The World’s Most Overrated Airport

Filed Under: Travel

In general I don’t put too much weight into what surveys say about the quality of airports, airlines, etc. I appreciate the idea of airlines and airports competing for votes, but ultimately most people haven’t tried many/most airlines. Still, I get why most airline rankings end up the way they do.

There’s one thing I find especially interesting when it comes to airport rankings, though. Historically if you look at the list of the world’s best airports, Singapore Changi and Seoul Incheon almost always rank at or near the top.

Singapore Changi deserves to be ranked the world’s best airport. I mean, it’s basically a luxury shopping mall that just happens to have gates. From a butterfly garden to a swimming pool to waterfalls to a movie theater to great lounges, I think it deserves to be ranked the world’s best airport. I also don’t think I’ve ever waited for more than a few minutes anywhere in that airport.

Further, Changi is just getting started with their innovation. In 2019 “The Jewel” will be opening, which just looks… wow.

And then there’s Incheon Airport, outside of Seoul. I must be missing something, because I don’t think it deserves to be ranked one of the top few airports in the world, let alone in the top 20. Maybe my experience with Incheon is off, but to me it doesn’t have many redeeming qualities:

  • The airport is sterile, and the terminal is far too narrow for the number of passengers it serves
  • There’s not an airport in the world where I’ve waited longer on average for security, immigration, etc., and there aren’t priority lines either (which I wouldn’t mind if the lines weren’t so long to begin with)
  • Not that I totally judge an airport by this, but I find the lounges to consistently be pretty bad in the airport
  • Personally I haven’t been terribly impressed by the shopping or dining outlets
  • If you’re going to the city of Seoul, it’s quite a haul from the airport to the city

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a bad airport, but rather it’s just an airport that “does” absolutely nothing for me. It’s sterile, it’s okay, and I always expect to have to wait a long time. To me that’s not a world class airport.

Someone please enlighten me as to what I’m missing about Incheon Airport! Do most people have a different experience there?

  1. Interesting, i flew to/from ICN quite some times and never experienced really long waiting. Of course you wait a bit more at immigration than e.g. at GMP or some other airports, but lines at immigration are shorter/move faster than at most major airports in the US or many other airports (e.g. SCL, EZE in south america come to mind).
    I agree though that ICN is not necessarily very attractive, however i think one point (which might reflec in surveys?) is that it is some kind of shopping paradise, especially for Chinese people. For some reason they (as well as Koreans) LOVE duty free shopping and they buy tons of stuff at ICN. Fly from ICN to e.g. PEK in a 777 and be in awe at the amounts of duty free bags…

  2. Having lived in Seoul and travelled extensively around Asia, I can say that ICN is amazing, but probably not as revolutionary as when it first opened. It seems to have aged a bit faster and hit capacity faster than they anticipated because it is always super crowded. There is however a golf course close by you can play at, an ice skating rink in the winter and there are free Korean cultural activities you can partake in. There is even a traditional Jimjilbang in the airport for the hot bath experience. And while I agree it really can’t outrank Changi or HKG, it is MILES better than JFK, IAH, YYZ, SFO or LAX. (But then again, even MSP is better than those I just listed….)

  3. Agree with your comments Lucky. I travel through the airport at least 4-6 times a year and the immigration and security queues can be ridiculously long. it’s also really far away from Seoul downtown, and transport even with AREX is not that convenient. Rush hour traffic around Seoul is just crazy. Actually, it’s even far away from Incheon City itself and is easily a 45min cab ride to get there.

  4. I agree that Incheon was rather narrow and too crowded for its space, but I enjoyed their “On Air” spa on layover (located on B1 pre-security), as it was a much-needed respite. I’ve been to a few lounges and liked the full KE lounge, which was pretty spacious and good food spread. However, the SQ lounge hands down had the best because the food was fantastic and it was airy enough. I’ve taken the AREX direct train to Seoul Station a few times and found it what I wish every city would have.

  5. Although I have never been through Incheon, I do feel that Singapore airport is a bit overrated. I had a very long immigration queue there (I was flying from Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia) and I found that the decor resembled a 1980s dance hall with worn carpets. Personally I really like Hamed international in Doha, Schiphol, terminal 4 at Barajas. I despise Ataturk airport in Istanbul, and it’s the main reason I try to avoid Turkish airlines. Can’t wait for the new airport to be up and running.

  6. I totally agree with Lucky on this, ICN is in general quite a poor airport for such an advance country. I’ve flown at different time and on different days, both arriving and departing, and it’s always a wait of minimum of 20 mins for the different steps, security, immigration, etc.
    As the hub of both Skyteam and Star Alliance, I don’t understand why they have not improved the facilities to accommodate the amount of pax using the airport.
    Lounges of both major alliance are very basic in general. Not always all airport staff are well versed in basic English and strangely not always very friendly.

