Features

Airports: Longing for layovers

5 Jun 2024 by BusinessTraveller
Aerial view of Rain Vortex, the world's largest indoor waterfall surrounded by a terraced forest in Jewel Airport link to terminal Changi International Airport (istock.com/bennymarty)

With airport facilities constantly improving and evolving, transport hubs are becoming a destination in their own right.

No one likes flight delays or long layovers, particularly in identikit airports with a smattering of retail outlets and miserable cafes. Thankfully, in recent years, more airports have begun to incorporate improvements that really lift the passenger experience. From fine dining to spas and rooftop gardens, airports are starting to go a lot further than simply being a basic transport hub. Here we highlight some of the standout offerings around the world to turn your waiting time into an enriching experience.

Cultural heights

Airports are increasingly seeking to transport minds as well as people, with some great cultural initiatives available. Athens International Airport, for example, is home to a museum showcasing an impressive collection of nearly 200 archaeological artefacts dating from the Neolithic era to the post-Byzantine period. The free exhibit is located on the relatively quiet mezzanine of the Departures area (open 6am-11pm). Passengers will also find a small art gallery with temporary rotating exhibitions.

Like Athens, Rome is a hotbed of ancient culture and Rome-Fiumicino International Airport always has an invigorating selection of artworks for passengers to enjoy. Available until September 2024 are ancient stained glass windows attributed to Giotto (circa 1305-1310) alongside seven Roman sculptures. There are also contemporary displays, including Marco Lodola’s Deti, a tribute to Picasso’s famous dove with colours reminiscent of the flag of peace, and Natural Reaction by Marcantonio, depicting a life-size white rhinoceros with a screen embedded in the horn, to raise awareness of the illegal trade in wild animals.

San Francisco International Airport is another go-to destination for contemporary art buffs, with rotating exhibitions of some stunning art peppered around the terminals. It is also home to the Louis A Turpen Aviation Museum, with displays showcasing the development of commercial aviation – open daily from 10am-4.30pm in the International Terminal Departures level.

In October 2023, Chicago O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 5 launched a US$3.5 million public art exhibition featuring commissioned works by more than 20 Chicagoan artists. Not only that, but at Terminal 1 you can see a 22-metre-long life-size replica of a brachiosaurus dinosaur skeleton.

Philadelphia International Airport is another US airport with a good selection of contemporary art on display. It currently includes an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of legendary record label Philadelphia International Records, and a collection of posters of some of the many films made in the city, such as Rocky, Birdy and Trading Places.

Aviation Library - Credit SFO Museum

Get lost in gardens

Singapore Changi Airport, often cited as the world’s best airport, has an exceptional range of features to entertain passengers, with a particular focus on greenery and nature. This includes a paludarium, a type of vivarium, incorporating 61 species of terrestrial and aquatic flora and fauna commonly found in tropical rainforests. The airport also has a choice of gardens to wander, including one emulating a dragonfly habitat, with palm trees and a pool featuring ripples and patterns – as though dragonflies are dancing on them.

There’s a rooftop garden with more than 100 species of cacti and arid plants, a water lily garden and a treetop trail featuring walkways and tree-like sculptures clad in verdant and diverse foliage. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the world’s first airport butterfly garden, containing 1,000 butterflies.

The nature-themed entertainment and retail complex, Jewel Changi Airport, is also a must-visit. Linked to Terminals 1 and 3, it boasts the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, the Rain Vortex, surrounded by a terraced forest setting.

Aside from gardens, the list of facilities at Changi is seemingly endless, from a climbing facility and a giant bouncing net to a hedge maze, mirror maze and the world’s tallest slide in an airport. Guests can even take a dip with runway views at the rooftop pool of Aerotel Airport Transit Hotel at Terminal 1, or head to the free cinema in Terminal 3.

Luxurious lounges

For many business travellers faced with extra time on their hands, the first port of call will be to head straight to a lounge. These can be a bit hit and miss: you might still have to fight for a seat, the interior design can be a bit grim and the food rather dire. However, there are also lots of great business lounges where you’ll actively want to maximise your time.

At Dubai Airport, Emirates’ first and business lounges are especially popular with business travellers, being spacious, luxurious and having plenty of facilities. There are lots of food choices (the lounge in Concourse B of Terminal 3 even has a Moët & Chandon Champagne bar), both relaxing and formal seating areas, a dedicated sleeping area, shower facilities and spa treatments, complimentary conference rooms and a business centre with touchscreen workstations and printers.

As well as an exceptionally large choice of buffet counters and live cooking stations, Turkish Airlines Business Lounge at Istanbul Airport has golf simulators and a mobile massage service. If you have kids in tow, they will love the spacious children’s play area that has a popcorn maker, a model plane to climb into, and a large-scale toy racing track.

Air Canada’s Signature Suites at Toronto and Vancouver have strict access rules to ensure they are never overcrowded. Although they have upscale buffet and à la carte dining options, a cocktail bar and both relaxation and work areas, what really stands out is the BMW transfer from the arrival gate to the lounge (plus luggage storage by a porter) – though note this only applies if you are connecting from a domestic flight.

