Lonely Planet Writer

Flight delayed? The world's top eight airports where getting stuck for a long layover can be a bonus

Spending long periods of time inside an airport is often unavoidable. There are many reasons why you might find yourself delayed in transit and kicking back in an airport for several hours at a time.

Don Mueang International Airport, Bangkok.
Spending long periods in an airport is not avoidable. Image by Jo. / CC BY 2.0

Knowing that some people find travelling stressful, an increasing number of airports are attempting to improve the pre-flight experience to improve the lot of the weary traveller. Some airport authorities are pushing the boat out to provide a variety of exciting, unusual and wonderful distractions to make travelling through their airports, or being stuck there for hour, a better and more enhanced experience. With live concerts, surfing, butterfly farms and planetariums to choose from, we almost feel like flying to these airports ourselves just to enjoy what’s on offer.

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You can enjoy a free tour of Singapore if delayed. Image by Changi Airport

1. Changi Airport, Singapore

Being delayed is stressful and difficult, but we feel that if we were stuck in Changi Airport, its fish spa, butterfly garden, pool, sauna and shower facilities and koi pond just might help to soothe our frazzled nerves. The airport also offers free 2.5 hours guided tours, The Heritage Tour and The City Sights Tour, which run several times per day. These are sure to help pass the delay or time between connecting flights.

Boredom is a killer when you’re hanging around an airport, but as well as great shopping facilities, Changi’s multi-storey slide, gym and free movie theatre will help to while away the hours. The rooftop pool in Terminal One offers a refreshing break from the stresses of travel, and it also has a poolside bar where passengers can order light refreshments and drinks.

The Butterfly Garden at Terminal 2. Image by Changi Airport.
The Butterfly Garden at Terminal 2. Image by Changi Airport.

Nature lovers will adore the pockets of greenery scattered around the spotless airport’s three terminals. The Cactus Garden on the roof of Terminal 1 is a popular place for visitors to stretch out and bask in the sun, while enjoying a drink from the garden bar.

2. Seoul Incheon International Airport, South Korea

This airport seems like a holiday destination in itself, as it has a golf course, private sleeping rooms and indoor gardens. If you’re looking for action, check out the ice-skating rink or casino, and if it’s relaxation you seek, the spa and sauna awaits. There are themed departure gates, such as the Hello Kitty one, so you can pass some time by having lunch at the Charlie Brown or Hello Kitty cafés. If you want to be entertained, check out the latest movies at the CGV Theatre in the Transportation Centre, or if retail therapy is your thing, high-end shops like Burberry, Cartier and Louis Vuitton should suit you royally.

The spa at the Seoul Incheon International Airport will melt away any angst. Image by Visit Korea

What’s nice about this airport is that you’ll get a proper taste of Korean culture, even if you’re only passing through. The Museum of Korean Culture has historical relics that are 5,000 years old, falling under the headings of royal culture and clothing, traditional art, Buddhist art, printing and traditional music. Why not visit the Korean Cultural Street to watch regularly scheduled cultural performances and re-enactments? There are also two traditional culture experience zones, where you can pass your delayed flight time by learning how to make Korean crafts, trying on hanbok, the national dress of Korea, or enjoying tasty Korean snacks.

3. Munich International Airport, Germany

German efficiency is at its best at this impressive airport, but if you are forced to spend a few extra hours there, there are worse places you could find yourself. Free wi-fi is always welcome no matter where you are, so it’s an added bonus that you can surf online in the free relaxation zones, but if you want to try the other type of surfing, why not take part in the airport’s regular ‘Surf & Style’ competitions? Yes, you may be in the middle of a city airport, but you can still ride the waves and pretend you’re still by the sea on your holidays.

Catching the waves at Munich Airport in Germany. Image by Munich Airport
Catching the waves at Munich Airport in Germany. Image by Munich Airport

Adults can try out their skills by riding the world’s biggest standing wave in the forum of the airport. Then there are are Kids’ Camps in the mornings, where young surfers can learn to surf and have fun with professional instructors, and the necessary equipment is provided by the airport at no cost.

If that’s not enough excitement, you could always check out the Casino Royale, cinema and airport brewery, and word reaches us that there’s free coffee on offer in certain locations of the airport. You just might need it to keep you awake so you don’t end up napping on your neighbour’s shoulder. However, those willing to splurge a little can catch forty winks in peace at the Terminal 2 NapCabs or unwind at the Fit & Fly Spa.

4. Haneda Airport, Tokyo

An airport terminal with a planetarium? We like it. If you’re hanging around the airport in Japan’s capital city with some spare time on your hands, why not dine at the Starry Café? Your plane may not yet be in the sky, but you can gaze up in wonder at the 40,000,000 stars above you instead.

