Biergartens and breweries? IMAX movie theaters and museums? A butterfly habitat in Terminal 3? Airports are not the congested, fast-food crammed eyesores they used to be.
Given the current groundswell of upgrades, renovations and innovations at domestic and international airports, you might actually look forward to a flight delay.
“Hong Kong has the best airport food,” raves George Chuang, a private equity investor. “I fly through there and purposely book a later connection just to eat there. You don’t even have to leave the transit area. The best thing is the dim sum.”
Today’s travelers are not just choosing airlines—they’re also selecting the airports they’re flying into and out of—for the perks. And why not? Airports are moving away from being hellish purgatories for the grounded into aeries worthy of flight, with retail meccas packed with restaurants, hotels and spas that feel more like a resort than a terminal.
At the Amsterdam Schiphol in the Netherlands, you can admire paintings by Rembrandt and Steen in an annex of the Rijksmuseum, or sit in an armchair and read books by Dutch authors translated into 29 languages in the airport library. Schiphol also has the distinction of having its very own noise-reducing Buitenschot Land Art Park.
At the Changi Airport in Singapore, the lost and overwhelmed can find napping lounges and free foot-massage machines; “Experience Agents” offering assistance; gardens with waterfalls, orchids and butterflies; and a rooftop swimming pool that will reopen at the end of August.
The U.S. has been a latecomer to this trend, but it’s wheeling down the runway to catch up. A few weeks ago, New York announced ambitious plans to rebuild LaGuardia Airport, famously derided as a “third-world” experience by Vice President Joe Biden last year. The $4 billion overhaul will replace all four terminals with a single terminal and make LaGuardia “the newest major airport in the United States,” doubling the current operational space for airliners, and connecting LaGuardia to mass transit rail service and a high-speed ferry.
San Francisco International Airport already lets you stretch and unwind in a free yoga studio, order glasses of Napa vintages at the wine bar or take in rotating art exhibits from the SFO Museum. You also can pop into an XpresSpa for a quick manicure or massage.
At the Portland International Airport in Oregon, a herd of goats was brought in to eat and clear out the blackberries, thistle and Scotch broom near the PDX airfield. And they’re not the only ones grazing there. The small airport is a favorite with travelers for its on-time departures, in-line baggage screening, restaurants, shops and free Wi-Fi. There’s also a food truck corner where passengers can munch on local eats.
Humans are not the only ones getting an upgrade. New York’s JFK Airport recently unveiled its plans for the ARK, a new $48 million luxury terminal for pets, horses, birds and livestock. That’s 178,000 square feet devoted to the 70,000 animals expected to pass through annually — all of which will have access to a 24-hour clinic run by Cornell University’s veterinary college. Look for climate-controlled stalls plus a best-in-show doggy resort with a bone-shaped pool, massage therapy and paw pedicures. Pet suites will be equipped with webcams and flat-screen TVs so owners can still stay in touch with their dogs during their stay.
Once the ARK is completed in 2016, renovations will transform the Trans World Flight Center, Eero Saarinen’s iconic architectural landmark, into the TWA Flight Center Hotel, a complex with over 500 hotel rooms, restaurants, a museum and a 10,000 square foot observation deck.