Time was, the airport experience was far and beyond the least enjoyable part of a trip. Long queues, inefficient processes, and a lack of facilities all contributed to the airport transit being cumbersome and tedious.
But that has all changed.
Today, an airport can be a great place to shop, eat, relax, work out, socialise, and have fun. Much like airlines, today’s airports are competing for picky passengers who deliberate over the hub they leave from almost as much as the destination they are flying to.
Even for business travellers – who in the past have approached the airport experience with trepidation or even content – airports are now something to look forward to, a destination in their own right.
With that in mind, we take a look at the best airports for shopping, hotels, lounges, entertainment, and wellness so that the next time you fly, the few hours before boarding can be a genuinely pleasurable start to your trip.
The best airport for Shopping
Britain’s busiest airport and Europe’s busiest in terms of passenger traffic has won best airport for shopping for seven years in a row at the Skytrax World Airport Awards, and with good reason. A recent £40m programme to attract some of the world’s most luxurious fashion brands to Terminal 5 has resulted in Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermes and Rolex joining the line-up of high-end boutiques in the terminal, making it even easier to whip out the credit card pre-flight.
A personal shopping lounge, two restaurants created by Michelin starred chefs – including The Perfectionists’ Café by Heston Blumenthal – and a new Harry Potter shop in terminal 5 have all contributed to Heathrow achieving its best ever passenger satisfaction scores in the final quarter of 2016, with more than 84% of passengers (15.3 million) rating their experience at the airport as excellent or very good.
The best airport for Hotels
Beijing Capital Airport
Beijing Capital Airport is home to two fabulous, 5-star hotels – Langham Place Beijing and Hilton Beijing Capital Airport. The former, located adjacent to Terminal 3, often makes the top five for best airport hotels in the world. It comprises 372 spacious rooms, including several lofts, townhouses and even one extravagant penthouse. There is also a lakefront gym and an art gallery, but the hotel’s pièce de résistance is its two-story, 24-hour club lounge.
The Hilton Beijing Capital Airport, meanwhile, is located just a five minute drive from the airport and features 322 Oriental guest rooms complete with soundproofed floor-to-ceiling windows, six restaurants, a health club, spa, indoor swimming pool, and two ballrooms. Whoever thought a stay in an airport could be so attractive.
The best airport for Lounges
Hong Kong Airport
Hong Kong Airport features an array of beautiful and exclusive lounges. Six impressive facilities from Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific include The Wing and The Pier, which, following a recent renovation, were voted the best First Class Lounges in Skytrax’s World Airline Awards 2016.
Located in the south departures hall transit area, The Wing is Cathay Pacific’s flagship lounge. Here, a smart, minimalistic design complements extensive facilities, such as 24 sumptuous shower suites, lined with Travertine stone and exotic bamboo wood. Self-service buffet options include Asian and Western cuisine, whilst there is also a noodle bar, coffee lounge and fully stocked bar. The First Class section houses a luxurious champagne bar and a sophisticated restaurant call The Haven.
The Pier offers a complete First Class experience on the ground. Elegant in-house spa, The Retreat, serves the ultimate relaxation menu, including complimentary foot massages, and neck and shoulder massages upon request. Funky cocktails can be enjoyed at The Bar, whilst eight Day Suites offer quiet views over the runway, a daybed, reading light, and privacy curtains.
There are also four pay-to-enter Plaza Premium lounges at Hong Kong in which you can enjoy a wide range of services, including hot showers, all day food and beverage, and beauty and massage services. Additionally, this year, American Express plans to open its first international lounge in the airport, completing the ensemble of quality lounges to explore in Hong Kong.
The best airport for Entertainment
Singapore Changi Airport
Consistently voted the world’s best airport, Singapore’s Changi Airport has almost endless activities to make sure there’s no chance of boredom taking hold before takeoff. As well as being efficient, clean and bright, Changi offers 350 shops and 120 food and beverage outlets; four cinemas; a four-storey slide; fitness and massage centres; children’s playgrounds; and a Balinese-themed outdoor rooftop pool.
If that’s not enough to fill your transit time, you can explore five themed gardens, including the two-storey butterfly garden complete with six-metre waterfall; a rooftop sunflower garden; and an orchid garden with koi pond. For those who want to get out of the airport, Changi offers a free two-hour tour of Singapore that includes a boat trip up and down the Singapore River and an informational tour through parts of the city.. There is also an entertainment deck with Xbox 360 and Kinect stations and an MTV booth.
The best airport for Wellness
San Francisco International Airport, SFO
With San Francisco often the hub of progressive movements, SFO was always going to lead the charge in making airports healthier, greener, and more wellness-oriented. To get centred, focused, and fully relaxed before your flight, San Francisco Airport now has two very popular dedicated yoga rooms, located in Terminal 2 and Terminal 3. The concept has even caught on at a number of other airports across the globe, including at Frankfurt, Heathrow and Helsinki.
After a few downward-facing dogs, passengers can order a green juice or healthy snack at The Plant Cafe, where everything is made with local and organic ingredients. There’s also Napa Farms Market, Joe & the Juice, and new vending machines offering organic, gluten-free and sugar-free snacks.
Continuing its pioneering habit, SFO is also the first to feature a pig among its staff. Yes, you read that correctly. LiLou – a small, spotted Juliana pig – roams the airport performing tricks and cheering people up, because, if a pirouetting pig doesn’t put a smile on your face, nothing will. She is the first pig to be certified in the Animal Assisted Therapy Program, and joins a group of 22 trained therapy dogs that roam SFO’s terminals with “Pet Me!” vests on. She even has her own Instagram account.