Airport review: Lisbon Airport, Portugal - Humberto Delgado Airport

THE FLIGHT

LX 2085 (Swiss International Airlines to Zurich, with luggage booked through to Sydney via Singapore).

THE ARRIVAL

Humberto Delgado, seven kilometres from beautiful, picturesque downtown Lisbon, is one of the world's most historic airports, not least because of its colourful part in World War II. Today, it's the 18th busiest airport in Europe, handling 30 million passengers a year. As the hub of TAP Air Portugal (the national carrier), it's the Star Alliance gateway to South America (Brazil was a former Portuguese colony), much of Africa, and Portuguese mid-Atlantic islands such as Madeira and the Azores. My cab from town (admittedly outside rush hour) takes just 20 minutes. Humberto Delgado (named after a former air force general, politician and opponent of Antonio Salazar's decades-long dictatorship), is one of the few European airports still found this close to a capital city.

THE LOOK

Hardly a hymn to Portuguese architecture. There are two terminals. Terminal 1 deals with TAP Air Portugal's flights, plus those of its Star Alliance associates. The newer, smaller, smarter Terminal 2 services the budget airlines (Ryanair, easyJet, Transavia etc) offering cut price flights not only to mainland European capitals but mid-Atlantic holiday destinations. Terminal 1 (at least until you get to passport control) shows its age and the compromises made to keep a working terminal in action.

CHECK-IN

The most confusing thing about Terminal 1 is that check-in is spread across two floors. If you're flying TAP Air Portugal, assume you'll check in on the ground floor. For other airlines, presume you'll be on the first floor. It took me 15 minutes to work this out, but once I located my airline's check-in desks tucked away in an upstairs corner, the procedure was swift.

SECURITY

Probably the least annoying I've experienced in the past 10 years (including Australia). The staff were polite and friendly, the queues swiftly organised, the luggage conveyors sensibly spaced, the instructions clear (no need to take out laptops, just liquids – or to remove boots or belts). I still had to be frisked, but that was entirely my fault: my passport and boarding ticket should have gone through the security screener.

FOOD AND DRINK

First (or last) chance to sample real Portuguese fare? There are lots of options (once you emerge from the snaking, duty free, chamber of horrors). But none can match what you can eat for a fraction of the price at that lovely little cafe/restaurant in downtown Lisbon. If you're lucky, cozido a Portuguesa ("king of stews"), or caldo verde (a green soup with potatoes, onions and kale) may feature as a dish of the day.

RETAIL THERAPY

For men, Portugal has beautifully tailored shirts and suits. For women, the locals all look so exquisitely dressed it must be a case of just searching out the right shops. Here in Terminal 1, you'll find the international brands you'd expect in any international airport.

KILLING TIME

If your stopover is more than five hours and your baggage is already checked in, hire a taxi. Be sure to tell the driver to get you back to the airport two hours before your flight. Ask the driver to show you as many of Lisbon's highlights as possible.

ONE MORE THING

Don't mention AFL, rugby union or rugby league. There's really only one football code that matters in Portugal. Have you heard of Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro?

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THE VERDICT

Once you've gone through the confusion of the check-in and have reached Terminal 1, Humberto Delgado is a relaxing second tier European airport. The good thing is that it is striving to do better.

RATING

2.5 out of 5

Steve Meacham travelled as a guest of Regent Seven Sea Cruises. See rssc.com

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