Reach for the stars at Haneda Airport's planetarium in Tokyo. Image: Haneda Airport
Reach for the stars at Haneda Airport’s planetarium in Tokyo. Image: Haneda Airport

Massage chairs are available to melt away your stresses at various locations in the airport after outbound passport control, while the relaxation salon offers body care and reflexology to ease your fatigue and massage life back into those aching feet. You’ve had the stars already, so now check out the Observation Deck, where there’s a dedicated moon viewing platform to gaze at (or howl at, if your flight is badly delayed!)

5. Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan

Browse to your heart's content at Taiwan Taoyuan Airport's e-library
Browse to your heart’s content at Taiwan Taoyuan Airport’s e-library

If you have time to kill, check out the free e-Library waiting lounge, which has wi-fi, charging stations, internet stations, e-book readers and even a real library. You won’t get bored with over 2.000 books to choose from in both English and Chinese, as well as dozens of newspapers and magazines.

The e-books are stored on around 30 devices, a mix of iPads and other e-readers, which are loaned out to passengers on a first-come first-served basis. It also features a photo station, where passengers can take self-portraits of themselves chilling (or fuming) in the airport and send them to family or friends by e-mail.

If delays or long journeys have made you feel grimy, Taiwan Taoyuan Airport offers free 15-minute showers, complete with free shower kit. There’s no excuse for arriving at your destination looking less than fresh as a daisy!

6. Dallas Forth-Worth International Airport, USA

Do the Lotus Pose at Dallas-Forth International Airport. Image DFW
Do the Lotus Pose at Dallas-Forth International Airport. Image DFW

If you’re stressed out by the rigours of travel or wound up over an unexpected delay, why not do the Lotus Pose instead of posing around the DFW airport in your shades? The DFW Airport yoga studio is located in the hallway between Terminals B and D, and there’s no need to regret checking in your mat with your suitcase as the free studio comes fully equipped.

If you need to keep the kiddies occupied, the Aquafina Junior Flyers Club provides a child-friendly play area that includes soft foam areas with cars, planes and more. If culture is more your thing, the airport runs free art tours that last between 60 and 90 minutes, and its collection includes over 30 masterpieces from local, national and international artists. 
Lounging round the seating areas is fine, but if you’d prefer a healthier option, the DFW Airport walking path provides you with the option to remain active while on the go, and has been endorsed by the American Heart Association. We love that this airport has a dedicated nap centre, Minute Suites, which offers private suites with daybeds, office workstations, printers, showers, and other amenities. Zzzzzzzz… wake us up when our flight is called.

7. Nashville International Airport, Tennessee, USA

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The Carlos DeFord Bailey Band perform at Nashville International Airport, Image: Fly Nashville

Well, if you were to look for a bit of live music in an airport, you’d really have to look no further than Nashville, which has long been the home of American country music, thanks to legends like Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash.

You might end up hoping you get delayed at Nashville International Airport, as it puts on regular live concerts for travellers and music enthusiasts. It hosts upwards of 100 free events every year, and country, jazz , Celtic and rock acts entertain passengers on the airport’s four stages, one outside security and three more beyond.

Nashville International Airport has an Arts at the Airport programme, an ever-expanding showcase of cultural diversity and creative talent in Tennessee. The terminal and surrounding facilities were designed to incorporate rotating public art exhibits and permanent acquisitions, which will appeal to art lovers with time on their hands to examine them. The Airport Authority offices houses a large collection of 239 pieces of painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking and mixed media on paper. 

8. Hong Kong International Airport

While away any delays in Hong Kong at the IMAX Theatre at Hong Kong International Airport. Image: SCMP
While away any delays in Hong Kong at the UA IMAX Theatre at Hong Kong International Airport. Image: SCMP

If you’re delayed, you may be disappointed at having to wait a little longer to enjoy your inflight entertainment, but if you happen to end up at Hong Kong International Airport, all is not lost. It just happens to house the world’s only airport UA IMAX, the largest cinema in the Chinese territory.

Travel aficionados will love the airport’s Aviation Discovery Centre, which has aviation-themed exhibits and graphics with attractions including SkyDeck. There is also a Dream Come True Education Park, for children to experience real life working by role-playing in related uniforms. We quite like the sound of that one – pity it isn’t available for adults.

If you dream of being on the golf course instead of remaining stuck inside an airport, GreenLive AIR at the airport might cheer you up. With 9-hole and 18-hole simulation golf games available at indoor areas, golf-lovers can enjoy a multi-media golf experience, regardless of time constraints and inclement weather conditions. That’s what we call a hole in one, Hong Kong International Airport.