  7. @lucky remember that the new terminal should relieve things as Korean and skyteam airlines will relocate leaving a lot of space

    I must say I manged to clear passport control, collect bags recheck in pass through security and be at the midfield concourse all within 70 mins recently as was on split tickets and the inbound flight was also delayed

  8. I have found that the APEC Business Travel Card has helped with priority immigration/security lanes when around Korea and other South East Asia countries.
    Really easy to get if you are already in the system for Global Entry.

  9. I totally agree! Just spent 14 hours there on a very long layover traveling back to Atlanta from Chengdu China. Traveling Business Class on Delta so had use of the Korean Air Lounge. It was pretty sad. A really boring place with over expensive shops too.

  10. Right on! I’ve always found INC to be a huge missed opportunity. ICN Seoul is soulless, as I like to say. As for the Korean Airlines lounges, they are perhaps the biggest disappointment of all. One expects more from the flagship lounges of a carrier. Most damningly, the business class lounge makes the domestic lounges of US carriers feel positively luxurious.

  11. Agreed, when I went through ICN, it made me wonder why so many people think it’s a great airport. Lacks any decent lounges, along distance from Seoul, and barely the number of essential shops/dining options

  12. Agreed. Boring airport. Not the best food options. They have those upstairs food areas which feel stuffy and warm. Nothing to do. Same shops over and over. Korean carriers have CRAP lounges.

  13. I lived in Seoul for 4 years and I love this airport. By sterile do you mean clean? Cause the bathrooms were immaculate. Also the service from the airlines and baggage claim are outstanding, as I lost my luggage in Philadelphia and they couldn’t tell me where it was, but when I landed in ICN they knew exactly where it was, and had it shipped to us. Also I only went to the lounge once, and I thought it was great, if I recall it had showers. The food options I can’t really speak for cause I love Korean food so I always got that and didn’t look for western food. I always loved going to ICN especially compared to Philly or any other American airport, basically. You won’t be able to ice skate or watch movies in PHL, that’s for sure šŸ˜‰ Just my two cents.

  14. @Chris Funnily enough I was also going to suggest Singapore Changi is the most overrated airport. It is really not geared to allow for a relaxing transit. I found terminal and gate directions unclear, and if flying Star Alliance but not on SQ J or F you don’t get any toilets or showers inside a lounge (so I can’t really relax and enjoy a couple of glasses of wine). And, my pet hate – security checks and liquid checks at the gate, WTF??? Means one has to leave the lounge earlier and allow an uncertain amount of time in case of queues, and also you can’t take bottles of water with you onto the plane to keep hydrated.

  15. Changi itself is actually pretty tedious/uninspiring unless you’re flying out of Terminal 3 or 4. Terminals 1 and 2 are pretty ancient imo, especially true regarding the latter. ICN is building a hot new terminal for KE and their SkyTeam buddies due to finish Jan 2018 so that should be exciting.

  16. I strongly second that.
    Inchoen has terrible home lounges: Both KE and Asiana
    security and immigration that is understaffed.
    terrible airport express system and buses.
    It’s another Narita.

    Exceptional :
    Hong Kong

    Group F(ail)

  17. Another really overrated airport is KLIA in Kuala Lumpur.

    Where should I begin!? It’s really far too hot, there are long lines, it’s weirdly laid out with that satellite terminal handling most flights, the A380 gates are too small for an A380’s-worth of passengers, the bathrooms have never been that clean when I’ve been there, you can’t just buy a coffee with a credit card as all the shops have super high minimums, it’s such a long way from the centre of KL, the staff aren’t particularly friendly, the outside forest thing is crappy and is usually closed….. and on and on I could go.

  18. I was just in ICN two weeks ago and didn’t experience any waiting issues with security. Then again, I think my flight (KE86 JFK-ICN on the A380) was the first flight to arrive that early morning.

    What I did notice was how the cosmetics section of Duty Free is quite a wide selection, especially with Korean cosmetics. There was also a large selection of Korean chocolates. I normally buy Milka or Kit Kats and only found them at 1 store in the airport; whereas Korean chocolates were easily found at every single DFS store.

    Also, by now I was hoping to see a Pyeongchang2018 store at ICN but there was none. I guess it’s too early.

    In terms of lounges, I agree that they could improve in that department by a lot; especially when compared to lounges in SIN or HKG or NRT or BKK.

  19. While I don’t remember I had any long queues ever at ICN, and both Bangkok airports (BKK and DMK) are much worse in this sense, I agree that ICN is rather uninspiring airport. Lounges are bad (apart from Cathay Pacific, which is decent, as usual), planning is rather ridiculous (you cannot return to the main terminal once you leave it). Shopping is good though.

  20. Had to fly through here a lot when I lived in Japan two years ago – completely agree. For all the shopping (just the same sunglasses and skincare shops repeated again and again) I couldn’t buy a bottle of water. Souless, bad lounges, and the half-hourly parade gets old very quickly on a long layover

  21. @ Hong Konger

    Nagoya airport is absolutely desperate. It’s a joke to put in on a same list with SIN, HKG and TPE. I don’t remember anything good at Haneda either.

