For most travellers – particularly frequent fliers – airports are a necessary evil; places at which to arrive as late as possible, through which to dash at top speed from check-in desk to boarding gate, and from which to flee the moment the suitcases hit the baggage ramps. But amongst a plethora of dull and dreary transit hubs, where the minutes until you board seem to move at less than glacial speed, there are a number of notable international exceptions. Yes, weary travellers, things are looking up. In some cases, it’s worth arriving early – or organising a longer stop-over between connecting flights – to make the most of what is on offer.
Get a dose of culture
Most travel involves some form of hightailing to the destination’s premier gallery or museum. Ditch the airport novel and get a jump on your culture fix at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which houses an annex of the world-famous Rijksmuseum art gallery. Alternatively, examine 5000 years of Korean history at South Korea’s Incheon Airport in Seoul – beats browsing the gossip mags for the eighth time.
Relax a little
Some destinations, like Bali, are known for their relaxing resorts. If that’s not exactly where you’re headed but you still want to get a little of that travel vibe into your plans, consider flying Qatar Airways to your destination. Anyone flying business or first class through its Doha hub is welcome to use their own dedicated Premium Terminal, equipped with excellent restaurants (where everything on the menu is complimentary), video games room, children’s playroom, and spa. After a plunge in the jacuzzi, take a bedroom for several hours’ shut-eye between flights, emerging rejuvenated before your next long-haul flight. Perfect for business travellers who need to hit the ground running when they land.
Stretch your legs
Sure you can do a few stretches or stroll the aisles of a 747 when you’re in the air, but to really keep yourself travel-healthy, don’t miss the yoga room in Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport, which comes equipped with yoga mats on loan. Business travellers can cut to the chase and have a business meeting over nine holes at Hong Kong’s Sky City Nine Eagles Golf Course, beside Hong Kong International Airport’s Terminal 2 (and clinch the deal afterwards at its luxe club house). And for those who need to shake off that stale plane air, South Korea’s Incheon Airport in Seoul has year-round ice skating at the airport’s Ice Forest rink.
Gastronomes on the go
Food-lovers looking to get a taste of the local fare can start right inside the airport, snapping pictures and scrawling reviews and getting hot sauce on their passports. While it doesn’t take steely determination to refuse an in-flight meal, there is extra incentive now awaiting you at numerous international airports. Dine on broad bean risotto or caviar and blinis with Gordon Ramsay at London Heathrow’s Plane Food, or on smoky garlic shrimp tortas and guacamole from the ‘guacamole bar’, courtesy of celebrity chef Rick Bayless, at Chicago O’Hare. Go swish with a plate of truffle-infused scallops at Geneva International Airport’s Altitude or dine in superior style at the Michelin-starred Top Air at Stuttgart International Airport. Whichever option you choose, that pack of in-flight peanuts will never look quite the same again.
The delight of delays
Flight delays are universally greeted with groans, growls and agitation – unless you’re delayed in Singapore. Then it’s ‘hello impromptu extra holiday’! Frequently voted the ‘best of the best’ of the world’s airports, the facilities at Singapore Changi Airport are hard to beat. With a nature trail, a 4D cinema, several children’s playgrounds, multiple spas (including pedicures performed by real, live nibbling fish), a Balinese-style swimming pool, and even free whistle-stop sightseeing tours of Singapore itself, you’ll be praying to see that magical ‘D’ word on the flight monitors.
Breaking up is good to do
Long, long, long haul flights can be exhausting, physically stressful and put a real spanner in your works if you suffer badly from jet lag. Who wants to spend precious travel days in a state of mossy-headed confusion? Break up your journey with a mid-way shower and a good night’s sleep at one of the hotels close to, or actually in, major airports. London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 hub is home to the fabulous Sofitel, with sleek rooms featuring the hotel chain’s ultra-comfy signature ‘SoBeds’. Likewise, Hong Kong’s Regal Airport Hotel, linked by bridge to the airport and boasting both indoor and outdoor pools, Vancouver’s Fairmont Vancouver Airport, with excellent room service and soundproofed runway-side rooms, and Melbourne Tullamarine Airport’s PARKROYAL are all perfect places to get a good dose of shut-eye before flying on, refreshed, to your final destination.