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Geneva Cointrin International Airport (GVA)

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      31.01.2010 19:12
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      An airport that you would have expected to have been better than it is

      We've flown to and from Geneva Airport several times and every time the experience has been different. I'm not sure that that means that it has been better but it certainly changes and so it makes it difficult to be sure what you have to do to make the visit as painless as possible. After all, when did you ever enjoy using an airport? This time we were travelling with Crystal, en route to the French Alps, as were hundreds of other Brits, and other nationalities as well, no doubt.

      Arriving you are carried even the very short distances to the terminal, from the plane, by bus. It seems that you aren't trusted to walk even a few yards, unlike at other airports. The airport seems to have no air-bridges, or at least, certainly not for charter passengers, and this is not the only difference for us package holiday travellers. Once in the terminal the normal passport checks precede the luggage retrieval; Switzerland is not, as you will undoubtedly realise, a part of the EU and so no special provisions are made.

      Luggage is delivered from the plane on the usual travelling belts, with the exception of ski-bags, which are delivered on trolleys, and not necessarily close to the belt on which the rest of your luggage is delivered, so keep your eyes open. From there to the exit where you take your onwards transport is quite a short distance and no one seems to pay any attention when you walk through the Nothing to Declare channel.

      When returning from Geneva however, the situation is quite different.

      Our coach from our resort, initially delivered us to the normal scheduled flight check-in terminal but it appears that for charter passengers a separate terminal has been set aside. Not before a couple of passengers had already got off; they were called back aboard the coach to travel another couple of hundred meters to our correct destination. The charter terminal appears to have seen better days so, no surprise to discover that the airport authorities appear simply to be trying to extract maximum profit from the not inconsiderable trade. At least there are a decent number of check-in desks; for all of the flights checking in when we were as well, there seemed to be at least three desks set aside for each flight.

      The hall was packed and it was just as well that the arrival of the coaches from the resorts was staggered otherwise we might have been queuing out of the door! In our case the check-in process wasn't helped by the fact that the Crystal courier thought that all of the passengers on the coach who were flying to Gatwick were all going on one flight. It turned out that we were on a different flight from everyone else and were queuing in the wrong lane, all Crystal's fault though; it pays to check your flight number and not simply trust that the courier knows what they're doing!

      From there you go through the normal security checks, but not passport checks at this stage. After that you congregate in a little room at the end of the building as you do not depart from here but from the main building, and there is no direct access from one building to the other: you have to be transported there by bus!

      The main terminal has changed a lot over the years I have been using this airport. It has grown substantially in size. The one thing you notice immediately is that the place seems to be dedicated to shopping; you might hardly know you were in an airport except that everything is marked "Duty Free"! Having said that, prices are not exceptional but then this has a lot to do with the abysmal exchange rate that the Pound Sterling has against virtually every other currency. Why, oh why didn't we adopt the Euro when we had the chance?

      If you want to shop though, without fighting your way around the other travellers using the airport then you will find lots of other Duty Frees around the airport, all of which seemed to be virtually deserted, so don't just go for the first one you see. The same goes for refreshment outlets.

      One last thing to beware of: most of the UK tour operators seem to board from the area "D" gates. These gates are a long hike from the main terminal area so don't leave it to the last minute before your flight departs. It will take you a good ten to fifteen minutes walk, including passing through passport control. I suggest you head there as soon as you arrive and buy your snacks and duty free right outside your departure gate.

      I wouldn't say that Geneva is a great airport but it does have one thing very much in it's favour - it's not Chambery! However, there's far too much being bussed around when modern airports all have moving walkways to get you around with minimum fuss and effort. You would think that a country as rich as Switzerland would have taken note!

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        04.10.2009 21:48
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        Good for business and leisure passengers

        I have traveled in and out of Geneva Airport numerous times and in general I would say it is a satisfactory experience.

        Recently (beginning of October 2009) the security procedures have changed so you now pass through the scanners / metal detectors on the top floor before you get through to the duty free shopping area. In times gone by you would show your boarding pass, shop then go to the gate to be searched. This has greatly improved the experience as the queue moves a lot quicker, and you can relax on the other side knowing that you aren't going to be delayed getting to your aircraft.

        As far as passenger facilities go there are 2 main eating areas. There is one that is before security, on the top floor. There is your usual Starbucks / Burger King / Upper Crust as well as a nicer Italian restaurant and Sushi place. The food selection is good and there is a nice outdoor area in the summer for a nice cold beer or two! The facilities after security are not quite as good. There is a small area that serves hot food, a sandwich bar and a rather pretentious oyster / caviar area. All in all the airport is not bad in this respect, but in general it can be very expensive.

        There are a lot of shops in the airport, predictably focused on selling watches and other expensive traditional Swiss goods. Personally I won't be spending Euro10,000 on a watch while I'm traveling, but to each their own.