    @ Mohammed

    Bangkok airport (I assume, you mean BKK) isn’t good anymore. Enormous queues on immigration, nothing to eat in a clear zone unless you have a lounge access, Priority pass lounges are crap, shopping is worse than SIN, HKG or TPE, wifi is a pain to use, a/c is extremely cold (as generally in Thailand).

  22. “Singapore Changi deserves to be ranked the worldā€™s best airport. I mean, itā€™s basically a luxury shopping mall that just happens to have gates”

    And you’ve just summarised why for me it is one of the world’s worst airports.

    If I want to go shopping (and I usually don’t) I’ll go to a mall. If I want to catch a plane, I don’t want to first weave a tortuous path through dozens of ludicrous “retail opportunities”, all full of clueless morons staring at poorly-made yet over-priced crap festooned with the logo of some wannabe lifestyle brand, the air full of the stench of sickly cheap chemicals from some “designer” perfume.

    Try some tiny airport like Cartagena in Colombia: from stepping off the plane through immigration and customs to the taxi pulling away from the kerb in less than 10 minutes. Now that’s a brilliant airport.

  23. Imho, SIN and DOH are just on a different planet.
    ICN is fine, I liked it, everything was very clean, and in Asia that’s a big plus.

    One that I recently came across and really was abysmal was BOS. Lounges and shopping were utterly pathetic.

  24. ICN’s toilets are often unmanned and the floor gets all wet and not a few of the mirrors/sinks are chipped and loo can stink really bad.
    the basins look cool at first but the design means water gets splashed everywhere.

  25. @FlyingPer @JohnG
    Why do you say KLIA is overrated?
    It’s a terrible airport, sure, but I’ve never seen anyone praising it so I don’t think you can call it overrated.

  26. It’s all about opinion.
    What I look in a airport is:
    -Good and inexpensive food (Love the food court in Changi)
    -Power outlets
    -And the most important, a smoking lounge near the gates(that’s the only way to make me go 4 hours earlier to a airport and spend my time there)
    “Eeewww! You smoke!”
    Yes, and we’re all gonna die anyway

  27. If you love duty free shopping (like I do), ICN is a dream šŸ™‚ You can register to get a discount card – valid for a few years – from the big department stores like Lotte, and use them at the duty free shops before your flight to get even more off the duty free prices. Getting Sisley, SK-II, La Mer, Korean sheetmasks on huge discount? Yes!! šŸ˜‰ But completely agree about not loving the layout at ICN.

  28. ah by toilets i mean the toilets in the departure area.
    The early morning arrival period seems to be the worst, took me so long to complete immigration, with intercon flights and intra-asia red eye flights arriving at the same time.
    the food choices are few and too Korean-oriented, and the Korean food (AKA instant ramen) they sell are pricey and you get better quality in a kisa sikdang or in a typical korean service station. either they have congee or have that oily fried sauce noodle or spicy ramen, which the first one is fine before a flight, but the noodles options are too exciting before a flight for less tamed stomaches.

  29. Yeah ICN is pretty terrible.
    Worst of all, no expedited security check for premium cabin travelers, which is just ridiculous.

  30. ICN is far from Seoul, but last time I made the journey (which, granted, was 20 years ago) there was a fast, clean and efficient train. So it is (or used to be) pretty easy to briefly visit Seoul even with a fairly short layover of just a few hours – although long security and immigration lines might now need to be factored into it.

  31. It probably may have been good when it opened but as more people came it aged faster and wasn’t up to speed. I agree though that it looks sterile.

  32. @ChampagneSocialist me too when I read the headline I was going to say the Singapore airport was overrated. Walk and walk and walk forever. The people who work there do not seem that happy and are a little rude. The whole city state of Singapore is majorly overrated and so humid and hot and rude people.

    I would even take the Hong Kong airport over the airport in Singapore. At least they have a tram to the gates at the end of the really long terminal and some good local food and a Piaza Express in the food court area. They just need to increase the size of the Plaza premium lounge ten times. But has a nice Plaza premium lounge in the arrivals area šŸ™‚

    Give me a airpot like Tegal in Berlin or even LGA where you do not need to walk forever even though you risk the ceiling falling down on you at both airports.

  33. For me, I can’t believe Beijing is on the list of top 20. Hands down, the worst airport I have ever been to. Architecturally impressive, but that is where it ends. Immigration is an absolute, every man for himself, cluster. Also, since it is poorly ventilated, summer and winter months can be especially uncomfortable. Last time I was there, I ended up actually getting physically sick from heat exhaustion within the terminal.

