Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stockholm Arlanda is the Worst Airport in the World

I have a shortlist of airports that I hate. London Heathrow. Chicago O’Hare. Stockholm Arlanda. But my last trip through Arlanda cut that short list down a bit. I now have a winner in the airports I hate list.

Stockholm Arlanda. The worst airport in the world.

I have traveled a decent amount now. I have hit enough airports to make a relatively comprehensive comparison of airports. And Stockholm Arlanda is awful.

The airport is in constant disarray. They say they are improving it and to excuse the construction. Unfortunately, this has been going on for years now and all they’ve managed to do is create a shopping area which is constantly understaffed and low on stock.

The customer service is bad. Even by Swedish standards. And while the customer service can be contributed to the actual companies, like SAS known as the worst airline in the world, or US Airlines, the latest in bad experiences with airlines at Stockholm Arlanda, Arlanda still houses them all under one roof. And so it will take the blame.

The food is overprices and lacking in options. I was delayed and wandering around trying to find something to eat. I gave up after realizing that the one place that actually offered something other than a dry sandwich didn’t have anyone working at it. Despite being lit up and pretending to be open.

Even the security guards leave something to be desired.

Having recently traveled through Stockholm Arlanda, I was reminded just how bad it was.

I found myself in line moving at an average speed of one foot per minute. So I had plenty of time to watch the world go by. I watched a man abandon his bag and cart in the middle of the walkway and come to the line and talk to the woman behind me. They knew each other. He was a talkative fellow. The bag continued to sit in the middle of the walkway. Unattended. You know, just how they warn you to never leave a bag in an airport.

Two security guards came strolling by. One of them stopped. He seemed to remember that taking care of such things was probably part of his job description. His partner, however, was less interested. He exchanged a few words with our concerned security guard. Pointed to a woman standing about 50 feet away, and convinced his concerned partner that the woman owned the bag and there was nothing to worry about.

Now, I knew that the man behind me owned the bag. I was not concerned. Not for that bag at least. Of course, the complete lack of action by two men hired to take care of things like that was a bit concerning.

But not nearly as concerning as the complete lack of any sort of customer service by US Airways.

I arrived to the airport on time. Which is not always easy for me. I made my way to the US Airways counter only to notice a line that stretched at least 100 feet long. And a counter that was staffed by four women and one man. All representing US Airways to the best of their abilities. Unfortunately, their best just wasn’t good enough.

My flight was leaving at one in the afternoon. I began standing in line at about 11:20. By 12 I had moved maybe, maybe, 30 feet. By 12:15 I was inside the US Airways ropes. Of course, most flights close check-in 45 minutes before take-off. An at this point it was lunch time. So despite the long line. Despite the worried faces of scores of passengers. Despite the lack of information. Two of the US Airways employees left their counters. God forbid the paying customer actually receive any form of service.

By 12:30, I was nearing the counter and managed to find an Arlanda employee. The flight had been delayed. No worries. Everyone would make the flight. Of course there had been no announcement. The flight board still showed a take-off time of 13:00. I patiently made my way through line. By 12:45, nearly 90 minutes after I first plopped my ass into line, I was checked-in. The man checked my bags, and handed me my boarding pass.

He said nothing. He did not apologize. He did not explain the situation. Hell, he didn’t even tell me the flight was delayed. I had to ask him what time the flight was leaving. He didn’t know. He guessed maybe two or three hours later than planned. Awesome.

That means I had a few hours to kill. I spent my time trying to find exciting things to buy from the tax-free shop. Which resulted in lots of candy and some booze. You can’t really go wrong with candy and alcohol.

A couple of hours later I made my way to my gate. And waited. The flight was supposed to leave at 15:30. And I waited. Arlanda doesn’t really let you in to your gate. They have these sorts of holding room. So you go through passport control and are put in a holding room. You can see your gate but the door to the gate is locked. So you wait.

