Airport review: Bilbao Airport, Spain

IATA CODE

BIO

THE FLIGHT

TK 1318 to Istanbul, economy class

THE ARRIVAL

Bilbao's compact airport is about a 15-minute drive from the city centre, and an hour and a quarter from the popular resort town of San Sebastian, for which it effectively functions as a hub. There are several buses that run from the main city and nearby towns, plus plenty of taxis.

THE LOOK

Though it was constructed almost 20 years ago, Bilbao's single terminal still looks shiny and new, mostly thanks to the graceful and forward-thinking design of local architect Santiago Calatrava. On approach Bilbao Airport looks like a plane or a bird, with its two long white wings and its peaked centre – a perfect introduction to a city that is becoming known for its bold art and design.

CHECK-IN

There's a spacious area for the check-in desks, which line two walls in a rough V-shape with a snack bar at the centre. I'm glad I'm not checking in for the Air France flight, as there's a huge queue there, but only a few people depositing their bags at the Turkish Airlines desks. I'm through in a few minutes.

SECURITY

There are very few people here, either, which makes the journey through security a breeze. Passport checks, meanwhile, are done at the boarding gates, where a long queue quickly forms and a sizeable wait ensues.

FOOD AND DRINK

Bilbao is in Basque Country,  known for its superior cuisine, so you hope for something amazing at its airport. Unfortunately, you don't get it. You get a few snack bars with reasonable coffee, overpriced sandwiches and traditional "pintxos", or Basque tapas. You also get a Burger King and a Starbucks. Of most interest is Enrique Tomas, a shop selling the best jamon iberico – Spanish cured ham – from around the country. It makes for some pricey but delicious souvenirs.

RETAIL THERAPY

Make time for the duty-free store just past security, because it not only stocks the usual international spirits and cosmetics, but a solid range of local specialties, including excellent Basque cider, txakoli wine, and tinned seafood from the Basque Country and Cantabria. The airport's other shops are largely uninspiring, with a few tacky souvenir shops, a newsagent and a sunglasses shop.

PASSING TIME

There's free Wi-Fi available throughout the Bilbao terminal. There are also large glass walls with pleasant views of the surrounding countryside, which you'll want to take advantage of, because there's not much else to do here.

Advertisement

ONE MORE THING

What's your boarding gate? At Bilbao Airport it won't be announced until the last minute, which means passengers are forced to hang around in a central area until they're called. That results in a very crowded atrium with seating that's often inadequate, forcing unlucky passengers to – surprise, surprise – wander through the shops.

THE VERDICT

I like Bilbao Airport, despite its annoying boarding process. It's small but functional; compact but sleek. It still feels ultra-modern despite its age, and gives the illusion of space despite its size. The facilities here aren't amazing, but then the airport doesn't have the passenger numbers of Europe's hubs. It's small, and friendly, and efficient. Sometimes you can't ask more than that.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★ ½

Ben Groundwater travelled at his own expense.

Comments