Traveling is one of those unique and unusual experiences for a lot of people that mixes pleasure and pain in equal amounts. Everyone likes being on vacation, but few people like the process of getting to a vacation spot. And airports, by and large, are massive stressors. There are huge crowds, deadlines, security, the threat of getting lost or having flights delayed, not to mention the fact flights cost an arm and a leg. So it’s no wonder that even at the best of times, an airport can be unpleasant. But some airports take that unpleasantness to the next level.
10. Courchevel Altiport, France
A lot of things go into making an airport a “good” airport. You want a nice looking building with convenient facilities. Clean bathrooms, easy to find restaurants or shops, and a smooth process in and out with friendly, efficient staff. One thing you don’t tend to include on your list is a lack of white knuckle fear. Because you take it for granted that any airport, no matter how awful, won’t terrify you. Well, that’s just a sign you’ve never visited Courchevel Altiport.
To reach the remarkably short 525 meter long uphill landing strip at Courchevel, pilots have to fly in through mountains and land on a steep gradient in the snow. Typically, only skilled pilots are even allowed to give it a try because of how hard it is to navigate.
The airport is located in the French Alps, so the weather is always a point of contention here. If there isn’t snow in the air, you can expect at least some wind or ice on the runway itself. The tower has to do a lot of heavy lifting here to help pilots land at the best of times.
9. Kuwait International Airport
The Kuwait International Airport has been having a rough time for years. The website Airhelp does a yearly ranking of airports and the Kuwait International Airport has been at the very bottom of the list for ages now. Depending on which year you look at the lists, it’s either the worst or the second worst airport in the world again and again. That’s out of over 100 airports.
Even the positive Google reviews mention that the staff can be unfriendly here. But the real issue in Kuwait seems to be less the service and amenities and more the fact that the airport and airlines can’t seem to get their act together and get things done on any kind of schedule.
There are limited facilities, including basic things like outlets for charging electronics. Reviews on Skytrax are no different, with the facilities and disorganization ripped apart by travelers who can’t seem to make any sense out of the airport or its policies.
8. Bordeaux Airport
Read some of the over 4,000 user reviews on Google from travelers and you’ll want to ensure you never stop at the Bordeaux-Merignac Airport unless your life depends on it. 4,300 reviews average out to a 2.6 rating overall. And sure, people tend to only leave reviews when they have a bad experience and not a good one, but if that many thousands of people have the same bad experience, you have to give it some credence.
In the case of the Bordeaux airport in France, there are a handful of recurring criticisms that make it sound like the last place you want to end up on a journey. To start with, water is apparently extremely hard to come by. Drinking fountains are routinely on the fritz, as are the vending machines. Where does one have to go to find water? Some travelers have been told to go to the bathroom, but the problem there is that the airport apparently only has one bathroom. And it tends to smell.
Most travelers also mention a total lack of organization, such as only one desk being open for several departing flights. There aren’t enough seats, the lines are long, and the staff is often described as rude.
7. Matekane Air Strip, Lesotho
The Matekane Air Strip in Lesotho isn’t exactly a high traffic area. This strip is almost exclusively used for medical or emergency personnel who need to reach the remote region to render some kind of aid. The reason it’s so underused is pretty obvious when you hear the size of the strip: it’s only 1,300 feet long. Commercial runways are typically 8,000 feet. Minimum.
Only the smallest planes can land at Matekane, and they need some precise calculations of speed on top of landing exactly in the right spot to ensure they can get the plane to stop before the runway runs out. Of course, taking off presents another challenge. The airstrip doesn’t just end; it runs right off a cliff. That’s not a bug, that’s a feature. There simply isn’t enough room for a plane to take off here, so they just run right off a mountain kind of like a baby bird learning to fly and pick up the thrust needed to get airborne during freefall.
As for the airport itself, that’s the other problem with Matekane. There is no facility on the mountaintop where the strip is located. You have to make your way down and to the nearest town to find what you need.
6. LaGuardia Airport, New York
People hate LaGuardia Airport in New York. Joe Biden once likened it to a third world country. And it seems like there is no end to the reasons for it. For evidence, just look at the oddly inspirational Miracle on the Hudson. This is presented as a feel-good story of a near-disaster that occurred when US Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River, but no one died. And of course that’s a good thing. But why did it crash? Birds. And what keeps happening at LaGuardia Airport even today? Birds.
Since the Miracle on the Hudson, thousands of bird strikes have continued to happen at LaGuardia and New York’s other airports. But LaGuardia is the only one where it got so bad a plane literally fell in the river as a result.
