The best airport on the planet

NOT ONE American airport cracked the top ten in a ranking of the planet's best airports, released last week by Skytrax, a company specialising in airline and airport research. In fact American airports didn't even feature in the top 25—Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International was the first to appear, squeaking in at number 30. Denver and San Francisco came 36th and 40th, and at number 48, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson, of which Gulliver is not particularly fond, was the only other American operation in the survey's top 50.

Skytrax's rankings, which are in their 14th year, are based on a survey that asks airline passengers to rank airports across 39 different categories, from shopping to security. Over 12m passengers filled out the survey this year, according to the company. And despite Skytrax's website's suffering from a bad case of Seemingly Random Capitalisations, the awards are worth taking seriously. Some travellers might find the tenth place of London Heathrow surprising, but much of that is driven by the opening of Terminal 5 and the airport's impressive shopping options. (Every London airport except Luton made the top 50.)

American airports are generally fairly awful, so their poor performance in this survey is no great surprise. But it is also worth a response. Airports are gateways to cities and regions, and it's striking that the infrastructure of the world's lone superpower lags so far behind that of the rest of the world. The mood in Washington right now is one of austerity, so any near-term improvements to the country's airports will have to come from state or local authorities—or, ideally, from the private sector. But some of the worst problems can only be solved with federal help. Lengthy delays have a lot to do with America's outdated air-traffic control system, which Washington is trying to fix, but which cannot be upgraded without lots of money. And the lack of good transport links at some of the most important airports (here's looking at you, LaGuardia) is probably only rectifiable with federal money.

Singapore's Changi airport (pictured), which rose from second in the 2012 rankings to the top spot this year, has been upgraded repeatedly since 2000, and a billion-dollar project to replace its existing budget terminal with a new fourth terminal is currently in the works. If America doesn't want to continue to fall behind other countries in terms of airport infrastructure, it's going to have to spend some serious dough.

List of Top 100 airports:


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