  34. Don’t share your opinion on Changi – overrated. F&B is overpriced, poor choice and bad lounges (Compare Singapore First vs The Pier at HKG!). The reason for why it rates so high is purely because of their high efficiency levels – fast security and immigration, the rest is average plus Singaporeans will never vote for any other airport than their own. Hong Kong or Amsterdam are much better and more diverse. Incheon immigration is fast as long as you are in First and pre-book their pick-up service which gives you access to their Diplomatic channel. Retail and F&B at Incheon are almost the same as Changi. You should let frequent flyers vote for their top airports based on different factors, but if you visit these places up to 5 times annually vs someone passing through every second week, you will see big differences in ratings.

  35. Not a fan of ICN either. I quite like DEL – not for shopping but for efficiency from curb to lounge. DOH, MUC, LHR T2 & T5 (if on fast track) can be quite nice as well IMHO. Staying away from DXB – they parked a 2-class A380 half-way to Abu Dhabi and ferried 600+ people to the terminal in buses.

  36. All valid points. I am also not fond of the bus ticketing system. Perhaps it’s the giant aluminum phallus on the airport grounds that sways the voting?

  37. it’s only over-rated if you treat an airport as a destination instead of just the facility that connects you to your flight. Granted my most recent impression of ICN was from 2012 or so but it’s nothing like as bad as what’s described here (granted, flying OZ F comes with perks, including the lounge agent personally walking me all the way to the gate)

    the other alternative to visiting Seoul would GMP. If you think ICN is “sterile”, wait till you get a dose of GMP reality.

  38. Was just there first time last month. Totally looking forward to it…totally disappointed! Don’t get why people are so impressed, it’s a standard airport with stores, and far away from downtown. Meh.

  39. @Paul, I respect your opinion, but Changi, like Dubai or Incheon, operate in a hub and spoke model. I’d argue that all these new facilities and amenities they are building and installing would cater best to those in transit, if not also to those starting/ending their journeys at Changi. There are many travellers out there without lounge access and such and would definitely appreciate all these things to cure of their boredom.

    Whilst I would agree to your opinion in regards to airports serving end-destination cities like the one you have mentioned, having a sparse hub (esp. where millions of travellers transit between Oceania and Europe/US each year) offering little amenities would be an absolute nightmare for the average weary and stressed travellers.

    Just my opinion

  40. I also don’t get Changi’s high rating. DXB is great but doesn’t get much praise. AUH is also good in a different way, it is small and so efficient. Both have good lounges. NRT is a nice airport if you ask me, BKK isn’t bad considering the rest of the country, heck LHR T5 and T2 aren’t any worse than Changi and nobody is raving about them.

  41. Actually, Lucky, the last time I was transiting SIN I sat there thinking, “this is what everyone thinks is the best airport in the world???” Walking from the first class lounge to the gate with my 75 year old father and bags was not fun. Waiting in line for security at the gate was not fun. Try to think of it from the average traveller. Most people do NOT have access to a lounge. ICN has imho a really nice relaxation space and free –immaculate– airside showers for people who *gasp* don’t have lounge access. Landside, they have entertainment at the big stage, and nice places to eat. Duty free is duty free, and ICN certainly has outlets comparable to SIN. Like most airports, if you sign up for their e-gates, immigration is as fast as anywhere, and I’ve never actually waited that long in the security queue. Large international airports are never convenient to the cities they are nominally in: ICN to Seoul Station takes just as long as NRT to Tokyo, HK to Central, or LHR to the City. Frankly, ICN’s train is much, much cheaper than anywhere except BKK. The lounges are a function of the airlines that serve the airport — if this is a real criterion then HK should be top airport in the world. I honestly don’t understand why you think ICN is so much worse than SIN.

  42. Changi is my favourite airport. Leaves all European and American airports for dead.

    I do agree that ICN is just ok at best.

  43. @Paul +1
    Like Paul, I don’t find any airport shopping the least bit appealing. Just give me easy security and customs, good restaurants and lounges, clean and plentiful restrooms, easy check in kiosks and counters, good baggage claim, and efficient transport between terminals.

  44. @James: Don’t worry, ICN will be okay. All this bad mouthing doesn’t reflect by experience at ICN, when I was flying Economy with Asiana. I had a 40-50 gap between arrival/next departure and I was through security and ready to board 15 minutes after walking off the plane. There are few other airports I can do that in.

  45. Just as there’s no such thing as a bad dog, there is no such thing as a bad airport.

    All big international airports are fascinating. I get a thrill being apart of the commotion. Lounges? Pffft. I love being in the action, watching the scurrying of the crowds, witnessing the ever changing dramas. Give me those long lines, grumpy immigration officials, swarms of humanity, and that aphrodisiacal mix of anticipation, excitement, melancholy, and, occasionally, danger.

    CGK, BKK, LHR, SFO, LOS, HKG, IKA…love them all. They give my mundane business trips a wonderful sense of adventure.

    Though, I do miss the clackety clack of those massive, old time departure/arrival boards. Those things were downright hypnotic.

