The 10 ‘Most Garbage’ Airports in The World

It struck me reading about ten of the ‘most garbage’ airports in the world that while many of these are bad, the worst are completely left off — especially the worst U.S. airports.

It’s simply unreasonable to consider Chicago O’Hare worse than New York LaGuardia and… Manila.

Here’s their take:

    10. Washington Dulles
    9. Philadelphia
    8. Frankfurt
    7. New York LaGuardia
    6. LAX
    5. Manila
    4. Nairobi
    3. Chicago O’Hare
    2. Lagos, Nigeria
    1. Paris Charles de Gaulle

I think they hit the nail on the head with Frankfurt:

Just follow the signs. Don’t think. Don’t apply logic. Just follow the sign. You will get to your destination. You might have to go through security 2-3 times, customs, passport control, tunnels, escalators, elevators, stairs and you feel that you have just walked to your final destination. But under no circumstances try to make sense of it. You will only get lost.

However no list of worst airports can rank New York LaGuardia as worse than New York JFK, and any list with a U.S. airport on it has to include Miami.

There’s very little redeeming about Miami airport. There are long walks inside of terminals, long walks to the train out to the rental car center, and insanely long walks to immigration. The lines for customs are absurd (but then I suppose they figure everyone coming into the airport is smuggling cocaine?). Security lines are quite random, and I’ve seen TSA PreCheck closed when it should have been open. Check-in lines are long as well, delayed by the volume of baggage being checked.

worst airports in the US

The two major issues with LAX in my view are:

  • connecting between terminals (the shuttle is useless, and seriously… walking outside in a semi-circle and then re-clearing security?)
  • ground transportation — getting in and out of the airport is tough, shuttles can easily take 15-20 minutes at peak times just transiting the various terminals.

Easily the worst terminal experience in the United States – the Tom Bradley International Terminal – has become one of the best. And there’s progress on connections. The airport is still a mess, transportation fixes are years-off (and will be the most expensive airport rail project in history). But you can do In ‘n Out Burger on a layover so there are redeeming qualities to the airport. And that pushes them down the list. At the very least this list’s understanding of the airport is dated.

On the other hand New York JFK is far worse than LaGuardia.

Some terminals are worse than others there. Terminal 2, Delta’s C gates, is probably the best remaining example of the ‘old’ JFK. I actually like terminal 7 and its short walks. This is an awful connecting airport. It is an awful airport for transportation, having to take the Airtrain to get to the stop where you can pick up transportation shuttles (always fun with luggage). And it’s a schlepp from downtown.

worst airports in the US

worst airports in the US

worst airports in the US

worst airports in the US

worst airports in the US

In contrast LaGuardia is closer-in to the city, has compact terminals (although it’s inconvenient to get between them) and there’s a Centurion Lounge in the Central Terminal.

Washington Dulles is a bad airport — but not because locals cringe at picking people up there (just a function of being far from city center, like so many others, by that standard Denver should make the list).

They don’t use the moon buggies anymore to get between all terminals, but the new airport train drops off United passengers where they’ve wanted to build a new terminal for decades rather than where the passengers will fly out of.

They’re building metro and in a few years it should be kind of sort of connected via public transport to the rest of the city. But a single taxi company has a legal monopoly, meaning it’s tough to get picked up by anyone else and it means twice the cab trips (those cabs drive into the city and return empty, while all other cabs go to the airport and can’t efficiently pick up passengers and take them back to the city). That’s a terrible environmental decision.

worst airports in the US

worst airports in the US

About Paris they say “Don’t try to catch a connecting flight at CDG. It won’t happen. Stop trying to make it happen.” And yet I’ve never seen a worse setup than Manila for international-to-domestic transfers. In general the answer there is to pick up luggage, take a taxi, and then check in for your ongoing flight.

I hate Manila. It’s my least favorite major airport in Southeast Asia. I hate Frankfurt, although at some level Charles de Gaulle might be marginally worse. Should London Heathrow really not be on this list? I avoid it for connections, the last inline BA-BA connection I took involved two buses and a train (bus gate, then bus to T5, then train to T5 remote gates).

Chicago O’Hare? Just doesn’t come close, despite Chicago’s winters. And they have Tortas Frontera.

