International travel these days somewhat dictates airport travel. In my journey to Africa I passed through seven different airports in the space of about 10 days. Instead of simply telling about my trip, I decided instead to write what might be considered ‘reviews’, or at least my impressions, of these airports.
O’Hare International Airport – Chicago, Illinois
This is my most frequented airport as I have lived in Chicago most recently so most of my trips begin out of here. As a result it has come to have a somewhat ‘homey’ feel to for me. With different terminals dedicated to different airlines, and one completely focused on international travel, it is actually fairly easy to navigate. Despite its size and the volume of people going through, the airport is actually not that large meaning the distance between gates and terminals is fairly quickly covered. The most notable fact about this place to me is seeing the amount of people. Just sitting in a terminal for an hour you’ll see thousands of people come and go. A great people watching location if you’re into that kind of thing.
Tucson – Tucson International Airport
I have been through here several times now to see my sister since she’s moved down there. Tucson is fairly small as cities go and so accordingly the airport is not large. This however makes it a comfortable place to travel through because the gates are all located right next to each other and baggage claim is condensed to only several belts making your flight very easy to find. Landing is an event to look forward to because you get to see beautiful mountain scenery all around. It is a climate shock though to fly from cold and windy weather in Chicago to warm and sunny in Tucson.
Charlotte – Charlotte-Douglas International Airport
For such a large airport, ironically nothing truly stands out about it. I think the thing that honestly stands out is the “southern hospitality” that you always hear about. Everyone there was calling me ‘hun,’ ‘dear’, ‘sweetie,’ and so on. Very friendly. It just seemed like a genuine care for me and that they were actually worried about me and my travels. Actually one of the other people that was traveling with me had trouble with her credit card and checking an extra bag. After several minutes of difficulty the clerk actually offered to pay for the bag out of her own pocket! That was an extra $150 and the clerk shrugged it off saying it was an honor to help. If that’s not hospitality and care, I don’t know what is.
Detroit Metropolitan Airport – Detroit
I cannot remember ever traveling through Detroit and so my impression of what I might expect was somewhat skewed. You always hear about ‘dark’ reports from Detroit and how it is all rundown and falling apart. The airport was the stark opposite of that. Everything seemed fairly new and well taken care of. I only had two hours here so I didn’t get to explore much. However, this limitation was not from a time restraint. I do not know if it is because in the Midwest there is more land or what the thought process was, but Detroit Metropolitan Airport is one of the longest airports I have had to walk through. Most airports are formed in shapes with center areas to switch terminals and gates. Detroit’s just seems to stretch on for miles. I probably spent the better part of a hour* just walking in a straight line from my arrival gate to my departing gate.
*(this may be a slight exaggeration….but it felt like an hour)
Schiphol International Airport – Amsterdam
Amsterdam never ceases to amaze no matter how many times you go through. I had a four hour layover on this particular trip and so as any good traveler I asked my friends in that city if they wanted to meet up for a little bit. What is amazing about this airport is that it links directly with a central train station for the area. This has resulted in a small city growing up between the terminal and train station with almost a full-fledged shopping mall with numerous restaurants to choose from. With my friends we decided to coffee shop (and actual coffee…not “Dutch koffe”) hop. It was early in the morning for them so we went and grabbed several cups of coffee at various locations and just chatted and caught up on life. About 45 minutes before my flight I went through security into the terminal again and caught my flight. Amsterdam makes the whole experience of airport travel very easy, relaxed, organized, and efficient. Maybe not the most ‘interesting’ or ‘unique’ airport, but regardless it is one that I appreciate.
Kigali International Airport – Rwanda
Despite having passed through here many, many years ago, I did not remember much of the airport so it was ‘new’ experience for me. We only had an hour layover here so the time was spent going to the restrooms and stretching. What stood out to me though was the view from the airplane while on the runway. Most of the time when you are landing at night you can see the city lights while in the air, but once you’re grounded all you see is the airport. In Kigali you land almost on a small plateau that overlooks the city so you’re actually towering above the city the whole time. This gives it a surreal experience in that you feel you’re still flying when in fact you’ve already landed.
Entebbe – Entebbe International Airport
Arrival in Africa. This is not the same part of Africa that I grew up with, but it still felt like a homecoming to an extent. Just the smells, the sounds, the people, and everything else blended together to make it feel like I had come back to something familiar. The airport itself was crowded with several flights landing at once and having to go through customs together. It was also very hot and humid, that sticky air that clings to you and tries to suffocate you – but if felt right and so I didn’t mind. The people were friendly and easy to work with, even if the process of getting stamped in took a while, and after clearing customs I grabbed my bags and headed outside. There I was met by a taxi driver named Herbert who drove me to the guest house where I’m now staying.
Overall my travel experience this time was very easy. I didn’t have any problems or delays. My checked bags were locked and when I got them in Africa I found my locks cut and the bags searched, but nothing was missing. And on the bright side I got the lock back…useless seeing as it was cut, but I guess the thought has to count for something.
I now have the weekend in Kampala so hopefully I’ll get to see some of the city before continuing my trip into the Congo on Monday.