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Depending on where you fly in, the experience of connecting flights in Europe can be a headache or a charm.
All European Union nations minus Great Britain (plus some non-EU states) are part of the open-borders Schengen Agreement, so travelers entering Europe have a wide selection of entry points to choose from to minimize the hassle of customs and immigration. Still, the efficiency and friendliness of these services vary wildly from nation to nation, and even within European countries themselves.
Specific experiences will vary based on time of day, date of travel and unforeseen factors like weather and staffing, but generally, these top airports offer a better-than-average experience and smooth entry into the European Union. Among two dozen frequent fliers polled, these airports were all mentioned frequently. They often provide security-free transit experiences, meaning passengers don’t have to be re-screened before catching connecting flights, and they all have efficient, quick immigration and customs processing.
Note that recommended transit times for all of these airports are below one hour on passengers with connecting tickets. If you’re travelling on two separately purchased tickets and checked bags, however, retrieving and rechecking luggage will significantly add to your connection time.
5. Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN)
Stockholm has cozy and practical terminal areas and a very efficient passport control, though it loses ground to Scandinavian neighbors because of security checks after passport control.
This is a hub for SAS Scandinavian Airlines, a Star Alliance member along with Lufthansa and United. SAS offers service to major US hubs and has a decent intra-European network for connecting to other destinations. The introduction of security controls on connecting passengers has harmed Arlanda’s standing in this ranking.
4. All Other Scandinavian Hubs: Copenhagen (CPH), Helsinki (HEL), Oslo (OSL)
Funding infrastructure may be a problem in many nations, but it generally is not in Scandinavian countries. All four of Scandinavia’s major international hubs offer generally excellent customs and immigration facilities and facilities in general. Finland, Norway and Sweden are all part of the Schengen area (although Norway is not in the European Union), allowing domestic-like connections to all other European Union cities.
Copenhagen, with plenty of shops in the transit area, serves as global hub for SAS with flights to major US cities. Helsinki is the global hub for OneWorld member Finnair, and Oslo is home to the rapidly expanding discount carrier Norwegian.
3. Munich (MUC)
While long lines and congestion can sometimes plague an otherwise efficient and friendly Frankfurt International Airport, Lufthansa’s second-largest hub shines consistently, affording recommended transit minimums of less than 45 minutes for most connecting passengers. Lufthansa, which flies its new Airbus A350 mostly from MUC, offers the most US flights of any non-US Star Alliance airline, and has a superior intra-European and global network.
Another perk of connecting in Munich is the excellent array of services available to all passengers, not just fliers with elite status. There are shower facilities, great dining and drinking options and even rest areas and sleeping pods available at a range of prices — some are even free. For these reasons and more Munich is a great place to connect, typically ranking among the best airports in the world.
If you’re travelling Lufthansa First Class, however, the First Class terminal and services in Frankfurt are notably more impressive.
Tie 1. Vienna International Airport (VIE)
Vienna serves as the global hub for Austrian Airlines, a Star Alliance member with flights to several US destinations. It is also an impeccably well-organized and well-staffed airport which has, at times, been called (and called itself) Europe’s fastest transfer airport. The airport recommends a minimum connecting time for Star Alliance flights of 25 minutes.
Most travellers I’ve spoken to consider Vienna one of their favorite entry points into Europe. There are ample connections to other European cities on Austrian, and frequent discount-airline service here as well. Vienna’s airport also offers a very convenient rail connection into the city center.
Tie 1. Zurich Kloten Airport (ZRH)
Reliable like a Swiss watch, Zurich’s Kloten airport affords the most efficient transit experience I have personally experienced in many years of global travel. That sentiment seems to be shared by nearly everyone I spoke to. Swiss, a Star Alliance member, uses Zurich as its global hub, and provides excellent customer service with convenient, frequent connections to most major European cities.
Consider the last time I transited Zurich, on a Swiss flight from Chicago (ORD) en route to Paris (CDG). It took longer to board my connecting flight than it did to transit immigration. When I reached the immigration hall, I was briefly confused when I saw a room with no queues — but that was the way it was meant to be. Passengers transiting Zurich simply approach the immigration desk the same way they would a check-in counter at a hotel. If lines ever do form, it doesn’t seem they would be more than a few deep. Connection between Zurich’s two comfortable and stylish terminals is provided by the smoothest air-train system around.
Featured photo by ALEX HALADA/AFP/Getty Images
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