What are the worse airports you’ve experienced?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Way to close out the argument with Tortas Frontera. I am their “Global Services” equivalent, if they were to ever hand out status

  2. Sao Paolo Airport (GRU) to me has got to be on an worst 10 airports list. The smell of the terminal/gate areas reaks, which is actually better than the lounges (at least the United Lounge, I made the mistake of visiting). It looks as if they built a nice wide terminal originally, and put a glass wall to separate International and Domestic flights.

    I think Dulles is bad, because you’ve got to take the moon buggy (as you call it), any time you come in from overseas (unless flying on Etihad, or I suppose Dublin). That adds significant time, and there’s usually a lot of pushing, shoving from fellow passengers, then yelling from the driver, and more delays.

  3. Be prepared for at least a 2-hour connection in MAD and that’s even pushing it. Anything less than that you ain’t making it. It’s ridiculous that after the 10 min walk from gates to beginning of terminals and clearing customs you actually have to take a bus that actually leaves the airport and goes into the city and back to the new terminal where you have to then again clear security and walk again. It’s a joke.

  4. @Mike: I made a 25 minute connection in MAD, including clearing immigration, so it is possible.

  5. How the heck does Newark not make the list. That place is a dump. Not to mention you again have to take a stupid train to catch a hotel shuttle.

  6. Thanks for posting this. On an upcoming trip to Europe and back I’ll get to fly through 3 of those, and CDG is one of them! Nice!

    Lima Peru should be on the list.

  7. The B concourse at IAD is quite nice (at least it was the last time I was there). The C/D concourses, on the other hand, date from the time of the French and Indian War.

    And the two times I changed planes at ORD (on AA), the experience wasn’t that bad (aside from the delays due to the ramp being shut down for lightning). The terminal seemed kind of run down, but it was a hell of a lot better than C/D at IAD.

  8. A few reactions:

    1) Chuckled at the Frankfurt comments. It really doesn’t make any sense. There’s so much walking, and yes, on my last time through there I had to clear security twice and immigration once — and that was for a domestic connection!

    2) Dulles – because of how far out the AeroTrain takes you, I’m relieved these days when my flight leaves out of D instead of C. The people movers (that’s what I call them) are faster than the train – which is silly. C/D is also a pit – although I’m told it’s worse for the employees in the back of the house than it is for customers.

    3) GRU is the worst airport I’ve been to. For Star Alliance, it’s better now that Terminal 3 is open. But Terminal 1 and 2 are just awful. Best example: you don’t throw your toilet paper into the toilet; you put it in the waste bin next to the toilet. Ugh.

  9. Wow, it sounds to me like you and the authors of the Jalopnik article have really high expectations …

    Paris CDG: I actually believe things have improved quite a bit (they used to have some really old terminals until about 3-4 years ago) and I strongly disagree with the idea that things are bad! I use this quite a bit for flying from US to Eastern Europe and I never had a bad experience. The transit between terminals is fast and I never had any issues with layovers of as little as 50 minutes. The airport, and especially its newer terminals, look very nice. I’ve also used this airport several times when traveling to France and I enjoyed very much being able to pick up my rental car just outside the terminal.

    Frankfurt: I’ve also used this airport quite a bit and I never had any bad experiences there! Seriously, what do you guys expect?

  10. I was eaten by mosquitos inside the terminal in New Delhi once while waiting at the gate for my flight. What a miserable experience – I spent the whole 20 hours getting home scratching my face, lucky I didn’t get malaria.

  11. San Diego terminal 1, gates 1A, 1 and 2 has to be the worst terminal anywhere. No precheck line available and then 3x as many people in the terminal as there were seats available. Luckily the food at the restaurant was tasty so that was the only redeeming quality.

  12. “But under no circumstances try to make sense of it. You will only get lost.”

    Frankfurt is merely trying to hide its First Class Terminal.

    Also, getting in and out of LAX can be easier on foot. You can WALK to and from Sepulveda much faster than a shuttle bus can take you. Take a city bus north or south. I don’t recommend east.

  13. Wow – I think Frankfurt is quite good for its size maybe even excellent …but maybe i am biased as i know it very well, so i dont need to read signs ! Baggage and immigration takes no time at all (which is great), parking is very well organized etc etc . i have been there >1000 times and never had to 2 security or immigration checks….
    Heathrow and Atlanta are disasters in my opinion. Newark well……..

