I usually try to keep things positive and avoid negative posts/reviews, but after two transfers at Kuwait International Airport it really is difficult for me to find any redeeming features of this particular airport other than the cheap flights that got me there.
Let me be clear however, that this is a review of Kuwait International Airport and is NOT a review of Kuwait Airways, the airline that took me there on flights KU102 (out) and KU418 (return). I also only experienced the airport as a transfer airport in terminal M.
A quick Google search of the airport brings up some nice looking images of what looks like a nicely designed stop-over. Unfortunately that’s about as good as it gets, and the actual experience differs somewhat to what I was expecting (apart from the toilets, which I believe are universally acknowledged to be pretty awful).
We’ll start the experience upon arrival. Disembarking the plane was pretty standard, entering the airport as normal. We (myself and a couple of fellow passengers who were also transferring) followed the flow of traffic and promptly ended up in the central area of the airport. Unable to see any indication of where the transfer area or transfer desk was (I needed the transfer desk to get the boarding pass for my second flight) we found a security desk who pointed us towards a friendly looking female employee who led us in the right direction. It turns out the transfer area is an immediate left turn after entry, against the flow of traffic and through a completely unmarked doorway. Going through the doorway and turning right reveals the transfer desk. But of course, we remarked, why wouldn’t we immediately go through the unmarked doorway and head toward the unmarked desk? First problem solved.
I’d like to add that the airport staff that I spoke to were very friendly and helpful, no bad points against them at all. Unfortunately however the transfer ‘lounge’ did not have many redeeming features. It was air conditioned (a little too much in my opinion but I’m not going to complain about that!) but on a check around the room I found:
- – The chairs were not comfortable (the few chairs outside the transfer area lining the terminal walls were more comfortable and of a different design but far too few in number) and did not have much padding.
- – The padding was not well secured and in most cases would slide off when you sat on them.
- – About half of the chairs (which were in sets of three) were broken in a way where if you tried to lay on them to get some sleep, they would promptly tip forward and deposit you in a neat pile on the floor. While it was quite amusing watching other passengers discover this, it was also quite inconvenient having to locate a non-broken set to actually try to sleep on.
- – There are no clocks or display boards anywhere in or near the transfer area, or in fact anywhere in the terminal other than the central area.
- – Though not important, the area was in a pretty bad state of repair. The decals on the windows were partly torn off, the potted plants were all dead or dying, all of the walls and surfaces were either dirty, damaged or both. I could feel my soul being drained.
I wasn’t able to get any sleep so I decided to explore the rest of the airport, or at least what is available to passengers who are transferring. First thing to check: WiFi. Being an international airport I had foolishly assumed there would be WiFi available for passengers waiting for transfers like in most airports I have been through. While there was a network available called ‘FreeAirportWiFi’ I was unable to get more than 0.2kb/s connection speed, which unfortunately my phone does not recognise as strong enough to use. While exploring every square inch of the terminal I did get it up to 1.2kb/s briefly, but my phone still refused to use it. There were other open networks available, but the ‘click here to register’ link on the splash page was broken. Therefore I decided to quickly turn on mobile data to post a ‘check in’ on Facebook. That was a mistake – due to the location I promptly got a text saying I had reached my £42+VAT data limit. Turns out data in Kuwait on most networks is £12/MB and the Facebook app downloads a lot in the background, so even a one word check in post can cost you. Something to note for the return journey!
My first stop over at the airport was 4 hours, and the return journey was going to be 7.5 hours. Therefore I thought I should locate the facilities… Which didn’t take long. On my first visit there was only one working toilet in the entire three ‘prongs’ of the terminal. As there was only one open, the queue was out the door and along the terminal wall. I didn’t go in, but I could smell it walking past. On my return stop over the second bathroom was open, which included one urinal (covered in cling film so presumably either out of order or a practical joke…) and three cubicles, each containing one of those ‘squat’ type toilets and each full of logs. I went to check the other one that I didn’t go in before, which turned out to have no urinals but four cubicles containing regular toilets. The one I chose had been flushed, but unfortunately that didn’t make up for the fact that there was an open bin (like a waste paper type bin with no lid) overflowing with dirty toilet paper. I held my breath as long as I could…
Speaking of smells, if you’re a smoker this might be the airport you’re looking for! While there are very cramped smoking areas and almost constant announcements reminding people to smoke only inside them, the approach is pretty relaxed. Most smokers stand outside the ‘bus shelter’ type smoking area, occasionally holding the cigarette inside the doorway. Therefore most of the terminal around the smoking areas smell pretty strongly of smoke.
