For the seventh year, the Hong Kong International Airport was ranked the best by millions of worldwide passengers, according to Forbes.
Judging more than 40 categories, airport customers chose it over 190 others in an annual survey conducted by Skytrax, a privately-owned research company in London, which released the results today.
The company ranked the airports after collecting 8.2 million questionnaires completed by passengers over a 10-month time period from 2007 to 2008. They judged each airport on factors like shopping, dining, staff courtesy, baggage delivery and wait times at security.
Overall, airports in Asia did well. Hong Kong, with its reputation for efficiency and comfort, bested airports in Singapore and Seoul, South Korea, which ranked second and third. Also in the top 10 were airports in Kansai, Japan, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Airports in Europe--Munich, Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark; Zurich, Switzerland; and Helsinki, Finland--took most of the remaining top spots. Cape Town, South Africa rounded out the list at No.10.
Missing from the list were any airports in the United States. Though none of them cracked the top 10, international airports in San Francisco, Denver, Dallas and Atlanta had slightly improved positions over last year, coming in between 11 and 25.
Edward Plaisted, CEO of Skytrax, attributes the less-than-world-class rankings to an older airport infrastructure in the U.S.
"The three or four at the top," says Plaisted, "have developed purpose-built, 21st century airports that have every conceivable item of product and service." This includes amenities like free wi-fi and speedy train service from the airport to the city`s downtown area.
At the seven-year-old Seoul Incheon, passengers can also take advantage of the on-site hair salon, a children`s play room and a business center with overseas shipping. The airport`s Web site even maintains a list of activities based on the number of hours a passenger must wait. Within eight hours of a flight, the airport recommends the shower and massage services.
The staff at Munich`s airport aims to relax passengers with miniature golf, a 60-seat cinema, and cosmetic and physiotherapy services, among other cutting-edge amenities. The airport also promotes aviation technology and history with educational experiences like behind-the-scenes tours and "kinderterminals," a touchscreen that allows children to learn more about how an airport works.
On the other hand, Plaisted says, 1960s-era airports in the U.S. are largely function-driven and have been slow to adopt a globally competitive approach.
Getting From Here To There
A modern feel is important to consumers, but so is efficiency, says Richard Gritta, an airline industry expert and professor of finance at the University of Portland.
"The reason you don`t see U.S. airports [on the list,]" says Gritta, "is because, by and large, our airports have become so crowded. There are security and weather problems and a lack of more sophisticated air traffic control. You`re picking up the anger of the entire industry."
Though on-time performance by the major airlines has slightly improved this year, 21% of flights were late as of May. And the current state of the airline industry--under immense pressure with rising oil prices--doesn`t bode well for customer satisfaction in the future.
There`s bad news and good news, says Gritta. The airlines are "coming apart," but it will force consolidation and result in fewer flights, which, in turn, should address the crowding problem in airports.
To Plaisted, the situation is straightforward.
"The procedural side [to visiting an American airport] is still leaving a fairly bitter taste in customers` minds," he says. "Once they`ve been bitten by that, they don`t want to repeat the process."