By Amanda Morris
If someone could pick anywhere in the world to spend an afternoon, it’s highly unlikely they would choose an airport. Airports exist in a purgatory of sorts where freedom is limited, everyone is in a rush and everything costs twice as much as in the outside world. Most airports fail to provide a comfortable environment, especially after hours spent in a steel tube with limited legroom. But if you do find yourself stuck in purgatory due to a layover or other reasons, there are certain airports with amenities and things to do (beyond a lounge that only certain passengers can access) that improve the experience immensely.
For eight years in a row Singapore’s Changi Airport has received the accolade of being the best airport in the world. Covering more than three million square feet, Changi is an excellent place to be stuck. Changi’s five terminals more closely resemble high-end shopping malls than traditional transit hubs. Some of the many amenities include a swimming pool, jacuzzi and poolside bar for those who want a quick dip. There are several green spaces and gardens located throughout the massive facility to allow passengers a reprieve from the recirculated and drying airplane air, as well as a full-size movie theater to entertain the kids. The airport is home to a wellness spa which offers a variety of services including manicures, pedicures, and massages—and most important for many travelers—a place to take a hot shower.
If you find yourself with a layover of five hours or more, you can take advantage of the airport’s free tours of Singapore. Tour offerings include a Heritage Tour which showcases the city’s architecture with visits to Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam, and Merlion Park. The City Sights Tour highlights the Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands, the Esplanade, and Gardens by the Bay. You just need your ticket and passport and to book at least one hour before the tour begins.
Another consistent top ten airport is Incheon International located an hour outside of South Korea’s capitol city of Seoul. Relaxation is the name of the game at this airport. Passengers can make use of the airport’s Spa on Air which has a hot tub, spa, shower, and even private sleeping quarters—available for an extra fee. They will hold onto your luggage and provide a pair of pajamas.
If you are looking for something a bit more active, check out the airport’s 330-yard driving range and 18-hole putting course located in the International Business Section of the airport. For a more unique workout experience check out Terminal 2’s virtual gym which challenges passengers with a variety of jumping, stepping and dunking activities. To cool off, visit the airports ice skating rink and take a lap for around 5,000 Won ($4.50 USD)
There are also several gardens and green spaces integrated into the airport’s architecture like the indoor eco gardens which features several bright flowers, the perfect accessories to an Instagram picture, as well as Sky Gardens which is located outdoors and features azaleas and forsythias. Other gardens include a water garden and a pine tree garden.
Incheon also provides touches of history and culture. While you sip a coffee, you see the changing of the Royal Guard at Terminal Two, which is complete with a choir performance and traditional music selections. Classical music fills the terminals as mini orchestras play throughout the day. You may even be able to brush shoulders with royalty as lookalikes of Kings and Queens of the Joseon Dynasty walk through the airport to pose for photographs.
The Munich Airport has been delighting travelers since it opened in 1992. Unlike many airports around the world, some of Terminal 2’s seats are designed without arm rests to make catching a few minutes of shut eye a bit more comfortable. Some even recline! There are private rooms as well. The airport also offers unlimited free WIFI to stay connected.
It wouldn’t be Germany without a good pint of beer and in addition to the various pubs scattered throughout the airport, there is also a brewery. Airbräu brews seven local beers to sample and is the first brewery in an airport. Depending on when you fly through this 125,000-square meter space, you may be able to enjoy the Christmas holiday and Winter Market which run from the end of October through the end of the year. There is plenty of food available for sampling and a variety of music programs. If you hang out around the ice rick you’re sure to meet Weihnachtsmann, the German version of St. Nicholas..
The newest addition to this list, the new Istanbul Airport began passenger services in 2019. In addition to a large selection of duty-free shopping in the International terminal. There is also an authentic Old Bazaar which allows visitors to get a taste what awaits them in the city. Other facilities include a hair salon, a laundry and several pharmacies. If you are in need of a last minute, but very unique, souvenir, check out Atasay, a jewelry store which employs classical Anatolian techniques.
While most airport lounges are fairly indistinct, The Turkish Airlines VIP room is designed to look like an Ottoman Palace with divans, crystal chandeliers, marble bathrooms, and dimmed lighting. A good place to relax if you are flying business class.
Southern hospitality shines through at Sky Harbor, which is considered the US’s friendliest airport based on several factors including restaurant quality, convenience, shopping and customer service.
One way to make the minutes tick by a bit faster is to check out the Phoenix Airport Museum. The Museum has three main components: an Art Collection, Exhibition Program, and its Aviation History Collection spread over the airport’s various terminals. Each exhibition provides the visitor with knowledge about the Grand Canyon state. One exhibition displays history through interpretive maps. Another exhibit with a wider focus shows teapots in various configurations and the role they have played in many cultures. There’s also a People Watching Exhibit featuring sculptures inspired by the people watching done by artists.
The Aviation History Collection aims to preserve the history of the airport and collects many documents and artifacts from its past. Its history section features old photographs dating back to the 1920s and the beginning of Sky Harbor.
In addition to people watching, many individuals enjoy trying to spot incoming aircraft. Sky Harbor provides several locations where passengers with time to spare can watch and photograph aircraft coming in for landing. These include the top of the Terminal 4 Parking Garage and the Terminal 3 PHX Sky Train Station.
If you need to stretch your legs, try the FitPHX trail around the airport which allows people to exercise while they wait for their flight. It features views of the city of Phoenix, Camelback Mountain, the FAA Tower, and the Buttes at Papago Park. This was built as part of the larger FitPHX program which encourages residents to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. The airport also offers healthy food options with gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options.
I absolutely love Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. Many people complain of its busyness and confusing layout, I love this airport for a different reason: what lies between the gates.
In the Atlanta airport, you can get to the any of the gates via the Plane Train which whizzes you from one gate to another in minutes. This is the route most people go, but if you have some time to spare, consider walking between gates and you’ll see some unique exhibits and learn a bit of history while you are at it. The airport has a total of five art installations located in the terminal between concourses. Located on the transportation mall between Concourses B and C is the “ A Walk Through Atlanta History” exhibit by artist Gary Moss. The exhibit features eight pivotal moments from Atlanta history including Atlanta’s first train stop, The Civil War and the Battle of Atlanta as well Atlanta’s continuing rise to a major metropolis.
Other installations include Steve Waldeck’s “Flight Paths,” a 450 ft. ceiling between Concourses A and B. It simulates rainstorms complete with thunder and lightning as well as changing colors. Amy Landesberg’s glasswork “Veneers” decorates the transportation mall between Concourse E and F, the international concourse. Its bold blues and yellows, which represent 29 types of grain, serves as eye candy for those still waiting in customs and is a nice change from the harsh florescent lights.
Entering an airport can be stressful, either because you’re rushed or stuck with a layover. Douglass International Airport in Charflotte, NC transforms stressful into soothing with strategically placed rocking chairs that allow people in transit to enjoy the passing parade while experiencing Southern relaxation. if you have the time and a bit of curiosity, you may find that airport purgatory can be a place to have a little adventure before the real adventure begins.
Amanda Morris is a junior at Syracuse University, pursuing a degree in Television, Radio, and Film at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.