Five European Airports to Avoid for Flight Connections

Zach Honig

For business travelers, paying a few extra bucks for a direct flight is seldom an issue, but tourists often book flights with cost in mind, choosing to fly multiple segments to reach their destination if the price is right. If you think connecting at an airport in the U.S. is inconvenient, try gate hopping at London Heathrow, Madrid Barajas, or our other picks for airports to avoid in Europe.

1. London Heathrow (LHR)

It's no surprise that Europe's busiest airport is also the most inconvenient for transfers. A hub for British Airways, BMI, and Virgin Atlantic, London's Heathrow Airport offers direct flights to nearly every major city on the globe, but the airport's enormous size and confusing security procedures make for a very complicated, and time-consuming transfer. For several years, Heathrow also had a single carry-on bag policy in effect, allowing only one bag per passenger to pass through security checkpoints regardless of airline policy. This carry-on restriction was lifted in 2008, and is now at the individual airline's discretion. Several of my personal air travel records were made at Heathrow, including most expensive bagel breakfast (about $15 with orange juice), and longest gate-to-gate connection time, at over two hours in 2007.

In addition to being a major airline hub, LHR made news when it became a hub for stranded passengers in 2010, for nearly a week in April during the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, and again just before Christmas, after heavy snowfall resulted in all flights being cancelled for several days. If you have no choice but to connect at Heathrow, allow at least two hours for your connection, especially if you need to transfer between terminals.

2. Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG)

Years before I visited the city of Paris, I had several opportunities to breathe the crisp winter air outside the French capital's largest airport–Charles De Gaulle–thanks to its bizarre overuse of air stairs and secure-area buses. Rather than utilizing jet bridges, many passengers are transported from their arriving aircraft to the terminal, and back to their departing aircraft by bus, but only after passing through immigration and walking a mile or two between terminals, of course. On one occasion, I was driven from my arriving aircraft to one terminal, then driven from another terminal to my departing aircraft, located just a few feet from where my first flight had pulled in several hours before.

3. Madrid Barajas (MAD)

If you're flying into Madrid on Iberia or another One World airline, chances are you'll arrive in terminal 4, which Barajas airport boasts as being one of the largest in the world. Unfortunately, enormous terminals and seamless connections don't go hand in hand, so allow plenty of time for a connection at Barajas. And then add another hour, just in case. Ceiling-mounted signs guide passengers from gate to gate in terminal 4, which, based on its size, should really be divided into several smaller terminals linked together by a rail system. MAD may just drive you mad, as it did during my first visit in 2006. I missed my flight, despite having over an hour to make my connection. Fortunately, Iberia agents in the secure area of the airport rebooked me on the next flight to Barcelona without issue, but my bags didn't arrive until the day before my return to the U.S. - apparently a common complaint among MAD T4 passengers.

4. Milan Malpensa (MXP)

A hub for European airline giants Lufthansa and EasyJet, passengers flying from one European destination to another are more likely to make a connection at Milan's Malpensa airport than those flying from the United States. If you're planning to connect at MXP, pack a sandwich or two - restaurant options are incredibly limited after your pass through security, and food is overpriced, if you're even able to find something appealing. Common complaints include overcrowded terminals and dated, poorly maintained restrooms - depending on the terminal, you may even find your in-flight lavatory to be more comfortable and sanitary. Milan may be the design capital of the world, but its largest airport is in desperate need of a makeover.

5. Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO)

Moscow may seem an unlikely city for connections in Europe, but as a hub for Aeroflot, tourists visiting cities in Eastern Europe and the Middle East from U.S. cities served by the Russian airline may find themselves connecting at Sheremetyevo. Like the even less desirable airports to the west, connections at SVO should be avoided, unless you happen to stumble upon an unbeatable airfare on Aeroflot. The airport suffers from a terrible layout, confusing signs, and an unhelpful staff. Transfers within the same terminal are less painful than those between terminals, since you'll need to pass through Russian immigrations to change terminals, which requires a transit visa for citizens of most other countries. Additionally, because of visa requirements, visits to Moscow are impractical during long layovers or delays.

What do you think is the worst European airport for connections?

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