NewsWhistle Rates International Airports and Their Security Staffers

I’ve been through a lot of airports in my life. When “Up in the Air” came out, everyone around me asked if I saw it. They wanted to know whether actor George Clooney captured Life in Seat 12C correctly. Or whether my Diamond Level benefits were all that they were hyped up to be.

First, let me tell you, having airline benefits helps. You are treated better. Even in seat 33C, you will be offered champagne – and do take it. But my rule is different from Clooney’s on choosing the security line, and it’s the right one to follow. Count the number of men on each queue and choose the one that has the fewest of them. I’m not sexist. It’s just that men carry too many coins, keys, and crap-shit in their pockets, and it takes them ages to empty and refill them. Then, there’s the whole unbelting routine. Between the unloading of pockets and the dispatching of belts, it takes a man three times the amount of time it takes a woman to plunk down her purse on a conveyor belt and walk through.

My biggest gripe, however, is not with men (boys will be boys) but with inefficient airports and their uncaring airport security staffers that get their jollies by treating you like a dangerous criminal. Some more than others.

Here is our list of the best and worst international airports along with a look at their security employees:

Frankfurt, Germany
This is the slowest and most thorough physical security clearance you can go through. Their handheld metal detectors are set at a sensitivity level so high it will beep all over you, thus requiring a heavy-handed pat-down that you’ve only seen in crime movies or puppy-dog-love flicks. Be prepared to be thoroughly annoyed, especially as security is after the lounge and you’ll have to leave the lounge 20 minutes early to deal with this.

Anywhere in India
Is it wrong to call an entire nation’s airport security team a bunch of bureaucratic jerks? Well, they are. Not only are they bureaucratic, and jerks, they also get off on the teeny bit of power and authority granted to them. They will chuck a small glass jar of thick local honey you carefully wrapped in your carry-on into a rubbish bin with glee on their lips – calling it ‘liquids.’ They will stall you just because they can. They are as helpful as a rusty nail. Your grief only thrills them. Your despondency only gives them energy. And you know they are going to take that confiscated jar of honey home.

We love Indian people and will praise their country to the skies. Their airport security, however, need a swift kick in the samosas.

We don’t know how they do it, but if you have ever in your life declared a passport lost or stolen, they have the data. You will visit the special room at Immigration both entering and leaving the country. But don’t worry, they’re not like the guys at JFK, with some mistaken belief that every foreigner is trying to illegally enter the country and steal all cleaning and delivery jobs. These guys are cool.

Istanbul, Turkey
They check security as you enter the airport, not just to get you to the gate. Be prepared to stand in a long inefficient line and open up every bag, especially if you’ve bought a vintage kerosene gas lamp. However, if you can get in, the Turkish Airlines Lounge is an absolute must.

Heathrow, England
Everyone complains about Heathrow (or is it England they complain about), but the British Airlines Lounge has a complimentary Elemis Spa. The facials are divine, and I’ve never trusted 15-minute facials till I’ve tried this. It’s amazing how a good facial can eliminate any complaint you have about an airport.

Tokyo, Japan
Not into facials? Japan Airlines offers 15-minute Shiatsu massages in the Lounge. This and the BA Elemis facial are worth getting to the airport early for. Otherwise at Narita Airport, immigration and security are fine, but there is a good chance the staff there will make you open up your bags at Customs. And yes, they will ALWAYS ask you questions. This is one of the few Airport Customs crew I’ve seen that don’t think their job is to rubberstamp your forms and wave you through.

Hong Kong
Except when there is an epidemic fear (think SARS, Swine Flu, Bird Flu…), Hong Kong has the best airport both inbound and outbound. If you are at a far gate, don’t be a cheapskate. Spend the USD8 to take a buggy to the immigration line. Unlike buggies in other airports, they are efficient, available, and a small luxury that will make your day.

Moscow, Russia
A big step up from the 90s, but like everything in Russia, the airport is vast, but lacking any sense of infrastructure. There is no air train, let alone a buggy, to get you from one terminal to another. Make sure you have your sneakers and prepare to run. Saving grace, we met Billy Joel at Shermetevo, finishing a tour in Moscow. Russia, for the aging rock stars…

Think Jetsons. Other than the wet, shoe-sanitizing carpet they make you walk on as soon as you exit the plane (now I know to step around it so as not to ruin my shoes), Korea probably together with Hong Kong is one of the most efficient and convenient airports both inbound and outbound. The Korean Air Lounge in Terminal Two (not the dowdy one in Terminal One) is hip, decked out with Styrofoam sofas, and is catered by the Grand Hyatt. You can get in if you are a Priority Pass member – so just pay the US$150 annual membership if you don’t have a Platinum Amex Card, or US$25 per visit. It’s worth it.

JFK, New York
What can we say? When I was young, my parents told me that the airport is a receiving hall, and gives off the first impression of that country. I thought them silly, why judge a country by their airport, when you have such intrigue and delicacies awaiting you beyond the drab decor and unfriendly faces? Alas, as I gain wisdom with age, I realize yet again they were right. So I fear for you, US of A. Every time I am greeted by JFK employees, they’re stern and don’t reflect the face of a friendly nation.

Sao Paolo, Brazil
Flights from North America will fly overnight and get you in early morning. Follow the Clooney rules and don’t check any luggage. Also, use the restroom before the plane lands. Every second counts when you get to Sao Paolo and you want to get on the highway as soon as possible and beat the rush hour traffic.

— end it —

Photo courtesy of Paul Prescott/