LaGuardia was so universally reviled they spent $4 billion back in 2015 to try to revitalize it and make it a more streamlined and pleasant experience for travelers. The renovation is still going on in 2021, which means that passengers have had the added hassle of dealing with construction for six years. Thirteen thousand Google reviews have amounted to a grand total of a 3.6 out of 5 rating with current travelers pointing out the construction, wait times, and disorganization as major setbacks.
5. Paris-Beauvais Airport, France
Let’s say you’ve never been to Paris-Beauvais airport and you know nothing about it apart from the name. Where would you say it’s located? Maybe in Paris? You’d be wrong, and that’s one of several reasons so many people hate this airport.
Paris-Beauvais airport is actually about 50 miles outside of Paris. That’s not “just outside of town,” that’s a sizable chunk of land between the airport and its supposed place of origin. Now factor in that the airport closes at night and there’s no train that connects it to the actual city of Paris. If your flight is late or you are late, there’s a good chance you’re spending the night in the French countryside.
It was ranked one of the 10 worst airports in the world back in 2017 thanks in no small part to the remote location and the fact the airport has a weird design that makes it look like a warehouse more than anything else. Once the airport is closed, which takes place around 10:45 at night, you can either sleep on a bench until 6 in the morning, or walk the parking lot.
4. Newark Liberty Airport, New Jersey
New York is, by and large, a terrible place to catch a plane. We saw how bad LaGuardia was already and Terminal B at Newark’s airport is no better. They have the same bird problem that LaGuardia has, but they also have an issue with getting flights on time. In fact, Newark is the worst airport in the country if you plan on getting a flight on time. A full quarter of all flights into Newark are delayed, meaning schedules may as well be tossed out the window if you ever have to do business here.
AirHelp has Newark ranked 116 on its list of airports, only 16 spots from the bottom of all airports in the world and the very bottom of those in the United States.
3. London Stansted Airport
No one wants to be stuck in an airport, that’s a given. They’re a place between where you were and where you want to be. Ideally, you are in and out as fast as possible. But when you do have to stay, you expect a few common courtesies. If your flight is delayed for some reason, you could end up spending an entire night in a terminal. So you’d expect that, at the very least, you’d be able to sleep to pass the time. Not so in London Stansted.
Back in 2018, the airport decided it didn’t want loafers in the terminal and put a 10 minute timer on sleepers. Guards would literally wake people up if they saw them unconscious for more than 10 minutes at a stretch.
The airport’s position was that other travelers complained about seeing people sleeping in the terminal, some of them even using hammocks or blow-up beds. This overlooks the fact that people had to sleep in the terminal because they weren’t on their flight, since no one goes to an airport specifically to sleep there.
On top of that, Stansted repeatedly gets criticized for rude staff, which seems obvious now, plus dirty facilities and a lack of seating.
2. Jeddah King Abdulaziz Airport, Saudi Arabia
Another airport that has more than once been voted worst in the world, Jeddah King Abdulaziz in Saudi Arabia has a litany of issues to atone for. Chief concerns here include a lack of cleanliness and rude staff which, honestly, seem to exist at every airport. Here rudeness seems to be an art form, however, with some passengers attesting to the fact that staff will literally not speak to you if they don’t feel like it.
Part of the problem was that the airport was originally designed to handle six million passengers per year. It was serving upwards of 17 million by 2016. This was due to the fact it’s the go to spot if you’re partaking of the Hajj pilgrimage.
1. Juba International Airport, Sudan
An airport that is on again off again in the middle of a war zone has no business being a good place. Still, regardless of the reasons for it, Juba International Airport in Sudan is arguably the worst airport in the world.
Photography isn’t allowed in the airport, so few images of the dismal conditions make it out. That said, as of 2017 the airport was literally a tent with rotten plywood floors. The tent leaks and there are mud puddles around the service desks on occasion.
Word is people have fallen through the holes in the floors and that, in 40 degree celsius heat, it’s hard to breathe and not sweat like you’re being cooked in the tents. Top this with a lack of seating and sanitation. Apparently there are some seriously rank odors in the facility, and massive crowds, and you have a terrible airport experience. Apparently, some renovations have taken place, but even as recently as 2019 it was ranked as one of the worst airports in the entire world.
Keep in mind, many of the people who have gone to this airport did so when the country was literally in the middle of a brutal war. Is the government allocating time or effort to making the airport a nice place? Probably not.