Airport review: Dubai International, UAE - world's busiest international airport

OFFICIAL IATA CODE

DXB

THE FLIGHT

EK191 to Lisbon, economy class

THE ARRIVAL

DXB is a breeze to access from pretty much anywhere in Dubai. Even if you take a taxi from as far away as Dubai Marina (30 kilometres), you're only looking at about AED60 to AED70 to get to the terminal – that's about  $25. An even cheaper way to get there is the option I take, a ride on the Dubai Metro, the train line that runs like an artery through the trunk of Dubai and costs AED7.50 ($2.90) per person at most. DXB is also very central to the old part of Dubai, set adjacent to Deira and Al Karama, and is only a 15-minute drive from the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah.

THE LOOK

Here's the funny thing about DXB: you expect it to be amazing. You expect that because it's the busiest airport in the world in terms of international passenger traffic, it will have all the bells and whistles, that because it's in Dubai – an emirate with a maniacal insistence on having the biggest, the best and most expensive of everything – the airport will be a world leader. And yet, it isn't. DXB, spread out over three terminals, is not great to look at, with no discernible architectural flair. It's also crowded 24 hours a day, making any transit through here such a harried exercise that you rarely get to appreciate any design features that might exist.

CHECK-IN

Because DXB is a major transit hub it's always packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the airside section; however, it's surprisingly pleasant landside. I've checked in online for my flight to Lisbon, so I just need to queue for 10 minutes to drop my bag, and I'm on my way.

SECURITY

This is the calm before the storm – a simple, orderly process of moving through passport control and security queues in quiet, spacious surrounds, before I'm spewed out into the insanity of the terminal proper.

FOOD AND DRINK

EK191 departs from Terminal 3, which is the newest and fanciest of the DXB facilities, and exclusive to Emirates flights. That doesn't, unfortunately, mean T3 is an all-singing wonder terminal filled with affordable, delicious things to eat and drink. It means it has a few places to grab an uninspiring bite and then be on your way (there are 20 Costa coffee outlets – a British-based chain – in DXB, which gives you an idea of the quality on offer). In T3 there's Jack's Bar & Grill, a US-style burger joint and sports bar. There's a Hard Rock Cafe, which does the same thing. There's Giraffe, which serves food from across the planet and doesn't do an amazing job with any of them. Only Wafi Gourmet do anything vaguely Middle Eastern.

RETAIL THERAPY

Terminal 3 does, however, have shops. They're usually packed with people, but there are plenty of options here if excess dirhams are burning a hole in your pocket. This being Dubai, there are the likes of Chanel, Hermes, Armani, Cartier and Rolex. There are also plenty of duty free stores, chocolate shops, and a surprising range of gold jewellery.

PASSING TIME

There's free Wi-Fi throughout DXB, so you can always use up time scanning Instagram or playing Words With Friends. If that's getting old, there's also the G-Force Health Club to burn off a few calories (plus have a shower, a sauna or a swim), a business centre, a paid-entry lounge (as well as a huge Emirates lounge), and an airside hotel for transit passengers.

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ONE MORE THING

If you have a long transit through DXB – say, four hours or more – it's worth remembering that the city is very accessible via the Metro system. With two hours outside the airport you could have a quick wander through Dubai Mall, shoot up to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, and get back in time for your flight.

THE VERDICT

Perhaps Dubai International is the victim of high expectations. Everything else in the emirate is world-leading – surely the airport will be? But it's not, and that's disappointing. It's not all bad at DXB, this is still a modern facility with plenty to keep you amused. You just hope for more.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★½

See also: Sorry, Singapore: Another airport is really the best in the world

​See also: World's best airport for 2018 named

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