  46. Even as a Korean I do find Haneda Intl terminal a lot better. But again Haneda Intl terminal is a lot newer. I guess when Incheon Terminal 2 opens the situation will get better as well. The airport is currently clearly overcrowded and understaffed (It has grown so much and the government does not hire enough employees for immigration and quarantine. A known problem) now but T2 will relieve at least some. Especially considering that KE/AF/KL/DL will move to the new one.

    Ground service at ICN is a lot to be desired for first/business but at the same time for an economy traveler I find ICN better than HKG. (HKG also had a realllllly long cue for immigration. Fortunately now I have an automated gate access at HKG and thus no wait at all). Also I do not think HKG and SIN have fast tracks for premier passengers as well. HND did. And the airlines are pushing for the business/first fast track while the government is against it. Reason: economy passengers will hate it. (Seriously?) But KE and OZ still have an unofficial greeting service for First pax that cuts the security line through the crew line; KE one is only for revenue pax (Why?) while OZ one is also for mileage pax.

    I think the biggest problem of ICN is the very poor qualities of the KE/OZ lounges. It is again a known issue among frequent flyers in Korea. Their first lounges cannot compete even with CX HKG business lounges. But these are more airline issue than the airport issue per se.

    The distance from the city to the airport is surely longer than HKG and SIN but those two are in city states…. while Seoul and South Korea is much larger than those. See NRT. Just too far without a good transportation option which got only better decades later with the 1000 yen shuttle. While HND is way better and closer but it operates more like an O&D airport rather than an intl hub.

  47. Had several transits, departures and arrivals in ICN. It’s not an impressive airport in terms of E. Asian standard. NRT, HND, even HKG provide way better experience. ICN is maybe on par with KIX.

  48. @paul

    Yes some gates at Changi require walking but that’s not to make you walk past a million shops. The airport that does that is bkk. Your gate could actually be 50m in front of you but you are forced, after immigration, to walk left or right a kilometer then go around the shops and walk back half way to get to nearby gate.

    Doha airport is the best in my opinion. Well laid out and stylish to boot.

  49. Yes, went through ICN, and it all felt like a more modern version of the old CGK T2 to me. Never felt particularly “best airport”y. Hell, LHR T2 was better (Actually I don’t get the hate around LHR, even T4 isn’t that bad). LAX TBIT as well.

    Best one is SIN. Immigration and baggage claim are second to none, and location is decent. I can be at my city hotel 50 minutes after my plane’s wheels kiss the runway.

    KUL is way too empty and feels like it’s trying too hard to be Changi. CGK T3 is a massive improvement, but still has a ways to go. Lacks travellators, and arrivals hall is very barren. Location is a pain too, traffic very bad. DPS is also a massive improvement, but last I went International-Domestic connector was still half under construction and very sketchy. BKK is wonderful, and International-Domestic transfer is intuitive. HKG I don’t actually love too much.

    DXB is another airport I don’t get. Especially Concourse C, which feels very dated and badly in need of renovations, and all of T3 could use a better layout. Walking from end to end is very tiring.

    Worst ever is definitely LGA Delta terminal. Feels straight outta the 1960s, with 2017 pax numbers. Crowded, hot, lacking gates (I sat on the plane for 45 minutes, turning my 30 minutes-early arrival into a 15-minute arrival delay due to lacking gates). When it gets torn down to make way for the new LaGuardia, I say good riddance.

  50. I’m actually really pleased about this. I’m hoping that no one will notice my comment and that the general negative comments will prevent any of you from going to an extremely decent airport.

    If you choose to arrive at the airport the way most business travelers would, you would check in at one of the city airport terminals. There are two major city airport terminals, one located in Gangnam/COEX, the next located in City Hall subway station.

    You check in there, including checking luggage. Immigration happens there as well. You pay for a bus to the airport, but from there it’s relaxing all the way. If you choose to enter the airport this way, you use the priority line for security — there is one, you’ve just never noticed because you likely didn’t qualify — and there are never more than one or two people in front of you, if that. I have never had anyone in front of me in 10 years of travel. You also are able to use the priority immigration Lane, which you could use if you had an ABTC card, or if you were a diplomat.

    Are you traveling from Korea to somewhere warm during the winter months? They have a coat check. It’s landside. Did you have time to kill? Perhaps you missed the ice-skating rink and the movie theater? Airside did you feel like you needed a shower but didn’t have lounge access? There are free showers. And they are as good or better than the showers that you see in lounges in the United States.

    Did you want to sit in the massage chair for free while using an iPad that you didn’t bring with you to play games and read books that you didn’t own? You could do that here.

    Or did you want to try one of the virtual reality experience is where you try on different clothing, including the uniforms of all of the airlines that go through? Upstairs, tucked away from the main corridor.

