Will Coldwell, The Guardian, April 02, 2014
With its boulevards of plastic palm trees, gleaming silver interior and "Zen Garden" complete with lush ferns and refreshing mist machine, Dubai International is a world away from the much-maligned Heathrow airport.
However, it is not just on pomp and glamour that Britain's flagship transport hub is being outdone. Figures for the first two months of 2014 show that Dubai has overtaken Heathrow as the airport with the largest number of international passengers in the world. It dealt with almost 2 million more in the period, and with a growth rate of 13.5%, it is likely to continue to outpace Heathrow, which remains Europe's busiest airport.
But while UK politicians will be dismayed at Heathrow's fading significance it would be nigh-on impossible for Heathrow to keep up with the aggressive expansion of the Arab state. Dubai International plans to increase its passenger numbers from 60 to 90 million over the next four years, constructing an additional terminal space and concourse twice the size of Heathrow's terminal five. Bearing in mind that Dubai's palatial terminal 3, exclusively for the state's own Emirates airline, is already the largest around – at 1,713,000 square metres, it has the second largest floor area of any building on the planet – Heathrow does start to feel a little, well, regional.
"Dubai really is in a sweet spot as far as global travel goes," says Jim Krane, Gulf specialist at Rice University's Baker Institute and author of Dubai: The story of the world's fastest city. "While Heathrow is a break between North America and Europe, Dubai sits in between the far bigger population centres of Asia; anyone flying West from Asia will fly over the Persian gulf. It has set itself up as a venus fly trap for international travel."
But even Krane admits the speed of growth is impressive. "In the 80s, when Heathrow was already booming, the airport was just a couple of metal sheds with some guys hand-stamping tickets," he says. "Dubai couldn't actually get enough flights to come to it, which is why they ended up founding their own airline. It really is a fairytale for them that they've now overtaken Heathrow."
Expect to hear much more about the pleasures of a stopover there. Such as the opportunity to blow £160 on a raffle ticket for their rolling million-dollar draw, or £6,500 on a bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc at terminal 3's fine wine store Le Clos. And nothing really says "you're in Dubai" quite like a shop selling gold bullion in the duty free.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk