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World's 10 best airports and lounges
The United States lags far behind Asia in a ranking of the best airports and airline lounges.
May 16, 2005: 9:29 AM EDT
By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money staff writer
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Ever waited out a snowstorm at O'Hare? Tried to change terminals at Dallas-Ft. Worth? Stood in the international arrivals line at JFK?

Then you know that a typical U.S. airport occupies its own particular circle of hell.

But take heart, weary traveler. Somewhere, there are airports where passengers are viewed as customers, not cattle.

Imagine big, airy terminals, with convenient gates and lavish amenities. Places where floors sparkle, restrooms shine, and plush seats are abundant -- some even recline to a horizontal position.

There's just one problem: Such places are in lands far, far away.

Recently, the London-based consultancy Skytrax released the results of its annual global survey of travelers.

The poll ranked more than 150 of the world's biggest airports according to 31 factors, including cleanliness, security and check-in procedures, and entertainment options like gyms and gamerooms.

Some 5.5 million people from more than 90 countries participated. The greatest concentrations of voters came from Europe and North America, yet almost all the airports judged to be the best were in Asia.

Only 3 of the top 10 were in Europe, and none were in the United States. The best-performing American airport was Minneapolis, ranked No. 20 overall.

Maybe it's a case of familiarity breeding contempt, or a grass-is-greener mentality among Westerners. Or it could be that airports elsewhere just do things right.

In any event, I can vouch for the comforts of the world's best: Hong Kong International, which won the title for the fifth consecutive year.

I've been there a few times, usually in a state of extreme fatigue. (The most recent trip involved a 3-hour layover between a 15-hour flight and another 5-hour one.)

Dining options are plentiful from casual to elegant, terminal layouts and signage make perfect sense, and the multilingual staff are friendly and service-oriented -- especially helpful for bleary-eyed Americans. There was even a view of lush green hills.

Others on the list include Singapore, which finished a close second, thanks to its swimming pool, free movie theater, and terminals strewn with exotic flowers. Munich's relatively new facility won the European competition, ahead of No. 8 Schiphol (Amsterdam) and No. 9 Copenhagen.

Click here to see the full list of the world's best airports.

Places to lounge

Even in the best airports, there are gradations of service. If you're looking for the "best of the best," you should head for the business- or first-class lounges. Of course, to get into one, you'll need to fly up in the expensive seats.

The Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong -- where the airline is based -- ranked highest in another Skytrax survey.

"The lounge is an opportunity to project the image and feeling of a country," said Peter Miller of Skytrax, in a statement. "Although you are actually passing time in a large concrete building, you feel as if you are closer to the real character of the country."

Bustling, prosperous Hong Kong is a city where the very rich live very well. So it makes sense that in its hometown, Cathay would have lounges where you can take a bubble bath while a chef prepares Cantonese meals to your specifications.

The Skytrax survey highlighted some other little luxuries around the world, too.

In Bangkok, the Thai Airways lounge offers traditional Thai massages. ln Johannesburg, hand-crafted furniture is a highlight of South African Airline's visually stunning lounge. And in Kuala Lumpur, you can sip drinks by the river -- an actual waterway bisects Malaysia Airline's sweet suite.

If Asia is too far for you to travel, there are a few European destinations to consider. Virgin Atlantic's "upper class" arrivals lounge at Heathrow features a beauty salon. While you're getting primped before heading into London, Virgin's staff will also press your clothes and shine your shoes.

Few U.S. airlines offer anything nearly as ritzy.

"U.S. airline lounges tend to be more functional," according to Skytrax. "These lounges are suited for domestic travel," not long-haul intercontinental flights.

That's partly because of budget constraints at the major airlines, which have all cut back on goodies for lounge lizards.

It's also a reflection of the utilitarian view of travel Americans have: to many of us, a plane is just a bus with wings. And nobody hires a masseuse to give back rubs at the Greyhound terminal.

So if you're an American looking for luxury at the airport, it's available. You'll just have to go the extra 10,000 miles to find it.

The Good Life is a weekly column that chronicles products, people and trends in luxury consumer goods, travel, and fine food and drink. Write to:  Top of page


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