Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Week: Around the World

Airports of the world

Airports have recently become things to dread. Between security lines and underwhelming food, most people just want to get to where they are going while spending as little time in the airport as possible. Airports can be interesting places if one takes the time to look at them. In the last 10 years, most every major airport in the world has undergone or is undergoing refurbishment and part of the goal of these projects is to not just handle more passengers, but to make airports esthetically pleasing as well. So why am I telling you this?
You may have noticed I haven’t posted anything to the travel blog in over a month. There is a good reason for that. I had a PAID writing assignment and it took the entire month of October to finish. My task? To write a 110-word paragraph about the world’s major airports, 182 airports in all. For the assignment, I was to merely provide factual and statistical information, such as the number of passengers per year, the number of non-stop destinations, how many concourses, etc. However, during the course of this work I learned way more about these airports than just facts and figures. Some airports are quite interesting. Some have artwork on display. And others are just downright dangerous (Tripoli anyone?) So for fun I thought I would compile some interesting airport information just in time for you to use to impress people at upcoming holiday parties. Your welcome!
The world’s largest building is Dubai International Airport’s Terminal 3 in the United Arab Emirates at 1.5 million square meters (16,137,600 sq ft). The world’s second largest building is also an airport terminal. Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 3 is No. 2 and was built to handle the passenger traffic for the 2008 Olympic Games.
King Abdulaziz International Airport in the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has a special terminal called the Hajj Terminal. This terminal is specifically designed to handle Muslim travelers entering the country for their pilgrimages, or Hajj, to Mecca/Makkah. What’s interesting is that many Middle Eastern airports have expanded in recent years to accommodate the millions of pilgrims that make the Hajj every year, however, this airport, which is the closest airport to Mecca, is the only one that has a specific Hajj Terminal with its own masque inside. The airport masque can accommodate 80,000 travelers.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) recently reopened their Observation Deck, located on that cool Jetson’s type spaceship-like building. The official name of the building is the Theme Building. Closed after 9/11, the airport completely remodeled the deck and restaurant and it is now open to the public for viewing airplanes as they take-off and land. To visit the deck is FREE. However, patrons have to pay for airport parking and if they eat in the restaurant.

As a side note – dozens of airports in the US and around the world have Sky Decks or Observation Decks and most are free to use with paid airport parking. So if you like airplanes or your kids like airplanes, see if the airport nearest you has a sky deck and take a camera or binoculars, some will even allow guests to bring their own food and have a picnic.
For those of you who play golf, Huntsville International Airport in northern Alabama has an 18-hole par-72 golf course attached to it. Called Sunset Landing Golf Course, the course is open year around. On the flipside, Munich International Airport in Munich, Germany, features an 18-hole MINI-golf course on-site at the airport’s Visitor’s Park.
Many major airports, mostly in Europe, but also Sydney, Australia, and San Jose, California, feature bike paths and bike parking at their airports. Now I can’t image taking luggage for a week’s vacation on a bike, but when you consider that Denver International Airport is 23 MILES away from the city, having a bike trail to and from the airport sounds like a good idea. Think of the gas and money airport employees would save. Think of all the people who like to ride bikes. Denver, are you listening? All that open space with beautiful views of the mountains on the horizon? Who wouldn’t want to ride a bike on that?
By the way, at 23 miles, Denver Airport is one of the farthest airports away from the city it is supposed to serve. London Gatwick Airport is 28 miles away from central London, but it has a Metro. Orlando Airport is 20 miles away from downtown Orlando and has a Disney Shuttle. The airport that is farthest away, of the airports I researched, is Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 35 miles south of the city, however, they have a high-speed rail line that takes travelers from airport to downtown in 28 minutes. Denver has no such thing, yet.
And one final note on Denver. As you enter or exit the airport, you see a sculpture of a blue mustang. The horse has red lights for eyes. Looks evil, especially at night. Many people in Denver don’t like it and there is even a Facebook page asking for the airport powers that be to remove it. Those of you from other parts of the country might be thinking, what’s the big deal. What if it told you the artist who created the piece, Luis Jimenez, was killed during instillation when a section of the sculpture fell from hoist on top of him. Creepy.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas, one of the coolest music cities in the US, right up there with, Nashville, Seattle and New Orleans, features live music from local bands in their airport every afternoon.
Daytona Beach, Florida, is one of the world’s first runways. Not airport, runway. In 1906, boys flying their new toys would land their “flying machines” on the beach because the beach was long and wide and the sand was hard packed and smooth. After a while they thought it would be a good idea to build a facility next to it and the rest is history.
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has several miles of horse riding trails surrounding the airport. In order to use the trails, you have to fill out an application and undergo a background check by the airport. Once accepted, you and your horse have access to the wide open spaces that surround the airport.

Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California, has been featured in two movies, Giant, from 1956 featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, from 1989 featuring Harrison Ford and Sean Connery.
All airports have some sort of dog park or pet relief area for passengers traveling with pets or service dogs. However, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, is so proud of their pet area, they have a video of it on You Tube.
Check out the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QStxuI-9qI
Punta Cana International Airport in the Dominican Republic has three terminals, all three featuring palm frond thatched roofs. They also have live merengue music. I want to go there.
Speaking of airports I’d like to visit, the top of that list is Princess Juliana International Airport on the island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin in the Caribbean. Those of you that have seen the St. Martin episode of Three Sheets know what I’m talking about. Not the easiest airport to land at, the runway begins over Maho Beach. Maho is a public beach and next to it is the world famous Beach Bar. Imagine drinking a rum punch while a jumbo jet flies mere feet above your head? I must go there so I can write about it someday.

Antalya, Turkey – Considered the gateway to the Turkish Riviera. I had no idea there was a Turkish Riviera. According to Frommers online guide, this is a place where you can hike through ancient ruins in the morning and sit on the beach and drink mai tais in the afternoon. My kinda place.

Tenerife, Canary Island – I knew about the Canary Islands, but I never would have guessed the airport on Tenerife receives over 7 million passengers each year. Although temperate year around, their main tourist season is from May to September, so that means a lot of people are going through that airport in a short amount of time. For those who are geographically impaired, the Canary Islands are considered a nationality of Spain, but are only a few hundred miles from Morocco on the West Coast of Africa. To get there from the US, one must fly to Europe first.
Here are some airports I recommend you NOT visit.
There is a subtle warning on the website for Mexico City’s airport telling passengers to be sure to use the “official” Taxi Autorizado (government run taxis), which are distinguished by their bright yellow cars and drivers’ vest. However, on Frommer’s travel guide for Mexico City, they are much more explicit. They warned against travelers arriving at Mexico City after 8 p.m. because that is when the official taxis are done for the day and travelers are left to the mercy of “private” taxis drivers who may not be on the up and up.
On the subject of taxis, for women traveling alone in Hurghada, Egypt, sitting in the front passenger seat of a taxi cab is considered an open invitation for sex, as is shaking hands with a man, waving hello to a man or even making eye-contact with a man. Please note this is NOT the case in Cairo. I do not want to discourage anyone from seeing the Great Pyramids (in fact now is a good time to go, Cairo is in desperate need of tourists for income and several magazines articles including Frommer’s own Budget Travel say it is safe). For more information on Hurghada, follow this link from Frommers.
I mentioned Saudi Arabia earlier. What I didn’t mention before is that Saudi Arabia has strict guidelines on travelers entering the country. You cannot enter the country if:
·         You have an Israeli passport or have an Israeli stamp in your passport

·         You are intoxicated

·         You do not respect Muslim traditions

·         Visitors not of the Muslim faith are not allowed in the holy cities of Mecca/Medina

·         Women traveling alone (unless you have a male “sponsor” to meet you at the airport and drive you around, then you might be allowed)

·         If you overstay your tourist visa (usually 30 days), there is $2,667 US fine and possible jail time

·         Chances are if you are a US citizen or of the Jewish faith, you will not be issued a tourist visa and thus not allowed in the country

