Is Madrid-Barajas really the 'worst airport in the world'?

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Is Madrid-Barajas really the 'worst airport in the world'?
Is Madrid the worst airport in the world? Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas is the worst airport in the world. At least that's according to a recent article by a Financial Times’ journalist. Is there any reason to agree?


Most of us have had bad airport experiences, whether we've missed a connecting flight, our luggage has gone missing or we've been held up in security so long that we hear our names being called out for final boarding. 

But, would your bad experiences lead you to dub that particular airport the worst in the world?

This is what happened to Financial Times’ HTSI editor Jo Ellison who criticised the distances between the terminals and the fact that all of the walkways seemed to steer passengers through duty-free shops on the way to their gates. 

However, she wrote in her article that what ultimately led her to call it the worst airport in the world was the complete lack of signage, "in any language, not even in Spanish". This in turn led to a lot of confusion about where she had to go, causing her in the end to miss her connecting flight. 

She wrote: “Sprinting for 40 minutes on disembarkation, through arrivals, along travellators, via a giant car park, to a bus, on a highway to another terminal and a new set of departures, on a further connecting train, through the duty-free shop and down an interminable corridor to discover that I had, sadly, and by two minutes, missed my next connection, I came to this conclusion. Madrid-Barajas is the Worst Airport in the World". 


But does the Spanish capital’s airport really deserve such criticism and is it really fair to be given the title of the worst in the world?

In December, we published a piece saying that Madrid's airport was in fact ranked best in Spain and Europe in 2022, a complete contrast to the FT's piece. 

This was based on two different airport awards – the Skytrax World Airport Awards 2022 and the airport ranking by claims management company AirHelp, both of which looked at the overall quality of international airports, from the staff to the ease of getting around to the facilities.

The annual AirHelp 2022 ranking revealed that Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas was the best in Europe and the 12th best in the world, receiving a total of 8.25 points out of 10. 

It particularly scored highly for punctuality, and customer satisfaction, as well as leisure spaces, shops and restaurants. Even though airport signage and distance between terminals were not specifically ranked, most customers were satisfied with their experiences at the airport with a customer satisfaction score of 8.19 out of 10. 

This is far behind the airport that came in last place at number 151 - Toronto Pearson International Airport with an overall score of 6.11.

In the other awards - Skytrax Top 100 Airports for 2022, voted for by air travellers in the 2021/2022 World Airport Survey, Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas came in at number 16 in the world.

The survey asked users for their opinion on the world’s best airport including factors such as public transport serving the airport, taxi prices from the airport, Covid-19 protocols, signage in the airport, walking distance to arrivals, service of the staff, cleanliness, wi-fi availability and waiting times for immigration among others.


Again this was well ahead of the worst airport on the list at number 100, which was Palma de Mallorca.

With two major awards under its belt, based on stats and passenger satisfaction, as well as particular issues that caused the journalist grievances such as signage, can the Spanish capital's airport really be called the worst airport in the world?

Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas is the top airport in Spain, for passenger traffic, transport of goods and operations. It occupies the 5th position in the ranking of European airports according to Eurostat agency data, and is the fifteenth in the world by passenger traffic, according to ACI agency statistics.

In 2022, the airport welcomed a total of 50,633,652 passengers, making it the busiest airport in Spain, ahead of Barcelona El-Prat with 41.6 million passengers and Palma de Mallorca, with 28,573,364.

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