  14. CDG isn’t so bad for *A in T1 either transfers or O/D. Sure the terminal is a pit, but distances aren’t too bad and the central lounge isn’t too shabby. T2 on the other hand is good for long distance orienteering.

  15. I’m gonna ding SEA. I know it’s not popular to say bad things about Seattle, because people seem to love Seattle, but that airport has the most ridiculous transportation layout. You could theoretically take three (3) trains on a connection, and I have done that (N to Main North, Main North to Main South, Main South to S).

    There are large subsets of gates with same-airline lounge access a train ride away (e.g., N gates (AS) with no Board Room; or A/B (DL) with the SkyClub in S).

    Rental cars are off-site with a bus, and an extra ding for the ugly brown terazzo floors.

  16. Couldn’t agree more re: MIA. I’ve only been there a few times, but I also remember how indifferent and unhelpful the airport employees were. They spoke among themselves about how they “wanted to go dancing” rather than acknowledging my presence. Incredibly rude and unhelpful.

    SEA and PDX are two of the finest airports in the national and I will not tolerate anyone sullying their good name! But yes, the lounge situation at SEA is not always ideal and I don’t like it when trains are the only option rather than my two feet.

    LAX is always horrible.

  17. MIA is a disaster for intl, if you hv baggage, you’re screwed

    Old MNL airport was worse, toilets had no seats

  18. I’ve heard mixed(at best) reviews regarding FRA. I’ve also read a fair amount about both “domestic” and international connections. Is the Euro Zone considered domestic if connecting from Delta(from ATL or JFK)? Or is “domestic” solely within Germany?
    And is 2 hours enough(assuming incoming is on time) to connect to Italy or Turkey?

  19. I have been to only half of the airports on this list, and never have really had abnormal troubles with any of them. I once connected in CDG, and while it was a bizarre kind of experience it wasn’t a train wreck and I easily made it despite having to transit to a separate terminal. I have my complaints about ORD, primarily relating to the fact that the T5, the International Terminal, is ridiculous and, frankly, embarrassing on an international level. But, at the very least United, American, ANA, British Airways, Lufthansa don’t fly out of T5.

    I never had any problems in my visits to Philadelphia, including several times I connected to small places like New Haven. I like that it has a train to the city as well, always a plus. Laguardia, as an airport, seems very improved. The only issue I have with LGA is that you will spend more time on the tarmac waiting to take off than you will in the air.

    LAX annoys me, but so does everything in LA. And I agree with Gary, Miami is just awful.

  20. Gary, great write-up, but you missed what was–by far–my favorite part of the post: the infrequent flyers who somehow decided they had enough knowledge to comment.

    Example: numerous people wrote that Dulles is great because (I’m paraphrasing), ‘all of the jobs are closer to Dulles than downtown.’ You can’t make that up. I do really enjoy people who fly twice a decade using their exceptionally limited anecdotal experience to rebut the more extensive (but still limited) anecdotal experience of the author.

    I can argue all day about the quality of Miami, which is close to downtown, 15-20m from the beach on the airport expressway, and has OK security. Versailles Cafes throughout make it solid, and the Centurion Lounge will only improve. To be fair, it is a terrible airport for international arrivals or connections. Hard to argue that.

    In my opinion, there should be three sets of rankings: 1) best for domestic origin/destination; 2) best for international arrivals/departures; 3) best for international connections. For domestic flights, I simply care about how quickly I can get to the airport, through security and to my gate. For international flights–particularly connecting–the lounges, dining, immigration, etc, matter a whole lot. Putting all types of airports on one rankings list is silly.

  21. The only thing I disagree with you about is LGA being better than JFK. LGA is no better for connections, terminals are badly run down (rats roam in the food court), no easy mass transit access, airport roadways were poorly designed resulting in massive traffic jams, delays at LGA commonly are as result of “ground traffic” due to lack of adequate space for planes to move around, security is awful there due to lack of proper space, and the CTB wasn’t designed for the current capacity that LGA handles, and the lounges at JFK on average are better than the ones over in LGA.

    Not to mention JFK has solid concessions for most part. The only bad thing there now is terminal 2, which only handles a single digit % of the daily operations and will be decommissioned in the coming months. The only two areas I see in LGA over JFK is better hotel options and its location to Manhattan.

    I agree both airports should be on the list, but LGA should be ranked lower.

    MIA is a major civic embarrassment and that is putting it nicely.

