a few things in Ecuador - old lady pickpockets, don't open your mouth in the shower - but nobody warned us what a free-for-all the check-in for our return flight home would be.

Line? What line? Concepts of order and personal space were completely lacking, but we were loathe to push ourselves since we didn't want to be "ugly americans". But the last straw was when a tour operator walked past all of us to the counter with a stack of passports. Time was running out as our boarding time approached and we still had to get through security. So Robert watched the bags while I vaulted to the counter, past people and stepping on their luggage, and practically smacked the agent in the face with our tickets as she handed papers back to someone else.

All rather distasteful, and we were both annoyed at having to act like that, but our own guide Peter English (who had observed the entire scene) said, "congratulations, you figured out how it works!".

And the kicker was, the plane was overweight, and they were paying big $ to get people and their luggage off, up to $1500/person (in 1996!) plus an overnight hotel room. But not even the promise of $3000 could make us face that check-in again.

Airline? Might have been United.


Europe

Dublin, Ireland (DUB)

Robert says Ireland is really green. :-) That aside, this airport has one of the coolest local names -- Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath in Irish. Niece Mo flew in there summer of 2008, and says: Customs was really easy to go through and everyone in the airport was quite friendly. It is a bit dumpy as far as airports go. Everything is older and looks sort of dingy. Additionally, you have to walk quite far to change terminals (though I didn't have to deal with that). Really easy to get into the city from here(great bus service), but terrible baggage claim. It took me an hour after I got off the plane to get my luggage.

Dubrovnik, Croatia (DBV)

Ah, Dubrovnik.  The Pearl of the Adriatic.  We flew into Dubrovnik (direct, I believe, from Frankfurt) on our own pre-trip to a VBT cycling trip in 2010.  Luckily we didn't have to deal with the potentially crooked taxi con artists outside the terminal, and had arranged for a pickup from the proprietor of our B&B in the Old Town (Villa Ragusa, run by Pero Carević).

Frankfurt am Main, Germany (FRA)

Big, clean, efficient...German. Always seems to rain when we are there. There was a nice hotel outside the airport near the entrance to Rhein-Main Air Base (where I nearly got my camera confiscated). There we watched a thrilling Tour de France stage (Lance crashes! He gets up! He attacks!).

We seem to keep returning here.  It's a great hub to get to Croatia.  We remember sitting here on a return trip from Croatia in 2010 - we had flown from Split to Zagreb to Frankfurt - wondering how the eruption of a in Iceland was going to affect our getting home.  There were plenty of flights marked "annuliert" but ours was fine.

London / Gatwick, UK (LGW)

Ok.  I bought a Swatch here when we flew through on our way to Tuscany for Renate Wendt's and Valdo Frasconi's wedding in 2007. Sorry to say buying the watch was the airport highlight.

London / Heathrow, UK (LHR)

Mind the step! Specifically, look the other way before you step off the curb outside the terminal, lest you get flattened by a car driving on the left side of the road.

Recollections of Heathrow - big, ok, tight security (thanks to the IRA).

Niece Mo adds: Great airport, but massive. glad I don't have to figure too much out there. If you fly from Ireland, they apparently don't care who is entering the country as there was no form of customs whatsoever and no one checked my passport. I was kind of bummed not to get my stamp from England. :-( [The beauty of travelling between EU countries...or not... lyw] Guess the IRA is no longer of concern? Great for getting into the city though. Wonderful direct and easy tube service!

Ljubljana (LJU)

Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport, previously Brnik Airport, is named for (who else) Jože Pučnik, a Slovene public intellectual, dissident, politician and leader of the Democratic Opposition of Slovenia (Demos) between 1989 and 1992.  The airport acquired his name in 2007.  We flew in here in June 2014 on our VBT Slovenia trip.

Madrid (MAD)

Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport is named for a former prime minister, the first after the restoration of democracy and for his "key participation in the Spanish Transition to Democracy after Franco's Dictatorship" (from wikipedia).  It is a ways outside the city, but it's pretty easy getting the T1 train into the city, e.g. to Atocha train station.  There's a small surcharge for catching the train at the airport.  Liza still has her ticket for some reason from our 2009 biking trip.

Munich (MUC)

Ok, I know we have flown here, but...when?  Once certainly we were met at the airport, I thought, by Hans and Lisa Prugger.  We last visited the airport (as of this writing in 2013) when we were in Germany for a Downhill to Breakfast bike tour of the Mosel; we were visiting the Pruggers for a few days, and niece Maureen flew in from London to join us.  We ourselves had flown to Frankfurt, took the train to Munich, and then on out to the airport by train (our ticket to Munich included local transportation in one direction...so out to the airport we went, then bought a pass to get back out to Pullach).  Anyway, nice airport.  Love the rail connections.

Paris / De Gaulle, France (CDG)

The main thing I remember here is a news story from 2004 about the 2E terminal collapsing.  No, we weren't in it.  You can take the train from the city out to the airport, but there are lots of stories about pickpockets and luggage thieves accosting the obvious travelers.  I suppose that happens at a lot of European airports with trains, but the stories here seem worse.  In particular don't take anything out of your bag while on the train, and don't be fooled by someone pretending to drop coins near you and wanting to look under your seat.  Just hold onto your bags and pretend you don't understand.  Easy to pretend in Paris since the French assume everyone else is an idiot, anyway.

