What is the best airport for international layovers?
Hubber GinnyLee has posted the question What is the best airport for international layovers?
While I have had the opportunity to pass through and spend time in many airports in North America and Europe, I would have to say that Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is the best one I have spent time in to date.
My wife and I visited her parents in Veliky Novgorod, Russia last summer and, in the process, spent considerable time in Schiphol Airport.
Tucson, Arizona, where we live, is a moderate size city with an international airport (international because Mexico is a few miles to the south and there are some flights to Mexico) that is small but modern.
Veliky Novgorod is an even smaller city with no airport (it was closed some 20 years ago due to lack of traffic).
For this trip we ended up having our son drive us to Phoenix where we spent the night and then caught an early morning flight to Atlanta, Georgia.
Following a three hour layover in Atlanta we had an all night flight to Amsterdam, arriving there at 8:15 local time the next morning.
Our layover at Schiphol lasted some four hours as our flight to St. Petersburg, where my brother-in-law met us and drove us to Veliky Novgorod, didn't leave until 12:30.
On the return trip we spent even more time in Schiphol Airport as we arrived from St. Petersburg at a little after seven in the evening and didn't depart until eight the next morning.
Given that our layover on the return was only 12 hours and, not wanting to go through the hassle of passport control, we decided before we began our trip that we would simply spend the night in the airport.
View of Dutch Countryside Just Before Landing
Located a short distance southwest of Amsterdam, Luchthaven Schiphol or, in English, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, is Holland's main international airport.
Airport Schiphol is the fourth busiest airport in Europe and twelfth busiest airport in the world.
The airport began as a military airport in 1916. Its name, Schiphol, came from nearby Fort Schiphol a fort that was part of the Stelling van Amsterdam network of forts and other defenses constructed in the mid-nineteenth century to defend Amsterdam.
Interestingly, the advent of aviation rendered forts and defense systems, like the Stelling van Amsterdam, obsolete. Fort Schiphol itself was demolished in 1934 although some of the other forts that made up the Stelling van Amsterdam are still standing as historic monuments.
Following World War I aircraft started being converted to civilian uses. In October 1919 Albert Plesman started KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
On May 17, 1920 (some sites give December 17, 1920 as the date) KLM made its first scheduled flight which was also the first civilian commercial flight out of Schiphol Airport.
The ground on which Airport Schiphol sits was originally a large lake which was drained when the Stelling van Amsterdam defense system was built. The name Schiphol translates as ship grave or ship hell due to the large number of ships that sank in its waters in times past.
Among its other distinctions, the entire Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is below sea level with its lowest points being about eleven feet (3.4 meters) below sea level.
However, its Air Traffic Control Tower, at 101 meters (331 feet) is one of the tallest control towers in the world.
Entering the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol terminal you find yourself literally inside a small, self contained city.
In addition to a wide range of restaurants, bars and shopping opportunities, Schiphol provides a number of comfortable public lounges, a museum, a library, children's play areas (indoors and outdoors, work areas with WiFi, a hotel, a casino, ATM machines, currency exchange and other amenities.
All of these amenities, including the outside play area, are located within the transient area behind passport control so present a visa or passport and formerly enter Holland.
While convenient, there is more to the airport beyond the passport control. How much, I really don't know as we didn't want to go through the hassle of passport/visa and security checks to venture to the grounds around the airport.
We did, however, miss the opportunity to tour the KLM Cityhopper Fokker 100 aircraft that sits atop the Panorama Terrace between departure halls 1 & 2. To get to this plane one has to exit through passport control.
I was advised by a person at the information desk that it would be a hassle to go through the process of exiting and re-entering the arrival/departure section where we were located especially since we were only in Holland for four hours.
A Couple of the Many Shops
A Stroll Down Holland Boulevard
Lounges and Special Services
Business Center with WiFi
I Publish a Hub From the Airport at Four in the Morning
In addition to the hotel, which is actually cubicles with a bed and bath that rent by the hour, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has an area with nice lounge chairs. While comfortable, these chairs are not a good substitute for a good night's sleep.
As a result I got a few hours of intermittent sleep and, not being able to sleep any more, got up around 4 a.m.
The place was lit but very quiet with but a handful of others up and scattered throughout the airport.
I had the business center all to myself. Sitting down, I took out my netbook, purchased some WiFi time and turned my netbook on.
It was here that I accessed my Google Docs account and finished the story of Countess Anna Orlova-Chesmenskaya and her affair at the Yuryev Monastery that my Mother-in-Law had told us while visiting Veliky Novgorod's St. George (Yuryev) Monastery.
Finishing the story, I transferred it to HubPages and hit the Publish button and published it from Schiphol Airport.
A Library, A Museum and An Airline History Display
A Place to Sleep
As darkness descended and the clock approached 10 p.m. things began to slow down. Shops began closing, planes stopped landing and the number of people stirring in the airport declined sharply.
Outside, things were quiet and inside workers not on security or cleaning details left for home. Most of the passengers who had arrived earlier in the evening had either left to continue their travel on a departing flight or had gone to their destinations in the city.
All that were left were the few dozen of us whose continuing flights were departing early in the morning and who felt that it wasn't worth the time or money to make our way to a hotel outside the airport for a very few hours sleep.
The best place to stay was the Yotel hotel inside the airport where one could rent a private cubicle with a bed and bath by the hour. However, when I checked upon arrival all that was available was a cubicle with a single bed and a high hourly rate.
Years ago as a college student flying on a half-price standby ticket found myself stranded for the night at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. I rolled my coat into a pillow and spent a quiet night on a padded bench like the one at the right.
A few years later, arriving by car in Frankfort, Germany I discovered that there was some big trade show going on and all the hotel rooms near the airport were occupied. Turning the car in, I went into the airport and found another padded bench and spent the night.
While the reclining chairs at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, which are obviously intended for those who want to nap or spend the night between flights, are superior to the padded benches, they still aren't a good substitute for a bed.
However, it is wise to grab one, or two if traveling with you spouse as I was, as they tend to fill up starting about 9:30. While I thought the reclining chairs were an improvement and the night in the airport an adventure, my wife, who had never slept in an airport in her life, claimed it was the most uncomfortable night's sleep she had ever had.
Morning dawned and the airport quickly came to life. Workers poured in, shops opened and passengers with early flights began arriving.
Those of us who had spent the night, awoke, gathered up our things and went looking for a place to eat.
Having gotten up early, I ventured down to the area below where we slept and had a cup of coffee and a danish at at coffee bar that was among the the last to close the night before and first to open in the morning.
A couple of other early risers were having coffee a few tables down from me.
By the time I finished my coffee, other places were opening up and I was able to get something more substantial to take back to eat with my wife who was just waking up.
Finishing, we headed to our departure gate for the flight back home.