  22. All of these types of lists are pretty subjective based on what you’re trying to do at any given airport. Some airports such as DEN or ATL or DFW are designed to be “connecting airports” where everything is airside from restaurants to concourse trains. Others are better for local origin/destination passengers.

    It’s the bad and wonky setups that are the real time consuming places. Security at each gate, completely separate terminals to traverse, etc.

    And about those bus gates! Not at all uncommon in FRA or IST or PEK. A long airside walk in ORD from K gates to C gates (pretty unlikely anyway) is preferable to me than these 10-15 minute crowded stand up rides in a COBUS 3000!

  23. Manila intl airport terminal 1….shudders. Line forms outside the building as there is a security checkpoint just to get in. And it’s usually a chaotic scene. And don’t even think about showing up without a printed copy of your eTicket. Security will demand to see it.

  24. You’re insane about LGA vs JFK. JFK has way better mass transit connections, many of the terminals are nice (4, 5, 8 at least; 2 and 7 are old, gross, and cramped), and it’s less subject to weather delays. LGA is an absolute dump, it has no rail connection (though the new Q70 is OK), and it needs to be completely bulldozed and rebuilt from scratch.

  25. CDG is my preferred connection airport in EU. Stay out of Terminal 2E G gates if possible and all is manageable. Although like FRA, if you follow some signs you can go through passport control multiple times.
    MIA is only slightly worse than FLL in all aspects. I have the same complaints about both but Miami is worse.
    ORD is a good airport. I don’t use it often as my home is DTW and every flight between the two is delayed. If I had a two hour layover, I enjoyed my time.
    ATL is terrible for actual checking in and departure. All security lines (sky priority, TSAPre, general public, etc…) are all 25-50 mins wait in the morning rush hour with half of the metal detectors operational. It’s as if 400,000 people show up and they’re surprised. I’ve come to the conclusion that they are tremendously lazy or just don’t care about efficiency. However, as a connection airport, I really like it. Lots of things to do and places to eat and relax.

  26. LGA gets crapped on a lot, and for good reason: the roadways inside the airport are a mess, inter-terminal connections require inconvenient land-side buses, public transportation is practically nonexistent, and the Central Terminal Building (B) is the nightmare most frequently cited in discussions of America’s crumbling infrastructure.

    That said, Delta has done a good job renovating and connecting Terminals C and D. Indeed, once you’re inside, the experience there is surprisingly pleasant. And while there’s not much going on inside the Marine Air Terminal (A), the Manhattan-to-curb-to-gate transit time can’t be beat.

  27. haha, saw San Diego terminal 1 mentioned…… and it is true! Glad the legacies don’t fly out of that terminal. Really is a horrible terminal (terminal 2 is real nice) but I think there is far worse out there.

    I think in general, the Asian airports have it best, as the culture is all about service/presentation. See NRT, HND,HKG, SIN, etc etc. Manila is the exception in Asia, in my experience.

    Europe can be a hit or miss, but agreed that the US airports the absolute worst. If I lived abroad I’d absolutely hate to come into the US.

  28. Agree with GRU-GIG-MXP-JFK-MIA and CDG. I also will like to add MEX and FCO to this terrible list.
    I don’t think FRA is a bad airport at all.

  29. Gary, please please fix your website to work with rss readers again. I often read offline and having to click through to the site each time is a huge turn off. I’m giving it another week to see if you make this simple change otherwise I’m unsubscribing.

  30. Although a small airport, Victoria Falls , Zimbabwe has to qualify.
    Not only do you get to stand in a long line to pay $45 for a visa,
    but don’t even THINK they will make a boarding announcement, because their one megaphone is out of batteries…permanently.
    So, while 3 jetliners sit on the tarmac, you have to figure out when your flight is boarding. I almost missed mine after being in the airport for two hours next to the only gate.

  31. SPOT ON with your comment about MIA! Had such a bad experience that I absolutely REFUSE to fly in/out. I was coming back from Central Asia a couple of years ago and had a BA flight that would drop me off in MIA and I’d connect on AA flight on home or a drop off in SEA, take AA to DFW, and then connect on home. Of course, I took the ass to my elbow route…

  32. I hate MIA enough to make the connection in LHR on a MXP-DFW instead of AA MXP-MIA-DFW
    As a veteran of GRU and CDG, easily the two worst on my list

  33. I would toss in Bali. The international terminal upstairs is good enough and they’re working on making it better. The domestic terminal downstairs? Do the words “cattle car” ring a bell? The bathrooms are horrid. There’s not enough seats at the gates so you’ll find people squatting on the floor against a wall at the gates and in the corridors. And let us not overlook customs. International arrivals can expect a worst case scenario of two hours standing in line waiting to clear.