Pisa, Italy (PSA)

One thing sums up the Galileo Galilei International Airport - awesome cappuccini from a vending machine. No kidding!

Rome, Italy (FCO)

When in Rome...don't necessarily do as the Romans do.  Layover to/from Nairobi. I well remember the group of chain-smoking idiots puffing away while seated directly beneath the No Smoking sign. We opted for an insane dash by train to make the fastest-ever visit of the Vatican rather than sit there.

Salzburg, Austria (SZG)

Also known as Salzburg Airport Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Ok so the name is cool, but why would you fly out of here when you could take a train to Munich in under 90 minutes?  Ah, it's the gateway to ski areas.  Whatever.  Not by choice, but on our VBT Slovenia trip in June 2014 we departed from Salzburg (to Frankfurt at least, and not Munich).

Split, Croatia (SPU)

Actually that's "Zračna luka Split" to you. And it's not really in Split, but virtually in Trogir, 15 miles from Split. Nice little airport. We flew out of here in 2011 when we returned to Croatia for a birding tour.

Zadar, Croatia (ZAD)

Another Zračna luka to you (see also Split).  This airport we flew into in 2011 when we returned to Croatia for a birding tour.

Zagreb, Croatia (ZAG)

Zagreb airport is the main international airport of Croatia and also a Croatian Air Force and Air Defence major fighter jet base. Yes, they have an air force.  We flew in here in 2011 en route to Zadar on our birding trip.


Asia/Pacific

Auckland, New Zealand (AKL)

On the North Island.  We went through Auckland on our way to/from the South Island (Christchurch, Queenstown) on a VBT cycling tour in December 2011.  The international terminal was a 15 minute or so walk from the domestic terminal; one can either wait 15 minutes for a bus ride, or just follow the giant green line on the pavement, which seems to go a bit out of the way but does get you there.  It's a good opportunity to practice walking on the left anyway, and looking to your right before you cross the street.

Christchurch, New Zealand (CHC)

Popped into this airport, little more than an hour's flying time from Auckland, to start our VBT cycling trip in December 2011.

Delhi, India (DEL)

The country in miniature - huge, busy, colorful, and full of really nice people. For the most part I people-watched, gawking at the beautiful saris and other traditional dress.

As you might guess, it was a well-run airport, even if it did look a little used.  Officially named Indira Gandhi International Airport it is the second busiest airport in India - who is first?  Mumbai (Bombay)?

Honolulu (HNL)

The soft breezes greet you gently, and the Wiki-Wiki Shuttle takes you between terminals. There are beautiful gardens at the airport leading to decent "first glimpse of the islands" birding opportunities. The airport is kind of old but with this scenery, who can complain?

Seoul, South Korea (ICN)

ICN stands for Incheon International Airport.  Liza went here on a business trip in 2010.  Luckily she was being picked up, because she'd probably have been seriously lost if trying to drive herself...yes many signs are in English...but the traffic was absolutely horrendous.  Seemed to take a good two hours or more to get to the hotel, seemingly at about 5-10 miles per hour.

Sydney, Australia (SYD)

Leaving Sydney in our rental car, on the left side of the road, at night, is the only time I ever witnessed Robert getting lost.  Mr. Map, as I like to call him, memorizes maps and has an internal compass that is amazing.  But Sydney, with its roads being a maze of twisty passages all different, messed him up.  I'm reading the map, and say "we're here!" (way to the east instead of going north as we should have been, or whatever).   "No, we can't be, you can't read maps, give me that..."  and then a few minutes later, "damn!  how'd we get over here?". :-)

Queenstown, New Zealand (ZQN)

Where we flew out of at the end of our VBT cycling trip in December 2011.  A whole 10 minute drive from the town center and easily navigated.

Africa/Middle East

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (JED)

Jeddah International Airport - aka King Abdulaziz International Airport - we visited en route from Rome to Nairobi.  What did it look like?  No blasted idea.  The Alitalia crew (see Nairobi below for a description of why I hate Alitalia) said when we landed that we had to hide all of our reading material as it might "offend" the local personnel coming on to straighten up the plane, etc.  All we had were bird books - as my friend Martin said, not even any bees - but we took no chances, and basically covered up not only the books but ourselves completely.  Didn't look out the window, didn't look to see who was in the aisle, until we were taking off again.  Missed opportunity, I suppose.

Nairobi, Kenya (NBO)

The surprise here, if you hadn't done your homework, was the elevation. We were watching our altitude drop on the monitor, arriving at night, couldn't see much out the windows, and touched down at about 5300 feet, provoking noticeable gasps out of not a few passengers!

That aside...Nairobi was probably the closest we'll get to Lagos. The airport reflected the state of the country, a benign neglect since independence resulting in the deterioration of the infrastructure. At least the runways did not look like the roads.

Our vote for worst airline stems from this trip...worse even than United or Pan Am...Alitalia. They still allowed smoking, and although we were nominally in the non-smoking section, we were the first row behind the smokers. Our request to move resulted in the flight attendants taking their smoke breaks next to us and flicking ash on our heads. Ugh.


Last update: 19 May 2015 by lyw