(all information provided from Frommers.com and Budget Travel Magazine)
Tehran, Iran – Most of us here in the US don’t think about traveling to Iran. And those of my generation remember in great detail the Iran hostage crisis. However, this is one of the world’s major airports with 12 million passengers each year. Most travelers are coming from Europe or the Middle East and few from East Asia. You can’t get there directly from the US, but a hop to Paris, London or Berlin and you can be in Tehran about 12 hours. Those of us in Colorado are familiar with the Dizin Ski Resort located about 43 miles north of Tehran. We’ve seen it in Warren Miller movies. You’d be surprised at how many North American skiers have been there.
Havana and Varadero, Cuba – Fidel Castro has been running Cuba my entire life. US citizens have not been allowed direct access to Cuba in that time. However, with Fidel’s health failing and the government considering more of a free market atmosphere, the US has eased some of these travel restrictions. More and more US travelers are finding out what the Canadians already know:  Cuba is a spectacular vacation destination - Beautiful beaches, good food, classic architecture, fun street festivals. From what I have read about Cuba, it’s not an easy place to visit or get around in, but those that have been there treasure the experience. Sadly, I’ve read that the airports are crowded and difficult to get around in and known for taxi and baggage claim scams.
Tripoli, Libya – I was quite surprised to see this airport on my list. Especially since it’s only been a few weeks since Qaddafi was killed. The airport ceased commercial operations when the civil war started last spring so how it made the list I have no idea. There is no website for this airport at this time. It was very tough to find any information about it at all. I did find out that commercial flights are expected to resume December 1, 2011, from countries such as France and Turkey. Book your holiday flights now.
Airports with the coolest names:
Warsaw Chopin Airport is located in Warsaw, Poland. The prolific pianist, Fryderyk Chopin is a native son and the Poles are quite proud, as they should be. The airport along with the city hosts the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute and “Chopin and his Europe” Festival every year. Chopin was a child-prodigy and well known as a pianist and composer, however, he lived his adult life mostly in Paris after the Russian suppression of Poland. Having suffered health issues most of his life, he died in 1849. He was only 39 years old.  
Suvarnabhumi International Airport is located in Bangkok, Thailand. Pronounced su-wan-na-pum, the name was chosen by HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej and means “Golden Land” in Sanskrit. It refers to the region formerly known as Indochina. Indochina includes the countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Burma. It’s also one of the newest airports in the world opening in 2006.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is named for New Orleans native and jazz legend Louis Armstrong. New Orleans is known for its music so what a great tribute, not just to Armstrong, but the city as well. Beside music, the airport is home to an art collection valued at close to $1 million.
O. R. Tambo International Airport is located in Johannesburg, South Africa. Formerly called Johannesburg Airport, the name was changed in 2006 and is now named after a South African liberation leader and former president of the African National Congress.
Airports with names that are lame:
Omaha Epply Airfield – Airfield? Really? Makes it sound like the place is just a dirt runway with a barn next to it. This is a metropolitan city and the airport has over 4 million passengers a year. I had many small market airports on my list that called themselves “International” and they didn’t have any commercial international flights (that’s right, Amarillo, Texas, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, I’m talkin’ ‘bout you!).
Albuquerque International Sunport – What were they thinking? Sunport? Sounds like a child’s playground rather than an airport.
Portland International Jetport – Located in Portland, Maine, this is not necessarily a bad name, but it does sound like it was left over from the 60’s.
And here are some interesting facts:
1)      Cincinnati Airport is actually in Northern Kentucky. Hebron to be exact. After many years of confusion they finally renamed it Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

2)      Denver International Airport has a passenger bridge between Jeppeson Terminal and Concourse A that is high enough for planes to taxi under.

3)      The Tropic of Capricorn intersects the southern tip of Guarulhos International Airport outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

4)      The world’s longest commercial flight is a Singapore Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Singapore and runs 18 hours and 50 minutes. The second-longest flight is an Emirate Airlines flight from Dubai to Houston.

5)      The world’s busiest airport is Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport followed by Beijing Capital International Airport in China and London’s Heathrow Airport.

6)      LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, is so close to Citi Field (Mets) and USTA Tennis Center (US Open) you could actually walk to them.

7)      McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, has 1300 slot machines.