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The worst airport on the planet


Passengers ready to board their flight at Madrid’s Barajas Airport final July © Zuma Press/Eyevine

On an epic but failed odyssey final week, I had a revelation. Sprinting for 40 minutes on disembarkation, by arrivals, alongside travelators, by way of an enormous automotive park, to a bus, on a freeway to a different terminal and a brand new set of exits, on an extra connecting practice, by the duty-free store and down an interminable hall to find that I had, sadly, and by two minutes, missed my subsequent connection, I got here to this conclusion. Madrid-Barajas is the Worst Airport within the World.

It wasn’t the truth that the separate terminals are about as handily positioned as planets in a photo voltaic system, in order that so as to get from one to a different in a well timed style you must break the pace of sunshine. Nor that the social engineers who designed its mighty structure conceived a winding pathway to make sure passengers are steered by each tiny dispensary and retail alternative so as to direct you even additional out of your flight.

No, it was the dearth of signage that utterly mystified me. Not even in Spanish. There have been no clues in sight. Travellers are presumably anticipated to intuit that Terminal “4S” is an appendage of Terminal 4 accessed by way of a secret practice that may be positioned solely by using Spidey sense.

Flailing round, yelping at varied individuals sporting tabards, I felt like Anneka Rice in Treasure Hunt, the traditional tv sport present through which she traversed the nation utilizing cryptic clues and native data to seek out the successful spoils. At one level, simply as within the TV present, I used to be joined by an enthusiastic employees member who jogged alongside me to reveal a sooner route. Or at the very least that’s what he instructed me as we raced into an empty concrete automotive park through which I couldn’t see one other soul. No matter . . . he wore a lanyard and appeared to have an insider’s data of the plot.

Everybody has their peeves on the subject of airports. British airports frustrate with their insistence that we use their prissy little plastic baggies to stack our toiletries, like some sport of cosmetological Tetris the place we should select between deodorant or sustaining some semblance of follicular management. Anxious flyers take situation with airports with quick runways — akin to Courchevel — or perilous, akin to Vágar within the Faroe Islands (which has the fun of sitting on a cliff edge and being buffeted by excessive winds and heavy fog). Personally, I might gladly trade the danger of hazard when contemplating my choices than should move by these US hangars the place the whole lot is staffed by a pc and the meals appears to be like just like the undigested remnants one discovers in a corpse.

Business airports give the misinform the concept that there stays any glamour in trendy journey. For most individuals, it’s only a sweaty, smelly schlep. (Really, personal airports aren’t a lot better — they’re simply business airports with huge white leather-based sofas and a greater class of nut.) And but the extra disagreeable the journey is changing into, the extra we attempt to get away.

This week, Ryanair reported its most worthwhile December quarter on file, pulling in some €211mn, and reiterated a revenue forecast of between €1.325bn and €1.425bn on this monetary yr. The airline has rebounded from the pandemic, filling 93 per cent of seats. In line with its chief govt Michael O’Leary, the price of dwelling disaster has solely made individuals extra decided to e-book that vacation. So decided, presumably, that passengers will waive the actual fact the airline is so grossly craven in its profit-hunting that they routinely cost a payment to decide on a seat, along with the ticket we would foolishly assume could be adequate to permit us to get on the airplane. But Ryanair is barely partly chargeable for the tradition of screwing passengers. From the bloated lounges and limitless queueing to the lacking baggage (the lacking baggage!) and the pricey extras, nearly each single function of the aeronautical expertise is now an enormous bore.

So why fly, say those that, conscious of the melting ice-caps, favor to achieve their locations by unicycle or different worthy, much less carbon-burning means? Right here once more, the expertise is fairly dreadful: even Eurostar, as soon as a portal to complete chicness, has been lowered to a shabby simulacrum of its as soon as fabulously pretty self. The enforcement of latest border controls following Brexit has turned departures right into a cattle station through which passengers are corralled in large, amorphous queues. The trains, in the meantime, are packed to full capability as a result of they’ve needed to scrap a load of companies to permit the officers time to stamp the paperwork.

On the flip aspect, crappy journey expectations do make it all of the extra thrilling when lastly you attain someplace through which the whole lot simply works. Having simply been to Antwerp for a piece journey, I’m contemplating revisiting for a vacation based mostly on the convenience of journey and calm through which all of us arrived. And any probability to go to Copenhagen is one I’ll gladly seize. The airport is preposterously gigantic, but it surely’s jammed with obscenely enticing Scandinavians, serves tasty pastries at metre intervals and has an array of stores through which to dawdle whilst you wait out your delays. Most important, and magical of all, it boasts signage you would spot from Mars.

Electronic mail Jo at jo.ellison@ft.com

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