And the time kept ticking. At a quarter past three they allowed us into the gate area. Remember the flight was supposed to leave at 15:30. Now, I have never worked for an airline. Or an airport. But I do know that it is damn near impossible to completely board a large trans-Atlantic flight in 15 minutes. Luckily, we didn’t have to worry. Because when we made our way into the gate area we waited some more. With no announcement whatsoever.

By 16:00 I was on the plane. I don’t even know what time we actually left Arlanda. It didn’t matter at that point. The airport had done it again. It had defeated me. Sucked the very life out of me and left me deflated. Angry. Sad even.

I still don’t know what the delay was for.

Welcome to Sweden. And Stockholm Arlanda.

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  1. Personally I dislike Heathrow as much as you dislike Arlanda.

    Living in Japan I have transferred through Heathrow several times on my way to/from Sweden. Every single time there are delays with both landing and take off.

    And for such a big airport the shopping isn't that great (at least not at the terminal I had to use).

    Now I stopped using Heathrow completely and try to fly from Copenhagen and Helsinki even if the price is higher.

  2. Where were you headed that was just so awesome that you should put up with this? lol ... back to the states?

  3. Just reading that made me feel sick-- brought back traumatic memories. I hate the trip to and from Sweden. I think Sweden itself is a wonderful place (to visit, at least-- I've never lived there, so I can't honestly say). But the trip? Awful.

    You have my sympathy. ;o)

  4. Okay, I know Heathrow is the worst, most disgusting, most evil airport in the world but Stockholm Arlanda too?

    Yes, I do admit the service at ARN sucks. KLM sucks. SAS is worse than cockroaches. But I have not had many problems at the airport (only flowing in and out 12 times in my life).

    Either way, I feel your pain. It is too bad there is no better business bureau in Sweden. Then you can bash the crap out of ARN.

    ohh, happy trails indeed!

  5. Oh boy, have you pushed a button.

    1. Heathrow is an airport I refuse to pass through. I'll use any airline that doesn't go through it.

    2. My house guests from the USA flew in on British Airways. I nominate them for the worst airline. They were late of course, and overbooked. So, my guests came first on one flight then the next, late, both of them. This was on Thursday. The bag for the Mrs' part of my guests has still not arrived at my house. This is late Monday. The Airline apparently did get the bag to the delivery service, but Menzies Aviation (Sverige) AB does not communicate, in or out. Their recorded message on the telephone says, in essence, they can't answer because there are so many lost bags. There is no way I can contact either the airline or 'Menzies' to determine when I might get the bag. Meanwhile my guests are leaving in a few days. The Mrs. has had to buy stuff she would not otherwise have had to, etc.

    I am so pissed and frustrated I am telling everyone: Don't fly British Airways; don't go through Heathrow, no matter what.

    And, I don't feel better now that I have told you.

  6. Arlanda and Heathrow are such EASY airports to deal with as compared with their counterparts in the developing world, where you more or less have to have a really good heart and a good sense of humor to pass through. People in the west really don't have enough to worry about if these are the worst of our problems with travel. Although I can say US Airways is pretty awful, I have some good horror stories there.

  7. even though it was all sad and irritating , it had a happy ending! now you're home ;)

  8. I'm so glad to know about Heathrow being crap incase I ever decide to travel that way.

    I thankfully never had a problem with airlines to Sweden I went through Icelandair which was really nice and actually the cheapest flight at the time. The only airport that is hell is O'Hare for me.

  9. Have you ever considered taking Ryanair to a smaller international airline and then flying home from there? I'm fairly certain the cost is about the same, if not cheaper, and you could fly out of a smaller international airport. (meaning like fly to Glasgow Prestwick from Stockholm, then take Glasgow International in to Philly or Newark, then wherever else you need to go etc.

    The only issue would be the luggage costs... however being a dude, I would doubt you would have the same problem, as .. well... I would have. It's something my boyfriend and I are probably going to do later this summer when we go to the USA and he's currently back in Sweden and I'm in Glasvegas...

  10. I would have to say hands down Dallas-Fort Worth is one of the worst for me. Seems like a maze with trains going in every other direction!