Anyway, I continued exploring in order to kill the time with no internet (I would have brought something to read or watch if I’d known). It was at this point I encountered…
The Sweeping Zombies!
This was most likely due to the time of day and the shift pattern (as they didn’t appear during my return visit) but these were the cleaners with big extra-wide brooms. Showing no emotion and with cold, dead eyes they pushed the brooms slowly along their designated routes ignoring anything that might need sweeping up only inches away from where they were sweeping. Very much a ‘must not deviate’ approach, but not a very effective approach in terms of doing any actual cleaning. Also it’s important note that they do not adjust their path if you’re in the way. They’ll just pause, remain completely motionless and silent and wait until you move. While watching the zombies I realised how the entire terminal looks OK from a distance, but a close look shows that even the walls have holes, chunks missing, dirty areas, manky looking cracks. Think I’ll stick to looking at things from a distance…
To stay out of the way of the sweeping zombies I went to explore the duty free, which also didn’t take long. If you want chocolates or cigarettes you’re all set. If you want perfume you’ll probably be alright too, but anything else and you’ll be sorely disappointed.
While I was complaining to myself about the duty free, I thought I heard an announcement about my flight, so I made my way back to the central area to check the boards (I say boards plural, but in reality there are three boards practically next to each other all showing the same thing). Nothing. It turns out that the boards only show the first 15 outbound flights, and given the number of flights (it’s a busy airport despite being small) that means the announcements come way before the updates on the boards. Which is annoying. Eventually it will show on the board, but it would be better if either they were bigger so could show more, or could switch between page 1, page 2 etc. as they do at other airports. I decided to take a seat and wait for the boards to update, which is when I realised that due to the position of the boards, there are NO seats in the entire terminal from which a board can be seen. If you want to look, you have to sacrifice your seat.
A couple more observations about the information provided by the airport:
- – The announcement system is shared between arrivals and departures, which means it’s almost a constant stream of ‘flight x from y has now arrived’ which you really don’t care about when you’re in the departures area waiting for announcements about your flight. In my opinion it would be better to separate the announcements, which I don’t think would do any harm considering arrivals is on a different floor of the airport.
- – For some of the gates, the gate number is not displayed. By this I mean there are no signs showing that this particular room is gate 22 (for example) but when it is needed, a TV screen outside the door will update to show the gate number. This would be fine but for the fact that with my particular flight the screen remained blank for half an hour after the announcement and the board said to go to the gate. I followed other people to wait at the gate which eventually showed the gate number, but it doesn’t instil confidence. You have to rely on those who have been there before.
I only have two more observations, both of which are from my second transfer at the airport:
- – All the escalators were broken or turned off for some reason
- – There were no security personnel visible at all (which might be why we all had an extra search before arriving, perhaps they knew security would be limited?)
In summary, I’d like to say that when booking cheap flights in the future I will be avoiding this airport at all costs. Even if I have to pay more to fly direct. I’m sure it will improve but I’d rather pay a little more to go through a better airport (Dubai springs to mind) or risk trying another airport I’ve not used before. Yes I’m sure there are worse airports in the world – let’s be honest it did have a roof and it was air conditioned – but in the modern world of airline transfers Kuwait really does need to try a little harder, even if just providing WiFi to take the attention away from everything else!
It really is no surprise that Kuwait is ranked the worst airport in the world, but I was kind of hoping it was an exaggeration and that the cheap ticket price would make up for it. Alas, it really does deserve the status.