Oryx Airport - provided by Ogilvy PR

Sport and wellbeing

Airports are also increasingly becoming centres for fitness and leisure. Frankfurt International Airport has an 800 sqm fitness studio with Technogym cardio and bench equipment, plus yoga rooms with full-height mirror walls, mats and a monitor showing yoga instruction videos. There’s also a spa offering massages, facials and manicures, plus a Finnish sauna to peacefully round off your relaxation.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport also offers massages and facials at several XpresSpa locations around the airport. There’s also exercise bikes and a meditation centre, while at its Airport Park in Lounge 1 you can relax surrounded by plants and trees, with birdsong playing in the background.

A range of on-site health clubs are also opening up for passenger use. G-Force Health Club at Dubai International not only has a gym and numerous spa facilities, but a pool, hot tub, sauna and steam room, while the Fairmont Hotel Health Club in Vancouver International Airport is open to non-guests and has an impressive gym, sauna, showers and a mechanised resistance pool.

Airport passengers can also access the Vitality Wellbeing and Fitness Centre at the Oryx Airport Hotel, located at Doha’s Hamad International Airport. Here you’ll find a 25-metre swimming pool, a hydrotherapy tub, a gym, a golf simulator and even squash courts. Anti-jet lag massages are also available in the spa here, making for a great pre-flight option.

Culinary excellence

Another trend taking off at airports is the elevation of food options from a handful of miserable fast-food outlets to serious fine-dining opportunities. Celebrated UK chef Heston Blumenthal’s The Perfectionists’ Café at Heathrow Airport is inspired by his In Search of Perfection books and TV series. The menu features upmarket fast food, such as burgers, pizzas and fish and chips, but presents top quality versions of each. Fellow famed chef Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food, also at Heathrow Airport, allows travellers to sample multiple courses of the award-winning TV personality’s top-notch treats in under half an hour.

The airy, contemporary trattoria Cotto, located at LaGuardia Airport in New York, features Italian favourites like Bolognese meatballs with tomato sauce and Garganelli pasta with radicchio and truffle butter. Naturally, it also has a gelato bar. It was launched by award-winning chef Michael White.

Munich International Airport is another foodie’s dream. Not only does it have the world’s only airport brewery on site, Airbräu, which serves authentic Bavarian beers, as well as hearty Bavarian classic dishes such as roast pork and dumplings in its tavern and beer garden, but from mid- November to late December, it also has a winter market in a large covered space between the two terminals, complete with stalls selling glühwein and bratwurst.

Aribareu Biergarten - Credit Aesthetika

Layover city tours

If you have a long enough layover, why not leave the airport for a few hours and explore the city? In April, global travel service provider Trip.com launched its free Shanghai Express layover city tours for international travellers at Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

The complimentary city tours are accessible to international transit passengers with layovers exceeding eight hours. Participants enjoy comprehensive services, including airport transfers, entrance tickets to top attractions and portable e-sim cards for constant connectivity.

There are a choice of expeditions, each guided in English: a tour highlighting the city, a night cruise on the Huangpu river, and a tour for romantics and urban history lovers, which includes a city walk through historic and garden areas. Scheduled from 9am to 11pm, the tours accommodate a wide range of arrival times. Head to Trip.com’s counter in the Departure Hall of Terminal 2 to sign up, though note that registration is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Seoul Incheon Airport in South Korea also offers a variety of layover tours, including ‘Fun with the seagulls’, where you take a 15-minute ferry to Wolmido Island, a great way to experience the beauty of the Korean coast. The ‘Trendy Hub of Youth’ option, meanwhile, takes you to Hongdae Street with its many cafés, clubs, fashion shops and street art.

At Toronto Pearson International Airport in Canada, a 2.5-hour layover tour covers major sites such as the CN Tower, St Lawrence Market and Casa Loma – a castle set in attractive gardens. Over at Los Angeles International, LA City Tours can take you to some of the top sites, including the Hollywood sign and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as the coastal Santa Monica.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport also offers massages and facials at several XpresSpa locations around the airport. There’s also exercise bikes and a meditation centre, while at its Airport Park in Lounge 1 you can relax surrounded by plants and trees, with birdsong playing in the background.

A range of on-site health clubs are also opening up for passenger use. G-Force Health Club at Dubai International not only has a gym and numerous spa facilities, but a pool, hot tub, sauna and steam room, while the Fairmont Hotel Health Club in Vancouver International Airport is open to non-guests and has an impressive gym, sauna, showers and a mechanised resistance pool. Airport passengers can also access the Vitality Wellbeing and Fitness Centre at the Oryx Airport Hotel, located at Doha’s Hamad International Airport. Here you’ll find a 25-metre swimming pool, a hydrotherapy tub, a gym, a golf simulator and even squash courts. Anti-jet lag massages are also available in the spa here, making for a great pre-flight option.

Words: Ben West

Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles (istock.com/ferrantraite)
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The cover of the Business Traveller June 2024 edition
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