Travelers have all been through it. Some offer amenities and services as if you were in a mall instead of an airplane stop. In modern versions of it, travelers can actually afford to sleep inside its terminals rather than having to check-in in a hotel for just a night of layover. In contrast, antiquated versions may feature only a single runway dedicated to servicing the heavy traffic of planes that are either departing or arriving. This is the airport, the first and last place a traveler would see in every place that is visited.
We all have our opinions on which is the most luxurious in the world, or which is the most uncomfortable or provides the most inconvenience. All these are subjective, however, as it would depend on each one’s personal experience with the different airports. When we talk about the size of an airport, however, we can objectively discuss which is the biggest in the world. And that title goes to the massive airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The King Fahd International Airport
The King Fahd International Airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the biggest airport in the entire world in terms of land area. It is located about 40 kilometers northwest of Dammam and has a total land area of 780 square kilometers. At this size, this airport is actually bigger than Saudi Arabia’s neighboring country of Bahrain.
The airport was designed in 1976 by the Yamasaki & Associates architectural firm and Boeing Aerosystems International. The master plan for the site took over a year to create before finally getting completed in 1977. The construction itself, however, only began six years ago in 1983.
By 1990, the basic infrastructure was already complete, which happened just in time as the first Gulf War was around the corner. Saudi Arabia was part of the combined forces allied against Iraq, and they allowed military aircrafts to use the airport as a storage facility.
Construction to complete the airport continued until the end of the decade. It was only in 28 November 1999 that the brand new King Fahd International Airport was finally inaugurated to commercial traffic. Subsequently, the old Dhahran International Airport was shut down, as all flights were diverted to the King Fahd Airport. The latter has since become the third major hub for Saudia.
The terminal boasts of six stories with modern amenities, with three of the floors dedicated to the processing of the passengers of the various airlines. Departures are at the sixth level, boarding at the fourth, while arrivals are serviced at the third level. There are two other levels that serve as mezzanine areas.
The terminal has a total area of 327,000 square meters, of which 247,500 square meters have already been built. It has 15 gates, and the original design features a total of 31 fixed boarding bridges. Right now, however, only 11 are being used, all of which are located in the northern section that serves some of the international flights and all domestic flights. The southern section serves the rest of the international flights.
A generous number of customer counters is spread across the terminal. Of these, 66 are for the use of Saudia and 44 for foreign airlines. Saudi Arabian customs and immigration officials use the rest of the counters.
Check in time is relatively fast for domestic flights, with passengers needing to take only 10 to 25 minutes. For international flights, it may take you 20 to 45 minutes. For those leaving on an international flight, passport control may take up to 15 minutes if you are a Saudi Arabian or Gulf coast national, and up to 45 minutes for other foreigners. For those arriving, processing time for Saudi Arabian locals and Gulf coast citizens is 10 to 20 minutes. For other nationals, however, be prepared to wait as much as six hours. The extended wait in the queue is exacerbated by the absence of seats in the area. Baggage claim may take an additional half an hour.
Shopping and Dining.
King Fahd International Airport prides itself as the first airport in the country to feature duty-free stores. Do not get too excited about the products being free of duty, however, because the entire country is duty-free haven, as it does not impose any sales or import tax whatsoever on any product. The wealth brought about by the abundance of oil in the country’s territory probably has a lot to do with that.
There are also gift shops and convenience-type stores in the area. The terminal also has restaurants and cafes for the hungry traveler. More shops are slated to open, along with offices for travel agencies and kiddie playgrounds, as part of the country’s airport authority’s Golden Circle project.
Banks are also located in the terminal. Take note, however, that the cash machines and currency exchange booths are all located before the security area. Thus, make sure that you have withdrawn sufficient cash before proceeding to security.
Hotel and Accommodation
Saudi Arabia is a strict Islamic country. A 46,200 square meter mosque that can accommodate up to 2,000 worshipers is available at the airport. The area is easily accessible from the passenger terminal through three bridges, two of which are enclosed and air-conditioned and equipped with moving belts for comfort.
A 16,400 square-meter, elegantly decorated and luxuriously furnished terminal is reserved for the Saudi Arabian monarchy. Government personnel and official guests can also utilize this facility. Four bridges are available to connect the terminal to the airplane. The grounds and exteriors are also extensively landscaped. The Royal Family rarely uses this terminal, however, preferring the special terminal at King Abdulaziz Airbase instead.
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