        The departure boards are clearly labelled, with Schengen / non-Schengen areas being separated by a short walk underneath the apron. The furthest gate from the check in area is approximately 300metres walk. Some boarding goes on by coach, which can seem like it's taking forever!

        The airport has good connections to the city centre, being only 10 to 15km away. Buses and trains leave most hours of the day. Check out www.tpg.ch if you need to find times.

        There are generally minimal take off and landing delays at the airport, significantly better than Heathrow or Gatwick for instance!

        All in all, quite a small airport that runs fairly efficiently. There's not a great deal to do but enough to keep most people entertained.

        Thanks for reading!

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        27.05.2009 14:39
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        A disgusting airport

        Hell on earth.

        Geneva airport is the most miserable experience I have ever had in my life. Where to start? Probably best to give a chronology of chronic cataclysms!

        The first problem was the drop-off point at departures. Disorganised parking, with ski tour buses reversing in and out, blocking traffic and preventing smooth flow past the outside of the terminal building. Signage was poor, but it wasn't hard to find the desks as there is one long check-in hall so it was a matter of walking down it until I found the correct desk. This wasn't as easy as it sounds though - the passenger backlog was so bad that queues stretched out across the hall, so sometimes it was a process of negotiation to step through.

        The check-in process was a disgrace. There were huge queues and yet quite a few empty desks and the odd staff member milling about doing no work. This seemed to be worse for the charter airlines but endemic across the entire hall. Our particular check-in agent was clearly a trainee who didn't know what he was doing, and took 12 minutes per individual/group on average (I was so frustrated I started timing!) so although we were at the back of a 10-15m queue it took us over an hour to be processed. Families with kids were in near-tears, old people were looking weak on the their feet. Staff did nothing to help, did not attempt to help organise queues or anything like it.

        But it didn't get any better after that. After (finally) getting checked-in, you proceed via the escalators to the first floor level, which is a small shopping area before security. Being so late, I didn't get a chance to check it out but it seemed to be a fairly motley collection of tourist tat and swiss chocolate and watches.

        Proceeding through this area you arrive at security. It's a very odd queueing system where some tape and bollards have been strung out in a semi-random fashion to sort of guide people into the doorway, almost superfluous to requirements really and a bit messy, but it proved not to be too much of a problem because the queue here was at least moving.

        Entering departures itself was like being plunged into Dante's vision of hell. Every available surface was covered with people with expressions of pain on their face. But this was not because of eternal damnation, but because it is the most inadequate departures hall in the history of mankind. Firstly the capacity is just not big enough. People were sitting on the floor all over the place because there is barely any seating anywhere. And it's not the normal airport trick of putting the seating in cafes - the one sizeable café they did have has been demolished so there is very little seating at all.

        There's plenty of places to buy a luxury watch, but the allure of a luxury boutique is kind of taken away when there are people sprawled over the exterior walls and doorway. I have no idea how the rich people who buy these things travel here, because if I had any money I would do my best to avoid this airport altogether! There is also a lot of chocolate and alcohol for sale, and some coffee. But few places to get any decent food. The toilets were overly busy and messy as a result.

        But the most frustrating thing is the system they seem to employ at this airport. There is a big glass wall along the far side, through which can be seen the departure gates. These look neat, clean, spacious, with the odd vending machine and coffee stall and seats for all - from the other side of the wall it looks like the promised land! But the twist is that you don't get to go there. You get to stay in the luxury boutique/cattle wagon hall until a few minutes before departure, because they don't display the flights until the last moment and the staff (who do a further boarding pass check) are slow and unhelpful. When our flight did come up (Along with a number of others), a queue formed that was so long it stretched the entire length of the departures area, snaking around shops. People were cheating, pushing in, but I can barely blame them because if you had one of the earlier fights, I have no idea how you would make it through the gate in time.

        The security staff were letting through a few people at a time, totally oblivious to the mass of gathering humanity that felt like it was reaching boiling point. This continued for a few minutes until the guard seemed to realise the whole situation was hopeless and just started letting people through uncontrolled.

        So, we thought we were free, but no. We weren't on our way to the promised land, we were on our way down a long, long corridor, presumably under the main terminal. We were held up at various points by various guards who seemed to interpret crowd control as stopping people from progressing. Eventually we arrived in a chamber where another security scan took place, which had two queues that conflicted with each other in the area where you were supposed to pick up trays for the scanner. I managed to get through the scan, turned around to see one of the women scanning get up, burst into tears and flee from the machine. There then followed an utterly bizarre scene where the head security guard stood up to say 'she's just feeling a bit ill', then shut what appeared to be perspex security doors, cutting the crowd in two (including one family) and it was only a few minutes before they were opened again.

        So then finally, finally we arrived at the gate. Which was spacious and had seating, and we had time to enjoy it because the flight was late as a result of all the disruption inside the airport.

