x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Dream terminals - and nightmares

On the road Dubai's aim to become a global tourism destination has been bolstered by a new top 10 rating on a website aimed at international jet-setters.

Dubai's aim to become a global tourism destination has been bolstered by a new top 10 rating on a website aimed at international jet-setters. That's the good news. The bad news? The website is www.sleepinginairports.net, created to let cheapskate travellers know which airports are good to sleep in to avoid shelling out for a hotel room. Dubai did not feature in the top 10 a year ago but has rocketed up the ratings to become the sixth best in the world and by far the best in the Middle East.

Free Wi-Fi, comfortable chairs, long lounge sleeper chairs in the departure area and - most important of all - being left alone to sleep by the security staff were all cited in Dubai International's favour. Singapore's Changi Airport topped the global list, followed by Seoul and Amsterdam. More than half of those who voted for the best Middle East airport to sleep in selected Dubai, followed by Tel Aviv with 17 per cent and Abu Dhabi at nine per cent.

Sharjah's airport was singled out with a vengence, with reports of rude staff, no comfortable chairs, malfunctioning air conditioning and evil aromas. Its most favourable review described it as "Abysmal! I wouldn't want to do that again!" Others were less impressed. But the honour of being voted the worst airport in the region went to Sana'a Airport in Yemen's capital, although opinions were polarised between the starkly unfavourable - "Good God! This is by far the worst airport in Asia, I cannot think of a worse experience ever" and "The floor is not recommended unless you want to risk contacting [sic] something new to medical science" - and the favourable - "Don't believe the crazy stories you hear. The staff at the airport are the friendliest people you can find in ANY airport in the world."

Dubai also attracted divergent views. Although mostly favourable, some slated the experience, such as the traveller who said after the "wonderful" experience of flying Emirates, "you get deposited in this hellhole of an airport, which completely ruins the travel experience". Donna McSherry, a Canadian whose travel aspirations far exceeded her budget, started the website for a laugh 14 years ago. But now more than 5,000 airports around the world are rated and ranked by an army of parsimonious jet-setters and the website gets more than a million visits a year.

Abu Dhabi's new Terminal Three, which opened this year, has not yet made an impact on the airport's rating despite the ample room and free internet terminals. Instead the biggest impact is the tiled central hub of Terminal One, described by four of the reviewers as "resembling a large vase - you really won't understand until you are in it", "like being stuck in an inverted green ceramic bowl", "is a bit weird and will drive you crazy after 10 minutes" and which "amplified all noises and made it impossible to rest quietly".

Others were more blunt: "Please make sure you bring a book or five thousand if you plan to stay at this airport. You will need it just to distract yourself from the colourful ceiling surrounding you on every side." Another wrote: "It was mozaiced from floor to ceiling, everywhere, in the most amazing pattern, it was like being in this ginormous beehive, it was incredible, huge! And there was this centre pillar supporting the domed mozaiced ceiling. I just sat in my seat and spent the few hours in wait for my plane staring around dumbfounded at the amount of work and effort that had gone into such an incredible building."

Fortunately for travellers in the Middle East, none of the region's airports makes the top 10 worst airports to sleep in, based on the website's ranking. This top 10 includes Port Moresby, where one of the website's contributors witnessed seven people being killed in a gang shootout, and also Moscow, Lagos, Cairo and Kiev, where travellers are hit on for bribes by the security staff. But in a league of its own, according to McSherry and backed by the votes of her faithful followers, is Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

Apart from reports of rude staff, being hassled by homeless people who live in the airport and smelly bathrooms, the seating is inadequate and is comprised of either cold metal benches or bucket seats with armrests that prevent the ability to lie flat. Things are improving, though, with a new terminal said to have Wi-Fi, adequate seating and even reports of Playstations available. The website also offers 101 tips on sleeping in airports and advises travellers to be prepared for a late cancellation or other unintended event that turns an airport from being a transit point to a place to stay.

Among the strategies suggested are carrying a cheap inflatable pool raft ("They fold up nicely and make the hard floor a lot more comfortable"), eye shades and ear plugs, stocking up on water and snacks before the cafes close or bringing it from outside to avoid high prices at airport stores, and MP3 music players. They advise the latter to be tucked underneath while sleeping since "there have been cases of people waking up with just their headphones, so be sure you don't make it easy for someone to walk off with it".

They also recommended relying on the kindness of strangers. Solo travellers, the website advises, can write "Wake me at 5am" on several Post-it notes which are then positioned on yourself and the seat around you. "It works," it says. "People will wake you." And the final piece of equipment? "A Twister mat and spin card are light and take up little room in your carry-on." jhenzell@thenational.ae