To mark Lonely Planet’s sponsorship of the iconic 1917 Curtiss JN-4 ‘Flying Jenny’ Biplane’s commemorative air tour this summer we’re exploring aviation's history and continued impact on travel. Here’s our run-down of the 10 best airports in the world.
You can find out more about the Jenny’s progress around the USA, and this history of this beautiful plane at www.friendsofjenny.org.
Any business traveller who has perched in a dimly-lit airport lounge whilst balancing a cup of weak coffee and an important conference call appreciates a well-equipped airport. Each year the World Airport Awards compiles a ranking of the world’s best airports, suggesting where best to shop, spa, work, or surf the internet before or between flights.
Not making the official award list, Qatar’s Doha Airport, London Heathrow’s controversial Terminal 5, and Vancouver International Airport also come up trumps for travel: luxuriate in Doha’s separate business and first-class terminal, where plunge pools, bedrooms and a video-games room await. Sleep in a heavenly bed at Heathrow’s T5 Sofitel, with its luxurious bathrooms and expansive breakfast buffet. Or take a room with a view (of the runway) at Vancouver’s Fairmont Airport Hotel, then peruse First Nations art and tankfuls of luminescent jellyfish as you await your flight.
Airport gardens, free tours of Singapore on transits over five hours, spa facilities, plentiful napping areas, live music and fine dining all add up to make Singapore’s Changi Airport hard to beat. But the airport’s real pièce de résistance? The use, for just a handful of dollars, of the rooftop swimming pool at Terminal 1’s Ambassador Transit Hotel. There’s no better way to stretch your legs before a long-haul flight.
Like Hong Kong, Seoul Incheon International Airport has plenty to keep the weary traveller entertained. Where else, apart from Incheon’s Korean Culture Museum, can you peruse Unesco World-Heritage rated artefacts whilst you await your boarding call? With rotating exhibitions gracing the main passenger halls and a fragrant pine garden for a moment of contemplation, Incheon actually manages to make international travel a breeze.
The world’s second busiest airport makes for an equally busy stop-over. Experience its 4D Extreme Cinema and fantastic flight simulators at the Aviation Discovery Centre, both in Terminal 2, then play free-of-charge Playstation or even a quick round of golf at Sky City Nine Eagles Golf Course. With all this on offer, plus frequent exhibitions and in-airport magicians, you’re sure to sleep soundly on that red-eye flight home.
A Lufthansa hub and Germany’s second busiest airport, Munich International gets good reviews for its calm, well-organised approach to travel. For last-minute gifts, football fans will enjoy the FC Bayern fan store, offering hundred of soccer-related souvenirs, whilst for the small people eagerly awaiting your arrival home, pick up Steiff teddy bears at Terminal 2’s Vedes toy shop.
If there’s work to be done, Kuala Lumpur International’s business centre in the airport’s Satellite Building is just the place: with free wifi throughout, its Plaza Premium Lounge also offers a quiet place to work and a range of secretarial services. Once the laptop’s powered down, stop in at the nearby Reflexology and Massage centre for a rejuvenating pre-take off treatment.
If you’ve time on your hands in Zurich’s efficient airport, consider a guided 'behind the scenes' tour; otherwise, simply enjoy the friendly service and short distances between gates of this bright, well run Swiss hub.
The best thing about Schiphol Airport is the presence of a branch of Amsterdam’s famous, Rembrandt-filled Rijksmuseum, making the perfect Dutch Masters pit-stop. Afterwards, unwind with a Back to Life massage or a pedicure at the Xpres Spa (the first spa to grace a European airport), then sup on champagne and caviar at Bubbles bar, or hole up in cozy Cafe Amsterdam.
Asia’s busiest airport, Beijing Capital International’s immense new Terminal 3 offers free wifi in its cavernous public spaces, designer name shopping options, and a well-recommended Air China business lounge.
Sip a local New Zealand wine at the Blue Bar, top up on nori and donburi at Hayama Sushi and pick up a few Kiwi gifts for the folks back home at New Zealand’s busiest airport, about 40 minutes by taxi, bus or shuttle from Auckland’s city centre.
Sleek, modern and expansive, Bangkok’s breezy Suvarnabhumi hosts a slick 600-room Novotel (www.novotel.com) with a very pleasant pool, a new 15-minute rail link to the city set to open soon, and a cool, soothing business lounge. Beware, however, the confusing signage, lengthy immigration procedures and potentially long walking-distances between connecting flights.
This article was last updated in May 2014.