        Never again!

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        06.08.2008 14:21
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        Be prepared

        Having very recently had to sit in Geneva airport for 6 hours waiting for a connecting flight I've definitely got to grips with everything that their lounge offers. To be fair I was on my way back from a festival and almost completely out of money but I definitely think that Geneva airport was catering to another "crowd". I was stuck in a very small area for a very long time, which consisted of very few, very very expensive designer clothes and jewelry shops. There was one duty free shop which was slightly easier on the pocket but still not great. The "lounge" where you could go and sit to wait for your plane was freezing cold with almost primary school style plastic chairs and to top it off there was construction work going on. The only really nice place to sit was their recently introduced smoking room which was pretty plush and didn't smell at all. I think the biggest shocker was the one and only cafeteria which charged me £5 for two small bottles of coke!!!! if I had been flush enough to be able to afford a simple stir-fry, that would have set me back around £18. A good experience, perhaps the one and only was that the staff all seemed very pleasant and were very polite. So some advice may be to try not to get stuck in their for hours, if you do take loads of money if you plan to eat and take a travel pillow and a good book which may make the lounge slightly more tolerable!!

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          24.08.2005 17:59
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          Badly Organised, Racist Staff, please think twice before going Geneva!

          I have flown out from Geneva Airprt twice now, going from Geneva to Liverpool John Lennon Airport, UK.

          Both times coming through Geneva, the staff have been very rude and abusive, and unfortunatly this is because I am british.

          Firstly upon check-in, we were told to wait, "because the french people behind us were in a hurry". I mean come on, were all on the same flight! They were purely making the brits wait. When we came to check in eventually we were given dead eyes, and very unfriendly check in staff ignoring what we said. They spoke english perfectly at this time, but when it came to checking in our bags they seemed to forget all the english they knew, except the ability to charge us for excess baggage. They would not allow us to see the weight of our bike bags, however they were the same bikes that came out with us, so the weight should be exactly the same! Both years we have tried to argue our fact, but both years thay have had none of it and charges/extorted us all large amounts or we would not be flying home.

          Then comes the part that really annoys us, we have a half french friend, who was checking in after us. He got a smile, and what seemd like friendly respomnses (they were in french so we didnt understand) and then he never got charged excess bagage. So most of us are all down around £100 each, while he walks off free of charge.

          We then went to wait in the circular waiting room. And as we watched our bike bags going up the electric elevator, the airport bagabe assistant walked down the ram on top of them! He must of walked over £15,000 of bikes, causing hundreds of pounds of damage.

          Apart from all of that, the acctual airport didn't seem too good either. The food was exceptionally expensive, charging 5 euros for a small bit of bread, and then giving you change in swiss francs. To buy a magazine would cost you the good half of £10 !!!

          The duty free shops were also expensive, an iPod costing you £300! I don't even know how they stay in buisness!

          The signs were very unclear to where was where, and where we had to go. There were no announcments in eitgher french of english and the security was very lousy.

          The only bit of security we saw was badly organised, as I went through the metal detector it bleeped, but I was told to move on as there was a big queue behind me, however I had to stay and go behind a desk as my bag came up negative. Fifteen minuted later after emptying absolutely everything out of my bag, and describing what the delecate parts of my bike were, and that the large object was a laptop, they let me go.

          Overall I hated every moment of Geneva Airport, but unfortunatly it is the one I have to use when going mountain biking in Les Gets/ Morzine!

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            22.03.2005 06:06
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            Geneva is not the Swiss business centre, so Geneva airport is not even the main Swiss one. So don't come expecting a Heathrow-style level of service! But the airport does what it needs to do very well - you should transit through here very quickly, unless your airline does something wrong!

            Let's run through the basics...

            LOCATION

            The airport is out of town to the north, near the French border. In fact, if you fly in from a French airport and are heading straight into France, you have an option of never having to clear Swiss customs at all - they'll keep you hermetically sealed in your own little space and dump you over the border directly. But "out of town" is a relative concept in a place the size of Geneva - it takes all of 15 minutes to drive into the centre! The airport is also right on the motorway which goes northeast to Lausanne and south to Chamonix.

            TRANSPORT

            To get into town, the easiest and cheapest way is to take a bus. The number 18 goes right round the outside of the city, and is only really useful if you're trying to get to one of the residential suburbs - it's basically for locals. Instead, get on the number 10 bus, which leaves about every 12 minutes. It goes down through the centre of town, and should either pass very near your hotel or will drop you at the main transport interchange in the city centre. From there, you can hop on another bus or the tram - and there will certainly be a bus route within 2 minutes' walk from your hotel, wherever it is!

            Geneva's public transport system is mind-bogglingly simple to use - you buy a 3Sfr ticket (currently about £1.30) which gives you 60 minutes of free rides wherever you want to go. It's hard to find anywhere that's 60 minutes away! You can even double back on yourself within that time, in case you get lost...and yes, they regularly inspect tickets.

