So, Terminal Five is about to open at Heathrow, eh? Like the architecture? Friendly, is it? Warm, comforting… relaxing? Richard Rogers does some nice industrial pirouettes which make you feel you’re walking through a car assembly plant and get all the architectural attention from those clever people who impose their minimalist values on us. Meanwhile, back in the real world, there are some comparatively minor players in the international airport league who deserve to be dragged into the spotlight.
Step forward Ben Gurion International, Tel Aviv. Take a look at this picture of the scene in Terminal Three, which Mira and I passed through on our way home just now. To arrive here, the holding point for final call to your flight, you have to have cleared some pretty impressive (and polite) security checks that are an object lesson in crowd management. BAA’s lackadaisical system and rude staff take note.
This central hub with its high roof and departure spokes leading to the gates is a masterpiece of planning. At floor level, departing passengers can relax in individual armchairs scattered around the circular pool, above which water cascades on a computer-timed irregular frequency (so the noise is of rain, tempered by bouts of silence). Calming. The duty-free shops, bureaux de change and snack bars are all there, but discreetly positioned out-field.
Now look up. Arriving passengers have to pass through the rotunda at first-floor level. You can see them – and more to the point they can see you, through floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Fabulous! We were able to wave to Mira’s nephew Robin, arriving on a BA flight from London, just before we were called to our gate for our flight home to Nice (via Zurich). You don’t have to know somebody up there just to appreciate how user-friendly it all is.
And then there is another masterstroke: a long, high hall where arriving and departing passengers cross over as in an X formation, separated by a massive glass wall. Something on a heroic scale, worthy of the best museum design.
I must stop. Do you have a favourite airport? It’s a funny question these days as everyone seems to hate them. But we’ve been using Nice for the past quarter of a century and I could tell you something about that, too, which is almost as good as Ben Gurion. Orange trees in the car park? Where else?