Airports in Global Cities

Jun 24, 2015 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Director of China Programs for CAPA International Education.

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The vast majority of people arriving in the world's global cities do so through an airport. This is not least because the cities are spread around the globe and attract international tourists and business folks from far afield. Even in Europe, where trains are plentiful, the budget airlines tempt travellers to use planes.

Beijing Airport Terminal 3
Photo: Beijing Airport, Terminal 3 by Hermann Luyken

Photo: Air China Jumbo at Beijing PEK Terminal 3 by Colin Speakman

This makes international airports important because they become the first impression of a city. Some airports are architectural masterpieces like Beijing's Terminal 3, completed for the 2008 Olympics and now the Beijing Capital Airport is the second busiest airport in the world when both domestic and international flights are considered. 

Image: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport layout via wikimedia

The busiest airport on those criteria is America's Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It has good weather which makes for fewer delays in domestic connections. I have changed planes there some afternoons and I do mean afternoon - it is definitely busy.

Looking at only international flights, the busiest on that basis has, for years, been London Heathrow. However, this year Dubai International Airport took over that crown. Dubai is a major hub for connections through the Middle East to many other parts of the world. 

Dubai Airport
Photo: Dubai Airport at 3am via Public Domain Pictures

Of course airports are not just places for swift arrival and departure. There may be long layovers on connecting flights, delayed departures and simply the regular advice to check-in up to three hours early for long haul flights. All this means that major airports have become mini shopping cities, including duty free options, and places for nice restaurants, salmon and champaign bars and, for those privileged, an array of private airport lounges. 

Some airports consist of a huge, highly efficient main terminal where passengers arrive and, if necessary, connect on in a short space of time and area. Others have simply grown over time to contain a large number of smaller, separate terminals with long walks and even buses between them. Sometimes these transfers involve bad weather and not what jet-lagged travellers want! In my international travels, New York's JFK was one of the most trying, sprawled out over so many terminals with lengthy connecting air tran to the car rental terminals. 

Image: Layout JFK Airport via Wikimedia

There is more to the first impressions an airport makes on those arriving at a global city than the physical facilities. There are also important matters of customer handling, lines at immigration, handling of lost baggage (so stressful), of missed flights and of arrival transportation. Are genuine taxis easy to find? Or are unsuspecting first-time visitors at the mercy of rogue taxi touts at rip-off prices and unscrupulous hotel agents promoting deals at poor quality and poor location facilities? Are there good public transport links like an Airport Express train? It may be true to say that many visitors form their impressions of a global city by how well they landed. 

On that note, let us take at look at airports in our six CAPA global cities.


There are two airports with scheduled flights that involve more than domestic services in Buenos Aires. The smaller is Aeroparque Jorge Newbury (AEP) located in Buenos Aires city proper, with scheduled domestic and regional flights. The one I have landed at in the past is Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE), also known as Ezeiza, and located 22 km outside of the city, serving mostly international routes. It is quite a journey in by road and probably best undertaken by taxi. A variety of living conditions surrounding the city of BA can be observed. The airport was named after a former general and politician Juan Pistarini and is by far the largest in the country. The South American airlines Aerolinas Argentinas and LAN dominate the provision of flights. I came in on American Airlines myself. 

Buenos Aires Airport
Photo: Ministro Pistarini international Airport by Martin St-Amant


The airport for Dublin takes its name from the city and its code is DUB. It lies about ten km outside the city and there are airport express buses, but I usually use a taxi. The national flag carrier, Aer Lingus, operates from there but faces a significant competitor in Ryanair, a leading European budget airline. I have used the latter as it is a short flight from London, and basic services will do. The reality is that Dublin Airport does not offer many long haul flights as it is easy to connect short haul to London Heathrow where Aer Lingus provides the service on that leg. 

Dublin Airport
Photo: Dublin Airport via WikiMedia


This city of Florence is not served by a major international airport as Peretola (FLR) is really a domestic airport with no long haul and limited regional services on smaller planes - essentially regional jets. I have flown directly into it from London Gatwick Airport on such planes and it is easy an arrival and taxi into town. However, like many people, I usually fly on bigger planes like Boeing 757s into Pisa airport and take a train into the center of Florence. Even Pisa does not handle long haul though; arrive in Rome and connect or take the Italian Eurostar Rome to Florence.

Florence AirportPhoto: Peretola Airport by PPoHio


It is true to say that the London area boasts five international airports in the sense of long haul and/or short haul out of the country. Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, London City and Luton. They give access from West, South, East, Center and North of London. Heathrow and Gatwick dominate for long haul. I have flown into and out of all of these on many carriers (British Airways more than any other) but Heathrow (LHR) is my usual airport as, when I'm there, I am based in West London and much nearer to that airport. The facilities at Heathrow are extensive with underground train to all over London and a Heathrow Express train that quickly takes you in to Paddington Station. Official taxis are expensive, however.

Heathrow Terminal 5 London
Photo: London Heathrow by Curt Smith


Shanghai is the only city in China with two international airports - Pudong (PVG) for USA, Europe and other long haul routes, and Hongqiao (SHA) for regional into Asia. I have used both and mainly on Air China. They are very well-equipped and have a metro line 2 connecting them from East to West Shanghai. PVG also has the famous Maglev train that goes at 431 kph for seven minutes to whisk travellers into town. I should mention that Beijing is building a second international airport but it is not yet finished.

Shanghai - Pudong Airport
Photo: Pudong Airport by Pedro Serapio


Sydney Airport is also known as Kingsford Smith (SYD) and is located 8 km south of the city center. It is a significant international airport. It is the only major airport serving Sydney, and is a primary hub for Qantas as well as a secondary hub for Virgin Australia and Jetstar Airways. On my last trip, I arrived on British Airways and departed on Qantas. Sydney Airport is both the longest continuously operated commercial airport and oldest commercial international airport in the world. Not a lot of people know that!

Sydney Airport
Photo: Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport via WikiMedia

Thanks Colin!

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Topics: Global Cities