            If you don't like buses, you can take a taxi - that will cost about 10 times as much for a jaunt into town (probably 25-50 Sfr depending on which side of town you're staying on). Not really worth it unless you have masses of bags or a large family, since the buses are pretty empty most of the time and you're starting from the terminus.

            There's also a train station at the airport which is on the main line to Geneva and through into the rest of Switzerland. If you're heading into the Swiss Alps, this could be your best bet - the trains run on time, are clean and efficient. But be aware that there are no trains into the French Alps from here.

            Finally, if you're renting a car that too is simple - the desks are all just as you come out of customs, ahead of you and slightly to the left. All major companies are represented. The car parks are a couple of minutes' walk with a baggage trolley, and then you're away. For returning the car, it's just as close (anyone who has tried this game at Luton Airport will appreciate this immensely). And, once in the car, you're right beside the motorway (literally) - you can be in Lausanne within 40 minutes or in Chamonix within 75 minutes, even if traffic is heavy. Or you can drive into town within 15 minutes. Traffic jams are a rarity.

            AIRLINES

            Swiss, who have grown out of the defunct Swissair, fly all of their major routes from Zurich. This means that you may end up transiting through there if you're using Swiss to fly anywhere except a few European destinations (although thankfully most British airports are serviced direct, at least occasionally). Most other major airlines hardly fly here at all. But this low load of traffic has made Geneva into something of a hub for low-cost airlines - especially Easyjet, who have their second major base (after Luton) here.

            Check-in queues can get pretty long about 60-90 minutes before a flight, so be aware of that when planning your travelling time. If you're with a charter, it's much worse - they cut costs by only having one or two check-in desks open, and people are inevitably trying to take skis, hundreds of bags etc etc etc just in front of you. It can get very infuriating. On the other hand, the check-in staff tend to be very competent and pretty obliging, and there are also lots of other airline staff to deal with flight changes, etc.

            Easyjet have about 6-8 flights per day from here to the UK (Luton and Gatwick) and vice versa. There are also quite a few other low-cost airlines flying in - they change all the time, though! - and in the winter there are loads of charter flights coming in with skiers. Everyone uses the same terminal building, though.

            If you're flying out of Geneva with Easyjet, be aware that they have just abolished their serviced check-in - it's now all automated, so make sure you have your booking details to hand! It's actually speeded things up tremendously, and I can't wait for them to do this in England as well...it's all done on touch-screen terminals, which end up giving you your boarding pass and any baggage labels that you need. If you have baggage to check in, you simply put the labels on yourself and then take the bags to a central counter where they take them off you. A word of warning, though: if your bags then get lost in the system, they may end up blaming you for not putting the labels on properly. So take care when doing so!

            TERMINAL BUILDING

            It's pretty small. It takes at most 15 minutes, after passport control, to get to your gate. On the ground side, there are plenty of shops selling last-minute gifts in the departure area upstairs (check-in is on the ground floor, passport control upstairs). There are also a couple of cafes, but better ones are down in the basement arrivals area. They're not cheap, but a darn sight cheaper than those on the air side!

            Once you go through passport control, there's another bunch of shops selling duty-free. The range of goods here is wider, but the prices for basic items go up - chocolate, for example, is much cheaper in the supermarkets and you really don't need to spend money on the posh version - even the supermarkets' own brand in Switzerland is as good as anything you'll get elsewhere.

            There are also a couple of expensive places to get food and drink. I would advise people to stay ground-side to eat and drink as it's cheaper. The closer you get to the gate, the more the prices go up - you can be charged as much as £1 for a bar of chocolate! And sandwiches are tiny and can cost £3. Bring your own food if you're going to be there for a while - seriously. There's also very little choice, which can be a problem if you're travelling with kids who don't like (or are sick of) cheese and salami sandwiches.

            In the arrivals hall are a few cafes, newsagents etc but not much else - this isn't somewhere to spend the day, it's somewhere to get in and out quickly. There are, however, some very good information desks (including covering hotels) where everyone speaks decent English. Ditto car rental, etc - you shouldn't need French to get by here (down in town is perhaps a different story).

            The terminal is officially non-smoking, but there are smoking areas in most places which aren't actually sealed off from the rest. Which actually means that some places can get a bit smoky, especially near departure gates if flights are delayed and lots of people are cooped up together. They claim to discourage smokers, but don't.

            OVERALL

            I would have to say that Geneva is basically a very easy airport to use - everything is well sign-posted, the place is compact and getting there and away is extremely simple. In short, it does what it's supposed to do and does it pretty well. If you're visiting Geneva itself, or the mountains nearby, I'd say it's a good option. But bring your own refreshments!

            If I've missed anything, please comment and I'll add it on!

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