As much as going to airports can be a bit of a nightmare for the novice traveler, I still enjoy and look forward to passing through new airports to see the quirks, similarities and differences. Elegant and stylish train stations are few and far between (Denver’s Union Station is a wow!) and bus stations are just atrocious places to be any time of day.
I hadn’t flown in two years, so I got to experience the modern upgrades (faster check-in, bag tracking) and aspects that haven’t changed (weak food selections, repugnant bathrooms). On this trip, I got to walk through four new airports. Here are all them ranked.
1. Vancouver — The whole airport (which is actually in Richmond) reminded me of the best in European airports. It makes you feel like your in a wide-open space and not closed off from the outside world. On top of that, some design flourishes makes it more of an experience. Coming in at around 8pm, you’re greeted with a criss-cross pattern of overhead lights as you walk through some artificial scenes of natures. It was like arriving at a natural history museum.
There’s a train that will take you to all points north into downtown Vancouver for about $7.50CAD that you can purchase at the kiosks. Although to get to the train, you have to go outside and play Frogger with passing traffic. Leaving, there’s an overpass that gets you to arrivals.
When I checked in going out on Delta, they actually secretly took a photo of your checked baggage. When I got through passport control, the agent showed me a photo of my luggage and asked if that was mine. That’s some deep secret ops shit right there. As an added bonus, I finally saved time with my Global Entry.
In the international terminal, there is the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s along with Asian fast food options. Pho to go, anyone? There was a nice wine bar, which every airport has to have, but can we get a decent beer bar going? The bar dedicated to the Vancouver Chanucks is unspectacular.
As I walked around, you can see some North American Indian art and totem polls like this one below. RAWWWWW, enjoy your flight!
2. Denver — The Denver International Airport has the distinction of being the largest airport in America by total land area with the longest public use runway. It’s also one of the most energy efficient with one of the fastest snow removal systems in the world.
Within the past year, they’ve added a highspeed rail that will take you to downtown Union Station for $9 in about 40 minutes with a few stops in-between. This has been a big deal for the city in hopes to give the town some improved infrastructure to relieve traffic. Even though I switched cars because the first one I was in smelled like a toilet, it worked like a charm. As an added bonus, the airport station has this funky mood lighting that’s support to resemble the northern lights I guess. It was as if Brian Eno designed a transit hub.
DEN is one of those airport where you have to take a quick train to get to the terminals from arrivals and departure halls. For a little levity, when the train arrives you hear the first chords of Fulsom City Blues (I hear the train a comin’) and a steam train whistle. Inside the voice of the Mayor of Denver welcomes you and tells you what the city has to offer.
On the Friday morning I left, the East terminal was a hub activity. There are dozen of places to eat but particularly appealed to me. I did three laps to determine what overpriced, calorie laden breakfast sandwich I can inhale that will sustain me through two flights. I went with Quiznos and an iced coffee from Dunks. While the main hub of the terminal has some large abstract art, the rest of the terminal wasn’t just sort of there — nothing offensive, but nothing that stands out.
3. Minneapolis — Natural light is important with airports and Minneapolis-St. Paul is flooded with it. That helps when you step out from a full, cramped flight.
When I was switching flights, I had a 15-minute walk where I passed two portraits of Prince alongside elementary kid’s artwork. I’m trying to figure out the connection.
While I only had an hour in the airport, I didn’t see any eating that stood out besides a Chik-Fil-A with a 20-person deep line. That’s just cruel. They should build a hot vending machine that dispenses chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.
4. Newark — This is my home airport and never ceases to amaze me how it’s been under construction for the 21 years I lived in the area. The motto should be — EWR: We’re Working On It Since 1928.
More than ever, I can’t escape Terminal B. It’s where Delta, American and Virgin Atlantic fly from and it feels like a place you’re trapped in. There’s a small Ruby Tuesday and a forgettable fish place that sells $14 fish tacos.
On the plus side, they finally set-up a TSA Pre-Check in the Delta/Virgin gates. This is my first trip where I finally used the service the whole way.
As a side note, I love how people in the premium check-in are determined to use their special lane when clearly the regular coach check-in line is shorter.
5. Salt Lake City — They’ve got nice views out the window. The main photo is from out the window. You can enjoy it while eating from Krispy Kreme, because that’s the first thing that’s greeting you when you enter. That’s about the extent of your options. I had an 80-minute layover so I could find a bar to see if they had local beer. I find the random airport bar and asked if they had any local beer. That confused the bartender as he fumbled to form an answer, so I asked what’s on tap instead.
6. Phoenix — When good air conditioning is your highest compliment, you know you should spend as little as possible in the terminal. I had been there in 1999 and it seems nothing has changed. Sad looking shops and a restaurant not designed for people with carry-on suitcases. There’s that dance you have to do when your dragging something around a terminal. I gate check mine so I am free of it. Unfortunately, other people don’t do this. I wanted to sit at the bar and pretty much had to climb over obstacle of pilot suitcases and rolling duffles.