Since we couldn't fly directly from Birmingham to Vienna, she also has experience of three European airports. Yes, we've just returned from one of the most beautiful, well-preserved and welcoming centres of culture in the northern hemisphere and the first thing I'm going to tell you about is airports. Maybe it's because we actually saw a large group of Germans in inexplicable yellow polo shirts while in Frankfurt airport.*
I have always been one to ascribe to Douglas Adams' stand that all airports are basically the same: soulless and depressing, with signs that serve to direct you exactly where you don't want to go when you only have two minutes left before the gate for your flight is closed. However, this journey showed me that we were wrong, or at least that the Austrians and the Germans read The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and took the first chapter seriously enough to have revised their airports. The Belgians, on the other hand, need to be sent a highlighted copy with a Post-It note stuck on the front featuring a large sad face drawn in red felt-tip pen.
Without further ado, here are my brief reviews of said airports.
- Frankfurt Flughafen: We had to stay here for three hours. It is nicely laid out, clean and well lit, with clear signage and immigration officers who are tolerant of unhappy babies who don't understand that waiting in queues is something that simply has to be done sometimes. The baby changing rooms (babyraums) were plentiful, accessible to anyone (i.e. not in in the ladies' only) with paper provided for changing tables. They even had a chair in which one could sit and comfortably breast or bottle feed a baby. The terminals had free lounges with comfortable chairs and free wi-fi. It was all terribly civilised.
- Vienna Flughafen: This is the winner by a country mile. In addition to Frankfurt's charms, including babyraums, the Austrians have gone one better than the Germans and provided comfortable sofa-style seating at the gates (you can actually lie down if you want to), cubicle tables with power points and free wi-fi for those who wish to work and safe padded play areas for infants and toddlers. Also, some areas had a large projector screen with an Xbox-360 style interactive game on it for children. The airline staff took us through priority check-in and boarding, even though we were mere economy-class passengers. The security staff whisked us through a special queue for people with children. The only way it could possibly have been more pleasant is if someone brought you your coffee and cake instead of having to walk to the cafe to buy them. I was almost as sad to leave the airport as I usually am to leave Vienna anyway.
- Brussels Aéroport: After being uplifted by the previous two, Brussels airport brought us back down with an unceremonious thud. If your connecting flight is less than an hour after your previously flight has landed, you will have to spend the whole time running from one dismal situation to another. The immigration staff ignored the sobbing baby and carried on serving people at a stubbornly slow pace. The security staff were unhelpful. The already-inadequate seating at the gates was occupied by a lot of people who seemed to think their bags also needed a seat. I left thinking that Brussels was a particularly horrible airport, but then I remembered that that is what airports are normally like.
The moral of this story is that if you ever have to have a layover in Europe, try to make sure it's either in Germany or Austria.
* See: The opening chapter of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
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