Getting to and from airports is often a hassle in many parts of the world.  The worst are those where the airports are a long way from the city and the transportation options are limited.

The best have integrated rail transportation and make it quick and easy to get to and from the airport.  And this is the case in both Barcelona, where we arrived, and Madrid, from which we are leaving.  The airports are well served by metro lines.

In Madrid, it is about 15 minutes via the metro line that goes from the city to airport terminals 1,2, and 3.  Terminal 4 is about another 5 minutes away and is Iberia’s hub, along with their Oneworld partners, so this was our destination.  You pay a EU1 per person extra tariff at the airport metro station before you exit, unless you have a transit pass such as a Metro Tourist card.  Even with the extra tariff, this had to be one of the least expensive city to airport transfers I’ve had anywhere.  Numerous airports have rail connections to the city, but at most of the major airports I’ve used (Heathrow, and Gatwick come to mind especially), the cost pretty steep.  In fact, with some of the low cost airfares, you can sometimes pay as much or more to get to and from the airport as your flight cost .  Kudos to the Spanish for making it quick, easy, and cheap to get in and out of their major cities.

Terminal 4 is architecturally very interesting with a sinuous roof made up of wood spars, which softens the hard industrial look found in most new airports.

But unfortunately from a functional standpoint, there are a number of things that struck me as silly, if not downright stupid, especially for a new airport terminal,  For starters, I asked the agent after we had checked in our bags how long we needed to allow to get to the gate – he said 45 minutes.  Hmmm.  We cleared security pretty quickly, but for some reason, they have the section where they give you the plastic trays separated from the X-ray machines, which means you have to carry the tray(s) with your stuff for about 30 feet and go through a door– not big deal, except if the people in front of you are slow, you’re left standing trying to juggle everything  I can’t think of any other airport where they don’t use some sort of conveyor system to do this function.  A sign tells you that it is 23 minutes to the U gates.

Then we had to descend about 4 escalators to take a train to the satellite from which the international flights depart.  At Hong Kong’s new airport they designed it so that in most cases you never need to leave the level you are on.  Even the trains to the city are integrated into this concept – arriving trains come into the departure level and departing trains leave from a level below, which is the arrivals level.

Even sillier is that they have arriving passengers exiting from one side of the train, then the train moves along the track to come back on a parallel track for departing passengers to board the other side of the train.  Why they didn’t just have one platform and open the arriving side doors until the train cleared out, then close them and open the departing side doors to let departing passengers in, I don’t know.

Next you arrive at the satellite terminal and go through passport control, a formality and thankfully very quick in our case.  We are departing from gate U74, which ends up being the farthest possible gate.   For some reason, they have the end of the U terminal roped off so you have to show your boarding pass and passport yet again.  This appears to be only for flights departing to America.  Why?  We’ve already shown our passports to get here and flights to other locations don’t seem to have to do this.  Effectively it means you have to wait short of this barrier until they open it, then relocate to your gate.

The acoustics in this area were awful, so trying to make out the gate announcements (with the added challenge of a strong Spanish accent) was almost a lost task.

We were able to get a decent cup of coffee and a pastry for the same price as it costs in town, so that was good.  But the selection of shops for a major international airport was disappointing.  Plus, they don’t signpost where the toilets are.

My guess is that with the good ground transport connections, the arrival experience would be better, but in the end, an airport is a means to an end, and we’re looking forward to coming home.

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