Is Islamabad airport really the worst airport in the world?

Published: October 31, 2014
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I still gave the airport the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps I just came across it on a bad day. PHOTO: AFP

Imagine the worst airport you can think of.

Multiply it by 10.

Then multiply it further by 20.

Drop the resulting figure in a barrel, and throw that barrel away where the sun doesn’t shine. At the bottom of the crater created by this barrel drop, you will find Islamabad airport.

I had the misfortune of travelling via Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport some months back, and I’m glad that has been my only visit to the place. Unless someone holds a gun against my head, I have made it a point to never travel via this airport again. From the outside, it comes across as a regular Pakistani airport, and not too shabby compared to its Lahore and Karachi counterparts. However, when you step inside the airport is when the horror strikes.

After you’re done getting your boarding pass, you enter the departure lounge. You look around, and it starts before it ends. If you thought Heathrow was crowded, you obviously haven’t visited Islamabad airport. With litter on the floor and no janitor in sight, you begin to wonder if they ever clean this place. I’m sure they do, only when they have nothing better to do.

When you finally find a seat, you sit and it strikes you off balance. After you’re done with the tedious exercise of finding a new seat, a repelling smell hits your nose. It’s not the airport kitchen, it’s not litter – it’s the washrooms adjacent to the departure lounges. The taps run like waterfalls, and a smell floats like air across the entire lounge – a smell worse than that pungent smell of your neighbourhood sewage system. Even if you want to go to the washroom, Mother Nature is so repulsed that she tells you to stay put and decides to visit you at some other time.

When you’re sure that it can’t get worse than this, you come across the waiters. You ask one of them if they have tea, and they pass by giving you a scathing look. You have obviously interfered with their doctor-recommended evening stroll. When you finally come across a waiter who is done with his evening stroll, you ask him if he has tea, and voila! He does. The only problem is that when you drink the tea, you realise that it’s nothing more than mildly warm coloured water. Enough of the departure lounge, you say; your ears and eyes wait for the call that tells you that you can start boarding the plane now.

And then it happens.

You excitedly pick up your hand luggage, relieved to finally be leaving this place. You start walking towards your gate and you come across a glass door. Where’s the gate you ask your fellow passengers? And they say you just crossed it. Much like the moment you enter the departure lounge, the gate ends before it starts.

I still gave the airport the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps I just came across it on a bad day.

But a few weeks down the road a friend of mine visited Islamabad via air, and she showed me some pictures that reinstated my earlier belief of the airport. It was a particularly rainy day in Islamabad then, and the pictures showed a quarter of the departure lounge with rain water. Yes, rain water. It came across as a picture out of a government hospital at first glance, but sadly it wasn’t.

Photo: Salman Zafar

Then, to top it all, a cat was enjoying the rain water in the departure lounge. Yes, a four-legged furry creature was inside the departure lounge. Such is the story of our capital’s airport.

Photo: Salman Zafar

Photo: Salman Zafar

The icing on the cake: A recent survey has ranked Islamabad airport the worst in the world. The honour dished out to this national joke’s presence in our federal capital is hardly far off from the truth. While there are probably worse airports among global federal capitals, they are almost exclusively limited to fiction books.

Islamabad airport warrants every inch of fun poked at it. It’s not harsh. It’s not unwarranted. It’s justified in the most glorious of manners. Thankfully, it is also one of the few things that most Pakistanis can agree upon.

No one expects Islamabad airport to be among the best in the world. But there is nothing wrong in expecting our federal capital to have an airport that doesn’t remind you of public washrooms on GT Road or the Lahore Zoo.

salman Zafar

Salman Zafar

The writer works in the Education Sector and tweets as @salmanzafar1985 (twitter.com/salmanzafar1985)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.