By Chris Kjelgaard Airfarewatchdog.com
By Chris Kjelgaard
When they travel by air, many people look for the best fare online, book their tickets, and then blithely set off on their trips without thinking about doing any web research on the airports they are leaving from and the airports they are flying to.
Until recently, yours truly was one of these great non-researchers. On the few times in the distant past that I'd bothered to look at airport web sites, they always appeared clunky to me and not very useful. But airport Web sites, if they're good ones, should be your first stop before leaving for the airport. Is the long term parking lot under construction? Might public transportation be a better option than driving? Have they plowed the runways? How far is the walk to the gate? And where's the nearest coffee stop?
Across the board, in the United States and throughout the rest of the world, most leading airports now have web sites that are founts of useful information flight schedules and flight delays, services, shopping and dining, parking and ground transportation options and other services. They usually show you the latest local weather conditions, too.
We've looked at dozens of airport web sites in the last few weeks and we've selected ten favorites- five in the US and five internationally -based on ease of navigation, design quality, and richness of content. But it's only fair to say there are many more airports out there that have good web sites.
Top five US web sites
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
Fresh from a redesign, this is one of the cleanest looking airport sites on the Web and clearly a lot of effort and testing has been put into it. Mousing over the major icons (airline and flight info, directions and parking, terminal info, shopping and dining, etc.) reveals useful subcategories. They recently launched a version for mobile devices as well. The "Caught on Film" video is fun. And, of course, the best part is the Fare Deals page, powered by Airfarewatchdog.com RSS feeds, showing human-researched fares departing from the airport.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport
You'll find that although this uncluttered site doesn't have interactive maps, its downloadable PDF terminal maps are clear and well-designed. Unusual features include the pages featuring the music being played in the airport's terminals, offering clips from each track on each album, and the videos highlighting sightseeing opportunities and cultural events in Chicago. Also cool: a link to the National Weather Service site for Cook County, Illinois, for really good information about the weather in the Chicago area.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
DFW's well-designed site has very good interactive maps and easy to use navigation. It provides tons of information about all the important topics (flight tracking, parking, airport concessions, connecting, terminal maps, airport hotels,travel planning, and so on) and a page (which can be rather slow to load) displaying all the art on show at the airport and the artists who created it. We'd like to see a more visible link to options for getting to and from the airport. And a DFW low fare list would be helpful, too.
Denver International Airport
This site's clean home page makes navigation extremely easy. Links lead you on to well-designed, uncluttered pages with easily-read interactive terminal maps, detailed parking information, and interesting videos about the airport and topics of importance to fliers.
San Francisco International Airport
Another site with a calm and clutter-free home page that is easy on the eye and very easy to navigate. In fact, the entire site is elegantly designed. A flight finder, maps, ground transportation, driving directions, and security information are the dominant elements, with sophisticated interactive maps of all the terminals, a fare-finder for flights from SFO and a way to get free flight info on your cell phone. The site also includes a monthly schedule of airport-hosted concerts.
Top five international airport sites
As might be expected, there is a wider range in quality among airport web sites internationally and some aren't too good at making information available in English, though most make an attempt. That said, some non-US airport sites rank with the best US sites we've seen, and on some counts they surpass them.
The Copenhagen Airports site covers both Kastrup (the city's main international airport) and Roskilde Airports. While the site provides clear information and maps that answer all the key direction-finding and ground transportation questions, what we really love here is the listing of the lowest fares available to all the destinations served from Kastrup - together with links to the sites of the airlines offering the fares. Makes sense of course: show passengers low fares and they're more likely to use your airport. Weird that all airports don't do this.
Frankfurt Airport City
The site for this key European gateway airport really has everything - including the ability to book flights, hotels, cars and parking. This efficient site even boasts an online travel agency and its pages of directions on how to get to the airport include arriving by bicycle. Other airports should be green with envy.
London Heathrow International Airport
Many would say there are plenty of reasons to hate Heathrow, but there is no reason at all to hate its web site, which includes interactive maps covering each portion of each floor of each terminal. You'll also find tons of info on terminal connections (not always an easy task), public transportation to and from the airport and links to relevant sites, plus the ability to book airport parking online. You can also sign up for free flight updates to your mobile device. It's one of the very best sites we've seen.
Singapore Changi Airport
As might be expected from this big international hub and well organized nation-state, Changi Airport's web site offers lots of booking options for flights, hotels, vacations and sightseeing tours in Singapore. The airport has its own online travel agency (OTA) but also provides links to other OTAs and hotel accommodation provider sites. Additionally, the site has good interactive maps of each of the floors in each of its terminals, as well as plenty of information about ground transportation and about Singapore as a destination. Web designers might quibble that there's a bit too much flash here, but this is Singapore, after all.
Tokyo Narita International Airport
It's a bit busy and they could have used one or two fewer fonts, but what it lacks in style this site makes up for in quantity of information. We like the interactive advice pages covering each stage of the procedures that passengers must go through at the airport when arriving or departing, and the interactive maps of the services, shopping and dining options available in Narita's two terminals. Public transportation information is covered well, and we appreciate the little details, such as the best vantage points for watching planes take off and land, that aren't found on most sites.
So that's our list. We're keen to know what your faves are, how you rate your home airport's web site, and what features you'd like to see it add. Leave a comment below!