Airport review: Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport, Santiago, Chile

Read our writer's views on this property below

THE FLIGHT

BA250 to London Heathrow, business

THE ARRIVAL

It's a fairly easy run – about 1½ hours along motorways – from Valparaiso on the coast. However, a free shuttle bus is required to get from the rental car drop-off spot to the terminal – always a nuisance and an indication that an airport's a bit bigger than you would like. From Santiago, the airport is about 15 kilometres west of the centre. Turbus runs buses every 15 minutes, taking about 45 minutes and costing 1900 pesos. Otherwise, a taxi should cost about 15,000 to 20,000 pesos. See turbus.cl

THE LOOK

There's an awful lot of construction going on, part of a plan for separate domestic and international terminals, and a light rail connection to the Santiago Metro network. This should be ready in 2020. Amid the makeover work, the existing terminal building looks like the handiwork of an architect inspired by generic sports stadiums of the last 30 years. Lots of white-painted bars – some supportive, some decorative –disappear at all angles, creating a big open space in the middle.

CHECK-IN

Three hours and five minutes before departure, a big queue has gathered around the British Airways sign. When the check-in desks eventually open, they're still displaying Copa Airlines signs, which adds a sprinkle of confusion to the unnecessarily long lines. There are self check-in screens for many airlines, but not British Airways, LATAM or Qantas.

SECURITY

Passport control has lots of booths open, and while the security queue takes a snaking form around roped-off barriers, there aren't many people in it. All in all, the security rigmarole is about as painless as it's ever going to be.

FOOD AND DRINK

I seriously regret not investigating the two promising-looking options I spotted near the check-in desks when airside. There's an uninspiring semi-circular food court, full of Americanised fast food chains such as Ruby Tuesday and Johnny Rocket's. The best bet is a little further on, at the Wines of Chile bar. This at least gives you the chance to try a few local drops, alongside empanadas, charcuterie plates and 6700-peso smoked salmon sandwiches.

RETAIL THERAPY

The shopping is done better than the food. Beyond the duty free, and designer brands such as Michael Kors and Carolina Herrera, there are a smattering of little stores selling locally-made goods. Snoop around and you can find woollen ponchos, animal figurines carved from lapiz lazuli, copper pots and painted plates.

PASSING TIME

There's a small children's climbing frame and slide by gate 12, with a book swap scheme nearby. Sadly, the latter doesn't seem particularly effective – there were no books to take on the empty shelves. Turn up to gate 15 at 3pm on Wednesday or Thursday, and you can take part in a free yoga class.

ONE MORE THING

Check your gate carefully. The C gates are a fair old walk from the rest of the terminal, so it's worth leaving an extra 15 minutes to get to them.

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THE VERDICT

Chile's main hub, and the likely first stop for Australians flying into South America, falls a little between two stools. It's not quite a mega airport, full of showy facilities, exhibitions and activity programs that can make it a destination in its own right. But it's also a level or two too big to be hassle-free, compact and a breeze to go through.

OUR RATING OUT OF 5

3.5