  11. Yeah, you definitely pushed a button here. I've been flying a couple of times from Stockholm-Arlanda now and I have never ever had problems. No problems whatsoever. The bags MIGHT take a couple of more minutes to arrive for a trans-atlantic flight compared to a domestic flight in the U.S., but apart from that...I've been at JFK, SFO, San Jose, Burbank, Seattle and more airports, and those are definitely not better as for the shopping.

    And even trying to go hard on's just silly. AA or United is terrible, totally terrible. On-board service for all Scandinavian flights is decent, AA and United on-board service is non-existing. I wouldn't say Scandinavian is the worst at all....

  12. One thing: Stay away from Iberia :(
    Once they asked me if i was going with the fligth of today or the one of yesterday..

  13. JFK is by far the worst airport I've been to. Always long delays, it's understaffed, dirty and rundown. Passport control often takes more than 2 hours.

  14. Just a tip for next time you're at Arlanda hungry: their shrimp sandwiches that at first glance appear to cost an arm and a leg (120 SEK or something) are worth every penny! I promise you - you won't be disappointed!
    Besides that I pretty much agree with you - crap airport, though not quite as bad as Newark. Ugh. Detroit - now there's a nice airport!

  15. @nevil – Heathrow is rough. But for some reason, I have had better luck with Heathrow than most people. Because I know a lot of people who hate Heathrow like I hate Arlanda.

    @Amberly – Back to the US of A. So it was worth it.

    @Michael – That’s the problem with traveling in general, it’s just rough. But the destination tends to be worth it.

    @Sapphire – I would write scathing letters to the BBB every time I fly through Arlanda. Instead, I bitch and moan on my blog. Which is almost as effective.

    @pavellas – I hope the luggage finally arrived. Because that does sound like a nightmare situation. I’ve also had baggage that somehow got lost on its way to Arlanda. Luckily, I didn’t really need anything out of the bag so time wasn’t an issue.

    @Katherine – You’re right, my world of travel is the US, Europe, and Australia which does change things a bit.

    @Michael – This is true. And that’s what matters.

    @Anonymous – I might have to try Iceland Air. I don’t know that I’ve flown with them.

    @Abby – I have, and you’re absolutely right. It can be a lot cheaper. Of course, timing everything can be a pain. The problem for me though is the baggage as you mention. I always end up dragging home as much junk as possible. Like candy and liquor for example. And RyanAir wouldn’t really appreciate me trying to get as much of that stuff on as I usually do.

    @Néstor – I’ve actually never flown through Dallas-Fort Worth, I’ll try to avoid it in the future. I don’t really like wandering through mazes after having flown.

    @Magnus – I’m glad to hear that. Because I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a good experience flying from Arlanda. And that’s not just to the US but also to other places in Europe. My trip to Spain from Arlanda was just a mess.

    And in terms of Scandinavian, I stand by my statement. I have never had worse service than on a SAS flight. Never. And I have flown them, until recently when I just couldn’t take it anymore, nearly everytime I flew into Sweden.

    @Anonymous – Oh wow… Well that’s important information.

    @anonymous – Hmmm, my worst passport experience, strangely enough, was in Canada. But 2 hours… damn.

    @terander – A shrimp sandwich for 120 SEK? I’m skeptical to say the least. Unfortunately, I would be a horrible judge. Me and shrimp don’t really get along.

  16. Arlanda might be bad (my personal experiences with it are generally positive though) but it's nothing compared to Rome's Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) airport. And SAS has nothing on Alitalia. Take my word for it or just read the article:


  17. Luckily I always go via CPH to my folks in Sweden... This year we flew United from SFO to Newark (EWR), killed a day in NYC and then continued with SAS to Copenhagen Airport. United's check-in line at SFO was the worst possible joke ever. People were supposed to check themselves in through these new kiosks, and the reduced staff had to help everyone. There are no complimentary meals on United's domestic flights anymore. Service on SAS was not exciting but somewhat better than United. I'm a little sad to complain about United because they've always been decent before...but service is going downhill everywhere perhaps. I used to think of them as the best large US airline.