  34. I connected over a dozen times in either FRA or LHR in the last 2.5 years. I have NEVER gone through security in Frankfurt when connecting US-EU and back. You go through passport control, of course, but NOT security. Yes, you follow the signs, so what? The passport line is occasionally longish, but nothing terrible. Regarding “follow the signs or get lost” – don’t you do just that at every airport? I’d rather follow the signs and get there, then follow the signs AND THEN GET LOST, which has happened at some airports 😉

    LHR is 100 times worse for connections than FRA. The worst part at LHR is that you DO go through security when changing terminals. The security lines are often horrendous, and the security officers are so slow and such sticklers to formal rules (try bringing a soy yogurt for a small child allergic to milk) that they make TSA look like your best friends.

    LHR for intl arrivals is pretty bad too, the wait at passport control can easily take an hour.

  35. BTW, please fix your site for RSS readers!!! Feel free to show ads in the RSS post, but I hate having to go to the actual web page, especially on a mobile device.

  36. IAD A/B gates (international) are fine. C/D (mainly United) is awful. At CDG, I am almost always flying AF and think its terminals are fine, these days, too – I think it is still living down its old reputation. FRA is a lot of walking, but otherwise just fine. JFK, EWR, LaGuardia, Berlin Tegel are all dumps (at least Tegel is easy to get to), and DEN is just pretty inconvenient and long lines for security.

  37. I went through security 3 times at Frankfurt, though admittedly I got lost looking for the FCT, and got redirected to the terminal first class lounge instead. I would also vote for Heathrow- long interconnections, much of the facilities are very dated (outside of 2 & 5).

    Bali has a nice new international terminal, and domestic flights have moved to the old international terminal. Definitely a big upgrade, and no where near as bad as any of the airports on the list above.

    I fly in and out of Manila month, and I don’t think it’s bad, especially if you arrive at the newish Terminal 3. Yes, connecting between terminals is like changing airports in other cities. But even the ancient Terminal 1 is seeing some progress from the upgrading, like the new Starbucks, new shops, etc.

    Worst airport in South East Asia? Dhaka, hands down. Worst airport terminal I’ve been in Asia was New Delhi. There were wires and light fixtures dangling down with water dripping onto the floor, and I saw a rat scurry through the passenger seating area… This was during reconstruction, 6-7 years ago though- probably much nicer now.

  38. I’ve visited CDG countless of times as I frequently travel with air france for my international flights. The airport isn’t garbage. Yes, transferring can be a hassle but a lot had changed due to recent renovations and as long as you follow the screen and signs, you will never get lost. However, soft drink prices in the airport are garbage.

  39. Try a connection from international to domestic or vice versa in Mumbai (BOM) sometime…makes a connection at CDG seem like a breeze!

  40. I agree about Manila. I routed through it on Continental in 2010 (GUM-MNL-ROR) and the transfer station held my passport for 10 minutes. Then I had to go through another screening line. By the time I got to the gate it was bording time. I’ll never do that again.

  41. Nearly all US airports are sub-par, especially when put up against most Asian airports. EWR, LGA, MIA are really the pits.

    FRA is okay. A lot of walking, but it’s an airport that I’ve been to about 200 times over the years and know a number of way to avoid what everyone seems to be complaining about. If one looks very closely at the airport maps my meaning should be clear.

    CDG and LHR? Pull them down and start over again!

  42. CDG used to suck the stars out of the sky (especially T1) but it’s a lot nicer now. I didn’t think LHR was that bad, but a) I lived 90 minutes away by car and b) never got stuck on the M25, and even broke a century on occasion.

    HAV, on the other hand, sucks galaxies through buckytubes.

  43. MIA is awful and I’ve vowed to avoid like the plague… But worst ever is SGN ‘domestic’ terminal.

    Boarding announcements loudest and most obnoxious. Constant noise – no relief
    from Cold War era PA system. Bring ear plugs if ever connecting.

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