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There's a good chance you've never been through these terminals.

November 18, 2016

Flying into the world’s largest airport, your eyes may struggle to take in the immense property’s scope. Landscaped with symmetrical rows of plants and hedges and centered around a gleaming white mosque, the airport stretches before your eyes into a slender ellipse.

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In all, it covers a total area of 193,000 acres, or 301 square miles—more than any other airport in the world. To put that into a little bit of perspective, the entire country of Singapore is only 277.6 square miles. The only problem? You likely won’t be going there anytime soon.

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On paper, its significance is hard to dismiss. In person, King Fahd International Airport fails to measure up. For starters: most of the airport's land sits unused and undeveloped. And worse, it's located in the middle of nowhere—literally. A quick virtual glance on Google Maps opens like a scene from Mad Max, nothing but sizzling tarmac, dirt, and a whole lot of desert. A 45-minute drive from Dammam (Saudi Arabia’s sixth largest city), even locals would have to go out of their way just to reach it.

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 wantoli/Fickr (cc by 2.0)

Not only are there no direct flights from the US; even if you managed to make a connection in nearby Dubai or Bahrain to fly into it, there would be very little to do at King Fahd. Unlike, say, Singapore’s rooftop cactus garden, or the desirable local food and retail brands populating terminals at Denver International Airport, King Fahd International is almost as barren as the land surrounding it (Cinnabon, Baskin Robbins, and Papa Johns operate concessions inside the airport, but that’s about it).

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Saudi Arabia, which is made up of 95 percent desert, is situated on the Arabian Peninsula and shares borders with the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq, among others. It plays a special role during the Muslim month-long holiday of Ramadan, when millions of people travel to the holy site of Mecca. Though the country has largely remained closed to western visitors, a new tour launched this summer promising an unprecedented opportunity for tourists to get a peek at the capital, Riyadh, along with ancient sites like Mada’in Shaleh.

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Incidentally, the world’s largest hotel, the Abraj Kudai (12 towers, 10,000 rooms) is scheduled to open in Saudi Arabia in 2017, so who knows? You might find yourself checking into the terminal at King Fahd International Airport, after all.

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