    My nomination for worst airport goes to EWR, with its hot & humid immigration line (returning to the U.S.), and they lost a piece of our luggage too. I really hate having to go through immigration at the middle of the journey.

    Jetlag-wise I have found it's much better to have one long flight and a shorter (since there are no direct flights) than two of equal length. Better to have one long flight and catch some Z's, than having to wake up just when I managed to relax.

    Haven't flown on British Airlines recently but they were always really good some 10 years ago. Maybe Heathrow has changed for the worse because I had no problem there whatsoever.

    The best experience was KLM, transferring in Amsterdam. Lufthansa was also really good but Frankfurt airport was a little crummy, but I think it's been remodeled now?

    Don't transfer at Paris CDG...miles of walking, pray your arriving flight was on time.

  18. The last time I flew with British Airways they had coffee leaking from the ceiling dripping on the passengers. Apparently a coffee maker on the top "deck" was leaking. According to the staff the leak was supposed to have been fixed by the maintenance crew...

    The staff gave us towels and complaint forms... Nothing more.

    Other than that I don't have any complaints about BA. Only about Heathrow...

  19. I love that everyone has their own horror story. it doesn't really bode well for the airlines and airports.

    @anonymous - ooh... that does sound bad.

    @eklandisk - I agree with the one longer and one shorter. it seems to make the trip a little bit easier.

    @nevil - that must have been a whole lot of coffee.

  20. the absolute worst part of Arlanda airport is the fact that they will not allow you to take strollers through security. When you're travelling with a baby, this is a deathblow. Ok, sure there are baby carriers. but what if your child is too old for one and you have long layovers at other airports? You're stuck. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for this rule.

  21. oh wow... I had no idea they banned strollers through security.

    now that you say that though I suppose I never really remember any strollers going through security.

  22. Nothing wrong with Arlanda, it's quite a good airport compared to Orly.

    And Ryanair is way, way worse than SAS.

  23. I haven't been to Orly, but if itis worse than Arlanda, I hope to never fly through there.

    Here's the thing with the Ryanair comparison. You can't compare them.

    Everytime I say that SAS is a horible airline I get the well Ryanair is worse argument.

    Yeah, they are worse. But you paid nothing to fly with them. Literally, sometimes a ticket is free. You get what you pay for.

    Ryanair gets you to where you need to be on time and without crashing. That's it. They don't pretend otherwise.

    Unfortunately, SAS does. If SAS wants to drop their price and let me buy a ticket for 99 SEK, awesome. Then I can accept their customer service. Until then, SAS will continue to be one of the worst airlines I have ever flown with.

  24. About Orly... Most of the staff is really, really bad at English, which is extremely bad for airport staff, the place is very, very dirty and shabby and the signs are bad so it's easy to get lost.

    The thing with SAS is that they fly to central airports, unlike Ryanair... So they would still be better even if they drop their prices.

    And Ryanair charges about 250 sek if you want to check in a bag, and you have to pay a 100 sek card fee, and 100 check in fee unless you check in online. So it's really hard to get a free ticket with them.

    Also, Ryanair are very much sexists, if you look at their commercials and ads, SAS isn't.

    But yeah, I've only flown with SAS twice, so I can't really say yet. But Ryanair is just an awful, awful company... Which is my point, just had to complain a little. Not in for an argument!

  25. Oh wow... Orly does sound pretty rough.

    You're right about Ryanair. But I'm going to stand by what a wise old woman once told me in Australia. You get what you pay for. And with Ryanair you just don't pay much. So you don't get much.

    Although, I can't really argue with the fact that they suck. I suppose it's all relative. And I'm willing to deal with suckiness for such a cheap price.

  26. You need to try Madrid T4 although its new, its incredible big and not easy to get a flight connection going against the flow of people lol

  27. that flow of people thing is something Ive never really understood. How can some airports be so big and yet youre still going against the flow of traffic like a salmon swimming upstream? Blows my mind.

  28. you are lucky dude. i had to wait 1 day once because our flight kept getting delayed, at on point they even told us that we might have to go home

    as crapppppyyy as that airport is. they have some pretty awesome places to sleep on while waiting for the airport to start business in the morning!!!

  29. alright, I did get lucky then, because that sounds absolutely miserable. I have yet to sleep in an airport, Im pretty pleased with that.

  30. I felt the same yesterday when my incoming flight was late and I had only hour and 15 minutes to claim my baggage and check in to the next flight.
    Luckily I had the mindset that I have to be extremely pushy and find help fast. I am lucky for that since the check-in lines were appallingly long - no way I could make on the plane right time. Luckily found one SAS employee at computer stand at some odd and unannounced place. She got me checked in timely and was friendly enough to suggest to deal with the baggage after the check-in.

    It was a true feat making it through the various lines - the one to check your boarding pass, then the electronic gates. After taking care those I thought it would be a smooth sailing - quite opposite, the gates were not at sight at the huge tax free department store. Neither were the signs.... Went an half kilometre in wrong direction, had to come back half kilometre and then it was another half kilometre to the right gate. Phew!
    I talked to the SAS employees and they told not to worry about my baggage but to get on the plane.
    Without an previous experience I would have panicked but I know that unchecked baggage is still handled by the airport and accounted.
    Now in order to remain truthful and appreciative, I have to commend the SAS people for sending the baggage to my destination in the other country at the same day at no cost.
    Still, what an experience! I would not even want to contemplate what would happened if I had more time and I would be waiting appropriately in the lane with the fellow SAS customers.
    So my suggestion is to get yourself on the plane and leave the baggage behind, or better yet travel so light that you wont even need a baggage!

  31. sounds like, despite the bad luck, you got lucky.

    and I think your last piece of advice is the best. travel light. Im learning to do that. slowly.

  32. Uhm...

    a) The title of your (admittedly two year old) blog post is that Arlanda is the worst airport in the world.

    b) when reading the actual text, we learn that the bad service came from your carrier, US Airways

    Why do you lie?

  33. From my experiencia, absolutely worst airport I've been to so far: aweful service, unpleasant people, expensive, etc

  34. That one particular incident was. But I stand by my statement. I have still had the worst experiences at Arlanda.

  35. I'm happy I'm not the only one who thinks that Arlanda airport AND SAS are the worst airport in the world and the worst airline in the world, respectively. I've had dozens of issues with both over the last 4-5 years. The culmination of all is this:
    1) How SAS refused to take any responsibility and made me miss my conference in Buenos Aires.
    2) Description of the events.
    3) The INSULTING reply by SAS.
    I have dozens of stories to relate, besides these ones. In my blog, on the top left, I make a comparison of the Arlanda airport with the airport of Ouarzazate. Yes, it seems, to me, that Arlanda is not in Europe, but in some remote third world corner.

    1. Oh wow. Your experience sounds way worse than mine. That's terrible.

  36. I hate this airport because of the gigantic distances between terminals (which have to be walked) and the fact that you have to go through security at each one. I live in a small town in Sweden with an airport so every time I fly in from abroad I have to connect through Arlanda. This means I have to change from Terminal 2 to Terminal 4, which requires a huge walk through shopping areas I care nothing about and going through security again, usually with a very narrow connection time. As you can tell I dread every trip through Arlanda. Why isn't there just a simple shuttle between these terminals? Why do the distances have to be so huge? It boggles the mind. In contrast my international connections through Frankfurt always appeared seamless.

  37. Arlanda Airport is TERRIBLE. #1 - the whole place needs to be evacuated, scrubbed, and bleached because it is appallingly dirty (especially the bathrooms, which were not only dirty, but also smelled of filth and stale air); #2 - the signage is confusing and not user-friendly; #3 - the security and service staff are rude; #4 - the operations are inefficient; and #5 - the shop and restaurant selection is terrible. Arlanda needs to take a lesson from Copenhagen Airport. Now that is one airport that really has their shit together.