The World’s Worst Airport?

Salon’s resident airline pilot Patrick Smith, who writes the weekly column “Ask the Pilot,” put up an excellent article a few days ago about his experiences in Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport, in Dakar, Senegal — what he calls “the world’s worst airport.”

Smith, whose column I always love to read, first states unequivocally that he likes airports. The idea of spending the 7 hours before his flight in a strange airport, to some people hell, is to him filled with childish anticipation. Oh, how wrong he was. You should read the whole article, but here are some excerpts:

“There are people all around, but few of them are passengers. They are touts, hawkers, vagrants, drifters, thieves — a melee of dubiously intended hangers-around, each of them eyeing you with the stubborn, languid glare of a vulture. Set against a back wall, the sole ATM is flanked by armed guards, whose duties are particularly effortless, since the machine doesn’t work.

There is nowhere to sit, no seats. Which really is all right because the worst thing you can do is cease moving. The approximately 5-to-1 scoundrel-to-passenger ratio ensures you’ll never remain unmolested for more than a few seconds. The moment you stop, somebody is hovering over your shoulder, mumbling incoherently. …

It doesn’t need to be this way. People do many things at airports: They eat, they shop, they bid farewell to loved ones. But more than anything, they wait. Airports are, if nothing else, waiting stations. Serving that purpose shouldn’t be a difficult or expensive task, especially in a country where overall expectations aren’t high. A modicum of cleanliness and functionality — somewhere to sit, something to look at, a bit of peace and quiet — will get the job done. Heck, string up a tent, give us a patch of grass to sit on and maybe a stand selling drinks, and the majority of us would be perfectly happy.”

Prompted by his slightly shamefaced love for both Miami and JFK airports (two of the most-loathed for travelers), Smith in the end invites readers to share their own “worst airport” stories, so dredge up your best.

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