    Maybe you wanted to enjoy some of Korean culture even though you only have a two hour layover. You could stop at one of the six or seven cultural centers, or you could just wait for the traditional royal Korean parade procession to pass by the main area. Or, sit down for a quick class on traditional Chinese calligraphy.

    Two days ago, Incheon airport did a test run with the second terminal. They used 4000 live test passengers to give it a thorough simulation. That should alleviate any of the crowding issues you’re concerned about.

    But, please don’t tell anyone about this. Because I kind a like my airport being relatively quiet. The thing you think of as sterile I think of as clean.

    But if you do tell people about it, then you should reach out to me because I travel so much that I ought to be contributing to a blog like this.

    (And I promise, I only sound this angry when people attack my beloved Korea.)

  51. @Lorenzo

    But unfortunately for you ICN pax figures will only rise constantly. They expect 100 million in 2030 or something and it is fairly doable number. And of course almost of them are Y pax and will not see how bad KE/OZ F lounge is. For Y pax, I do agree that ICN is a very nice airport. So many free services like free shower for transit pax. I hate that in HND you have to pay $10 for the shower but at the same time I just go to the ANA lounge…

  52. Singapore’s Changi Airport. The only airport in the world where you can go from plane to taxi stand in less than 15 minutes. And that’s with. Immigration and picking up baggage. Doesn’t surprise me they continually rank as the best.

  53. Ben, I couldn’t agree more about ICN. To call it “meh…” is being polite. Ungodly long immigration lines, slow security, atrocious lounges; there is nothing about the airport I find appealing.

    You should get an APEC card. That has save me a lot of time at immigration facilities in Asia as it lets you clear through the diplomatic channels. At a place like ICN or NRT that can save a lot of time.

  54. Agree ICN is not really anything special. I haven’t been to SIN, so my favorite airport would have to be MUC. It is a much nicer and even an enjoyable experience to connect on a LH or Star Alliance flight through MUC as opposed to FRA. Terminal 2 though is much nicer than Terminal 1 so I’m assuming they got their high Skytrax score from Terminal 2 and the large open-air outdoor connection between T1 and T2.

  55. TLV is by far the worst in terms of passenger management and organisation. 12 lanes in immigration for Israeli Passport holders, 2 for Non-Israeli Passport holders. Line almost reached the security checkpoint. Inter-continental Lounges beat intra-EU LH lounges in terms of cramming people in the tightest space possible and serving sub-standard food. ICN is paradise in comparison.

  56. @Andy 11235

    Isn’t the train from Changi to downtown Singapore only like, $2? I can’t see how the train from ICN can be much cheaper.

    I have flown out of Changi a couple of time in economy. I remember appreciating the day-beds in a relaxing zone.

  57. The problem with ICN is that the good food and interesting design is landside. When transiting I wondered why all the accolades for such a bland & boring airport. (Except the procession of traditional music & costumes. Loved that.) Later, when I flew with Seoul as my destination I saw that all the nice features were landside. Impractical.

  58. I’ve flown to/from ICN quite a few times and it is absolutely one of my favorite airports. These were all economy flights, so maybe it’s just the premium experience that leaves something to be desired? I remember flying in on a flight that arrived at stupid o’ clock in the morning, and napping and bathing in the jimjilbang until it was time to go meet my friend.

  59. ICN may not have the bells & whistles of Changi, but they’ve definitely got it where it counts. In July, I was able to make an international to international transfer in 20 minutes. Twice. And a few years ago when I was terminating in Seoul I was able to get from the plane to the curbside in under 15 minutes. Granted, security did take a little while when I left (although it was still only like 5-10 minutes) and the agents were friendly and competent,

  60. The lounge equation throws everything off… for instance, it’s not hard to argue AMS is a better airport than LHR. More runways, better layout, easier to navigate… but when I travel to Europe, I go via LHR because BA first class lounges and/or VS lounges are worlds better than KL lounges.

    Same holds true for ICN… if you didn’t have or care about lounge access, ICN is pretty decent I suppose, but I avoid it as a transit airport because I hate KE lounges.

    I agree ICN has no business being ranked as the worlds best airport or within the top 3-5, but it does okay on relative merits…

    It’s far away like NRT, but it’s better than NRT because it’s not as far, its not as expensive to get to, its newer, and there is much more to do around the airport (plus the Grand Hyatt ICN is very nice…)

    Aside from location (a big concession,) it’s better than GMP because GMP is old, basic, and ugly.

    I think SIN is overrated based on the sole fact that it is in Singapore.

    HND deserves its accolades. Great international terminal (nicer than NRT) and much closer to the city to boot.

    Flying through TPE for the first time this afternoon. Curious to see what that one is like.

