If you’re like me, you’ve had some really bad experiences in airports.
I’m not talking about just long, slow security lines — though those can cause serious problems catching some flights — but huge distances to cover between flights without sufficient airport transportation; bad signage; lousy dining choices; airline lounges that are almost impossible to find; lack of storage facilities; escalators that don’t work or don’t exist at all, forcing passengers to lug heavy suitcases up stairways; luggage carts that require coins in currencies visitors haven’t acquired yet; lack of sufficient seating near gates (or anywhere, for that matter); baggage carousels that don’t work, stranding some bags in limbo; inadequate restroom facilities…I could go on, but you get the picture.
Sometimes when I’m having to dash between flights — such as I did a few months ago in the Madrid airport — along a route that seemed to take me halfway to Barcelona, I wonder how my baby boomer contemporaries who have recently had hip or knee replacements can possibly make it. Yes, there’s always the chance of flagging down one of those trams that come careening down the hallways with horns blaring, but they often seem to be filled with folks who appear, at least, to be perfectly capable of hoofing it themselves. (Though to be fair, you can’t always tell.)
So I’d like to give a nod today to the Frankfurt, Germany, airport (FRA), which has instituted a small — but very much appreciated — service to its passengers who are flying to warmer climes in the winter.
The airport now has a winter coat storage service that allows passengers to store their heavy coats there before getting on the plane, to say, southern Spain or the Canary Islands to catch some rays in the dark days of November through April.
The service costs 50 euro cents per item per day and means you don’t have to lug around that albatross of a coat when you’re checking into a hotel someplace where it’s 70 or 80 degrees.
And think of all the space it saves in those overcrowded overhead compartments on the planes. You might actually have room for your carry-on bags.
This is part of the Frankfurt airport’s “Great to Have You Here!” campaign, which is refreshing for a facility that processes more passengers per year (57 million) than any other in Germany.
(Imagine a campaign at JFK in New York called “Great to Have You Here”? I can picture something more like a “Great to See You Go!” campaign, intended to prepare new arrivals for their even more chaotic experiences at the ground transportation areas just outside. It’s always nice to come home to a Third World country from Europe or Asia.)
Speaking of JFK, USA Today just came out with a piece on road warriors naming their favorite and least-favorite airports in the U.S. and around the world, and as a New Yorker I’m proud to say that Chicago’s O’Hare was actually named the least favorite in the U.S., while Paris’ Charles de Gaulle was named least favorite internationally.
Certainly of major international cities, I think de Gaulle is a good choice, since as I recall it took my family hours just to figure out where to check in, though London’s Heathrow ranks right up there, especially if you’re trying to transfer to another flight within two hours or sometimes within two days.
And O’Hare — which is half the size of several mid-sized cities and is plagued by air traffic congestion, endless taxiing and long waits on the tarmac — isn’t a bad choice, though for me, it’s hard to top JFK for sheer obnoxiousness. (It has improved since the introduction of Air Train some years ago, but you still have to switch to the Long Island Railroad or the subway to make it into Manhattan. Though taxis and shuttles are even worse.)
The best airports, as chosen by USA Today’s road warriors? Dallas-Fort Worth in the U.S., and Amsterdam’s Schiphol internationally.
The Dallas airport does have good barbecue and an efficient tram system for making connections in different terminals, and Amsterdam’s airport has room for 10,000 bicycles parked outside, so I can’t complain about those selections.
But Frankfurt’s coat-check service is one of those little touches that can mean a lot. Even if a city can’t upgrade its airport to the top tiers in the world, it can get creative in ways that keep its passengers just a little bit happier. And they’ll come back, too — after all, they have to fetch their coats.
What do you think, readers? Do you have any nominations for the world’s best and worst airports? I’d love to hear from you.
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