This Lesser-Known Airport Takes The Crown For Being One Of Europe's Best

Annoying air travel issues can make any journey a bit of a nightmare. You've probably seen those old photos of happy and smiling travelers enjoying lavish banquets on their flight, which may seem like images from a parallel universe when you're wedged in a coach seat making do with an overpriced can of Coca-Cola and a mini-tube of Pringles. Recent polls show that most Americans prefer road trips to flying and, for many regular travelers, the headache begins when they enter one airport and doesn't stop until they have collected their bags and escaped the terminal at the other end. However, it doesn't always have to be a grind, and one European airport won the title of Best Airport in Europe for the sixth year running in 2024. Its location might come as a surprise: Malta International Airport.

Griping about airports feels very much like a first-world problem, and we should be grateful for the luxury of flying. Still, it doesn't always seem like a privilege to be stuck in a crowded airport after your flight has been delayed. The worst examples are cramped, noisy, and expensive, and not always the best way to start your vacation — just take a trudge through the endless retail maze to the crowded departure lounge at London Stansted, for example. Malta International Airport earns its reputation as one of the best airports in Europe by eliminating the majority of these factors in a number of ways, including organization, comfort, and stress-alleviating design.

Welcome to Malta International Airport

Situated in the Mediterranean Sea midway between Europe and Africa, Malta was still under British rule when an uptick in visitors prompted the government to build a civil airport to accommodate travelers. Located in Luqa, around a 20-minute drive from the small island's capital of Valletta, the new facility was opened in 1958. The Maltese tourist industry boomed in the '60s and '70s, and by the mid-'80s, the airport was no longer deemed fit for purpose. Construction of a new terminal began in 1989 and opened its doors to the public in 1992. By 2019, it was handling around 7.2 million flights annually.

The modern airport is soothing in appearance, surrounded by lawns and palm trees, and large arched windows providing plenty of light for the terminal interior. Elegant curved canopies of steel and wood were added to the observation deck in 2017, providing respite from the glaring Mediterranean sun. The terminal contains a food court with all the usual suspects like Burger King, KFC, and Costa Coffee, while the relative lack of retail outlets will come as a relief to those who have grown weary of the hard sell in some larger European airports.

Why Malta's airport is voted the best in Europe

The Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards are based on a global customer satisfaction program, and member airports are measured on three main criteria: ambience; courtesy and helpfulness of airport staff; and ease of finding your way and cleanliness. In these categories, Malta International Airport competed with other European airports of similar size, falling in the 5 to 15 million passengers per year bracket. 

Malta scored 4.2 for ambience, praised for its facilities that "offer passengers a comfortable and seamless journey." It scored even better for courtesy and helpfulness (4.3), with one passenger citing the "friendly and welcoming people" who made their journey so enjoyable. Malta received 4.2 again in the last category, commended for quickness and efficiency and being "the most well-organized airport" despite its size. The 2024 edition of the awards was the sixth consecutive time Malta International Airport won Best Airport in Europe in a pool including transport hubs in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Portugal, and Iceland.

Thanks to results published by a U.K.-based travel data provider, Malta International Airport also came top of the pile in Europe for on-time departures. The data revealed that, out of over 24,000 flights in 2023, only 9.41% were subject to delay or cancellation. This figure beat second-placed Warsaw Chopin Airport by a decent margin: the Polish travel gateway had 13.43% delayed or canceled flights. Malta is the perfect destination for a historic getaway, and the island's airport is just as good.