  61. My family and I almost missed our flights even though we arrived 2.5-3 hours before the flight as the check in counters were extremely slow and asked a bunch of questions that I don’t find it necessary. We were flying to Singapore to stay for a week before going back to US. They asked how long will Me and my child will be staying in Singapore, if I have my flights booked for US, my US green card, I can’t remember all other stuff they asked. It’s weird. Even though we were given priority passes to use at security checks because we have a disabled and also a baby, however that lane did not speed things up for us either. I cannot imagine if we were in the regular security check lanes. After that it’s a long way to get to the gates, loads of people trying to get on the tram, need to wait for next tram. Therefore I couldn’t explore more of the airport.

  62. I frequently moan at Lucky, but this is spot on.
    @butzi ā€” agree. I once arrived at ICN little after 10 and there was nobody at any of the information desks… also just generally average. Of course, I have been to many significantly worse airports, but can’t see why this one would be rated above average. I would rather go to ICN any day than some hideous airports like LTN, for example!

  63. Having worked two years at ICN, I completely agree with Lucky. ICN is good airport but not great. I would put it in the same category as BKK and KUL, perhaps little bit better. The other airport that is totally overrated is DOH – with probably biggest budget in history, all they got was huge ugly concrete building with absolutely nothing out of ordinary features.

  64. @ Mark

    The problem I have with AMS is that too many flights arrive at remote stands, before bussing you to a terminal. No airport with insufficient gates can be in a “best airport” list (so that definitely knows out LHR, even if that were in consideration at all!).

    @ ex-expat

    Tastes differ. I like the ease of DOH. And I love those soaring high ceilings in the business lounge which give a wonderful sense of tranquility. Though DXB scores massively for gate access direct from the business lounge.

    Architect Norman Foster has designed many of the world’s new mega-hubs; he did his thinking on the development of London Stansted. That airport has been utterly ruined by the operator, but the vision was brilliant: the moment you enter the front doors you can see through the terminal to the planes sitting airside, and you keep that view always in sight as you work your way through the terminal. It is therefore always obvious where to go.

    He likened it to the glamorous 1930s days of flying when only the super-rich travelled; you arrived in your chauffeur-driven car to a tent pitched next to the airfield where all formalities were completed and where a waiter served you. You then stepped out of the other side of the tent into the plane. Perfection.

    For me, a tiny regional airport like Southampton (UK) will always beat a mega-airport.

  65. Do not understand the complaints about Changi. It does not look like an overly weathered 80’s dance hall. It’s an oasis locked in my memory with warm transit memories, even if my life/moment was chaotic. And I’ve transited from SQ and BR business classes down to Air Asia and Tiger.

  66. Agree. ICN is so overrated. The immigration lines were so long and the wait for my luggage was dreadful. SIN is honestly the best airport probably in the world. Everything is so nice and efficient. I can get from plane to curbside in 20 minutes (with baggage!). The walk to the gate is a bit long but at least the place is nice (unlike BKK) and it’s properly air conditioned (unlike CGK). T1 and T2 are a bit older but honestly, for their age, they’re doing an amazing job maintaining it. Love love love Changi!

  67. I think Changi is ok. I don’t think its the most amazing experience but yea its much better than places like MNL, I couldn’t get out of that airport fast enough! I love HKG even though its a ton of walking.

  68. As someone who flies through T1 at Changi 25/30 times a year I am always amazed the airport makes the top of the list. T1 is dated and very poor food selections. One or two lounges are ok.

    I would add Jakarta, Beijing, Denpasar and Manila as some of asias worst airports.

    In the U.K. I would say T4 at LHR and Manchester are also both very poor.

    Doha, T5 LHR, Ams, and HND would be among my best airports.

  69. Some more meh. Start off saying it’s the worlds most overrated, end up saying I don’t think it’s world class. Sheesh.

  70. @ Henry

    LHR T5? Seriously??

    It’s a hell-hole. Designed to maximise income for shops (and therefore rental income for the operator), far too large, only just (years after opening) got a direct connection from
    1st class check-in to the lounge (before that you had to walk past shops; take an escalator down; walk back the way you just came past more shops; then take an escalator back up – a journey made deliberately miserable to force you to shop!).

    And then there’s a stupid shuttle train to connect you to satellite terminals (wait for it … Wait for it…). And then more walking (and shops).

    And, to top it all, these morons built a brand-new terminal with insufficient gates.

    I haven’t the energy to describe the crap inefficiency that is arriving.

    LHR T5 gets my vote as one of the world’s worst airports.

  71. Both T1 and T2 were upgraded in the past few years. They look amazing now, as compared to what they used to look like.

  72. TPE impressed this afternoon with the very nicely appointed CI T1 lounge… If they only upped the alcohol selection it might even stand well against some F lounges.

    So score TPE as better than ICN in my book, with a–believe it or not–nice SkyTeam lounge! Otherwise it feels the two airports, while different in layout, are quite comparable.

  73. Hey Lucky,

    As someone who has lived in Korea for the past 10 years (and spent a lot of time in ICN), here’s my 2c.

