Offering beer brewed in the airport and an annual surf program, Munich Airport is a favorite airport for travelers. // © 2014 Allresto Flughafen München Hotel und Gaststätten GmbH
Feature image (above): More than 1,000 butterflies reside in the butterfly garden of Changi Airport in Singapore. // © 2014 Changi Airport Group
Frantically flagging down a cab, impatiently wading through traffic, inching through airport security and racing to the airport gate, only to find that the flight was delayed by four long hours — we've all been there before.
As the age-old dictum goes, time is precious. So why not put the valuable hours of a flight delay or a layover into more pleasant use than simply letting the time pass? These seven airports — from Changi Airport in Singapore to Vancouver International Airport in Canada — offer service and amenities so superior that they even add to the lure of a destination.
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Stepping foot onto “Holland Boulevard” at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport feels like a walk down a street in the actual Dutch capital. Florescent blue lights illuminate the popular plaza between Lounges 2 and 3, where visitors can find the first-ever library within an airport (equipped with both books and iPads). Duck into Dutch Kitchen for a taste of traditional local bites, such as poffertjes (miniature pancakes) and stroopwafels (treacle waffles). And why not test out your luck at Holland Casino, also on Holland Boulevard, on slot machines as well as blackjack and roulette tables?
For a tamer activity, pick out a bouquet of fresh flowers at House of Tulips located in Lounge 3. Its hi-tech design incorporates a greenhouse with the iconic Dutch townhouse facade, and a hydraulic system lifts the structure each morning.
Changi Airport in Singapore
Changi Airport recommends that guests check in early — not to emphasize promptness for a flight, but for more time to revel in the facilities. (Yep, let that sink in for a second.)
The airport, which consistently tops airport ranking lists, is practically a destination in itself: Transit passengers can engage the senses by meandering through nature trails and gardens. They may opt to play on The Slide@T3, which stands at four stories tall; take a refreshing dip in the Balinese-themed rooftop pool; or head to the entertainment deck equipped with gaming systems and a movie theater with free admission.
Hong Kong International Airport
Fancy a round of golf before boarding an upcoming flight? SkyCity Nine Eagles Golf Course by Hong Kong International Airport’s Terminal 2 invites guests to perfect their swing at nine holes.
For those who would rather pique their curiosity than putt a club, head to the airport’s level six. There, find the Aviation Discovery Centre that highlights flight development in Hong Kong, as well as Dream Come True Education Park, presenting job simulations for children. Catching a movie at the IMAX theater is another method to captivate one’s attention, particularly because its projection technology includes a laser-aligned digital sound system and an immersive design.
Incheon International Airport
For an enlightening dose of South Korean culture, visitors at Incheon International Airport can watch musical performances and reenactments of a traditional royal parade. A walk down the airport’s “Korean Cultural Street” offers a glimpse of Korean traditional architecture and a chance to leave a hand-scribbled hopeful note at the Wish Tree.
Dissolve stress at the neighboring “Spa on Air” sauna, with deluxe facilities such as a “tub-in-tub” (literally, a bathtub within a bathtub for inception-like privacy), secluded sleeping rooms and Thai massages. Skating in the Ice Forest, which is open year-round; catching a movie at CGV Theater; or strolling through one of the airport’s many gardens are additional opportunities to pass the time.
At Airbrau Brewery in Germany’s Munich Airport, travelers can stroll alongside modern machinery and chat with a certified brewmaster. Thirsting for a hefty mug of your newly beloved Airbrau brew? Amble over to Airbrau’s restaurant, which contains a covered beer garden (with a real maypole), traditional cuisine and live entertainment. There’s even the option of party kegs to share among fellow travelers — prost!
Switch out the hops for chlorine and a different kind of fun. Usually through late August, Munich Airport sets up an annual summer outdoor wave pool between Terminals 1 and 2 for free surfing lessons. Loaner surfboards and wetsuits are gratis to pre-registered participants. Those observing from the sidelines can sip on fruity cocktails from the makeshift beach’s bar. Other events on airport grounds include beach volleyball tournaments, a Christmas market and various children’s parties.
Vancouver International Airport
Located at the heart of the International Terminal at Vancouver International Airport is the 114,000-liter Vancouver Aquarium. Thousands of indigenous marine animals and creatures have settled into the large aquarium, from wolf eels and sea stars to yellowtail and tiger fish. For another glimpse into the sea, go upstairs to Level 4 for the jellyfish exhibit. Pacific sea nettle jellies contently swim around in their smaller, 1,800-liter aquarium.
The airport is also well-known for its renowned Green Coat Volunteer program. With 500 multilingual members, the helpful program provides guests with directional assistance and other information.
If the abundance of family services in departure areas A and E aren’t cutting it, Zurich Airport’s observation decks give both its young and older visitors a mesmerizing insider’s look into the art and science of aviation.
Observation deck B is a walkway where transit passengers can watch pilots in the cockpit. Grab a pair of “Airportscopes,” multimedia binoculars developed specially for the deck. There is also a miniature airport for children.