    First off, the location does seem quite inconvenient for Seoul. However, one must bare in mind, ICN is actually in Incheon (Korea’s 3rd largest city, a major city in its own right) and serves the greater Gyeonggi Area. Depending on your location in that area, the distance isn’t too bad, and the public transport infrastructure to and from the airport is exceptional… Just don’t get gouged taking taxis!

    Second, Immigration. As a US citizen with priority lane access, (and an EU citizen too), you’ve probably never experienced what the average foreigner goes through at Immigration when entering the US or EU. Compared to that (admittedly a low bar) immigration in Korea isn’t too bad. Here’s the thing though, as you probably know, the real issue with ICN is the immigration at arrivals, and this is only really an issue for foreigners. My (Korean) wife is able to go through immigration in about 5 minutes, while I can spend up to an hour queuing with hordes of people. This is really my only gripe with ICN, they’ll have 10 lanes open for Koreans, and 2 for non-Koreans, and only open up more lanes for non-Koreans once there are no more Koreans waiting. There is a priority access lane too.. this requires pre-registration (however, it’s only available to Korean citizens and registered residents of Korea – it’s on my to do list to get registered).

    Third. Yup, the food options suck.

    Fourth. As another poster mentioned, the duty-free shopping is a huge deal for Koreans and Chinese tourists. It actually works a little different here. Most of the shopping is done long before one gets to the airport either at huge malls downtown – usually Chinese customers, or online for Korean customers. One only picks up the items at the airport after passing immigration. While as a Westerner the selection is somewhat disappointing, they obviously know their market. As an aside, unlike most “duty-free” shops in airports, cigarettes at ICN are substantially cheaper than normal, and are a very good deal for almost all travellers (assuming, you’re a smoker!).

    Lastly, ICN does offer quite a few nice touches. There’s a Korean cultural performance, opportunities to try out some Korean cultural activities hands on, a sauna, and a large array of entertainment options just a few minutes away.

    While, it probably isn’t the best airport in the world, I’d put it in my top 5. I’ll be travelling during the week-long public holiday in a fortnight, so I assume it’ll drop a few ranks after that!

  74. The only thing I like in ICN is that the rest rooms are very clean and does not have that restroom smell that is so commonly masked my citrus detergent or cleaner. Plus, they have free locker rooms for heavy backpack (and stuff) and free shower if you have few hours at the airport

  75. I think that ICN airport is actually quite good, compared to the model – Narita. Everything works staff are friendly but lack adequate English. It is a bit of a haul to downtown Seoul but overall it works. I suppose I am biased as I live when I am in Seoul about ten miles from the airport so it is sort of my home base. I agree though that it does not live up to its hype. They have made some improvements – there is a movie theater there now, the Jinjiang has opened and there are quite a few restaurant options but the best ones are prior to or after security which is a bit inconvenient. The bookstores are also prior to security which is a bummer. But good choice of books in English. and it is fast – never waited more than 20 minutes to clear customs,

  76. Funny you mention the long lines. A few years ago, I timed a visit to be able to see Seoul for the first time. I arrived in ICN around 7 am and did not have to leave until late afternoon. Upon return to the airport, I was surprised at the lines and had to rush to the gate, not having enough time to spend my last bit of Korean money.

    ICN is not horrible by any means but not exceptionally good. To me, it is about the same as JFK Terminal 4.

  77. To me, there are several kinds of “best airports”.

    One is a pleasant looking terminal. Washington Dulles is such a example, in my opinion.

    Another is a pleasant interior. Changi Airport in Singapore is such an example. The carpet is not the prettiest but the airport is nice to have a connection.

    Yet another is convenience for O and D passenger. Washington National is such an example. It’s fairly quick to get into the city. So is Brussels Zaventem. Omaha’s Eppley Field is so conveniently close but public transportation is a bit lacking (no weekend service, nothing after about 6:30 pm). Vancouver is very convenient to Richmond, BC and also Vancouver.

    Another criteria is lots of flights. That might be LHR, ATL, ORD, SFO, LAX, SIN, etc. There’s nothing worse that few flights, like IPC (Easter Island) or GGS (Glasgow, MT).

  78. Your blog and reviews are a lot of fun and educating to follow. In reading reviews, we must remember their is a cultural bias to reviews insofar as people from different cultures (and as individuals) have different expectations on what constitutes a ‘good’ airport. That said, cleanliness and ease of movement (not waiting hours in immigration or security for example) are usually valued. Appreciate your insightful reviews.

    I can see why Inchoen is one of the top large airports in the world and the Asiana business lounge is fabulous.

    What would be your top Airports in North America for 2016?

  79. Airports I enjoy flying into and out of (when my travel allows) because of efficiency and the general ambiance:

    Europe: VIE
    Asia: DEL, BOM
    US: CVG

    Main reason: gate to curb and vice-versa within 15 min with minimum useless frills; i.e. shopping, butterfly gardens, movie theaters, etc.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reminder: OMAAT comments are changing soon. Register here to save your space.