Until you’re actually airborne, air travel can be a real time waster—and an especially frustrating experience during the busy holiday travel season. If you’re not standing in long lines to strip down for security, you’re likely spending an hour or two, or more, wandering the airport terminal, browsing shops, and trying not to use up all the reading material you’ve brought for the plane ride. But some airports have unusual amenities you could use during a long layover or unexpected delay, or if you’ve somehow made it to the departure gate early and have some time to kill. Here’s a roundup of some of the most surprising.
If you’re a yoga or meditation aficionado, or just looking to stretch out and relax in a quiet, low-light setting in between long flights, you’re in luck at the major airports in San Francisco, Chicago (O’Hare International), and Dallas-Fort Worth, as well as in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Burlington, Vermont; and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; all of which have yoga or meditation rooms for practicing your downward dog. Make sure to bring your own mat, although some of the airports (like Dallas-Fort Worth International) promise rooms that are fully equipped.
A massage and a facial can sure soothe the harried traveler. At London Heathrow Airport, a real luxury spa experience can be found at Elemis, also available at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The 15-minute services are complimentary for first- and business-class passengers, as well as Gold Executive club members flying long-haul. XpresSpa is available at 56 airport locations in the US and offers quick, pampering services designed for folks on the go.
Sitting in front of a kicking toddler or anywhere near a squealing baby ruins your chances of sleep on the flight. Those looking to get some peaceful shut-eye before flying can seek refuge in a flat-bed cubicle (some with their own television sets), available at the major airports in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, London, Munich, Beijing, Tokyo, and Moscow. Heathrow cranks it up a notch with “cabins,” which are nap rooms that come with en-suite bathrooms for a price.
Before or after a long flight on which you’re staying relatively still, it’s a good idea to get moving. Look for the American Heart Association-approved walking paths inside airport terminals in Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Atlanta. Better yet, check out the outdoor, 12.5 mile bike/hike trail circling Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Hike and bike trails also encircle Zurich Airport in Switzerland and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
If a long hike isn’t your style, and you really want to get your cardio and weight-lifting on, consider your options at airport hotels offering fitness centers. For a price, you can get a day pass for the fitness center at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport, for example. The on-site property also has a pool, showers, steam rooms, and saunas. Similarly, you can get access to showers, workout equipment, and the pool at the Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport. If you’re stuck in Amsterdam, head to the Airport Park, which features stationary bikes to get your blood pumping. Or stage your own spinning session on bikes scattered between concourses at Philadelphia International Airport.
Golfers can practice their putting game at Hong Kong International Airport, and at major airports in Salt Lake City, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Los Angeles, which feature full-fledged golf courses on or near the property. At Florida’s Palm Beach International and at Munich Airport, mini-golf is available.
Traveling with children is no easy feat, particularly when you have to pull out all the stops to keep them entertained during long layovers and delays. Airport play areas are a godsend for parents who want to sit down for a few minutes. Amsterdam, a common layover stop for international travel, makes the list once again, with several play areas for kids, and even a kids forest. In fact there are numerous airports around the world with kid-friendly amenities, from Singapore’s giant airport slides, to Hong Kong’s themed children’s lounges, to Munich’s visitors park, which features games and trampolines.
If you want to get from your wedding ceremony to your honeymoon destination as fast as possible, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport provides couples with a wedding planner and offers multiple wedding packages. Sweden’s Stockholm-Arlanda Airport provides church weddings at the airport chapel and also hosts civil ceremonies.
Many airports have teamed up with museums to provide entertainment for travelers. The works of art might be presented in airy atriums (like the large dinosaur skeleton showcased at Hartsfield-Atlanta International Airport thanks to a partnership with the Fernbank Museum of Natural History) or around baggage claim areas, or on unused billboards; but many airports also feature their own art galleries or outdoor gardens. The museum at San Francisco International Airport features more than 20 exhibits a year, while Amsterdam’s airport has a collection of Dutch masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum on rotating display. Miami International Airport is working on an outdoor sculpture garden, in addition to its current Harmonic Convergence, an interactive sound-and-light installation in a people-mover station.
In partnership with the Dutch Public Libraries, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is home to the one of the world’s first airport libraries. It functions as a place to read books in 29 different languages, listen to music, watch movies, and even download online materials for free. Nashville International Airport in Tennessee features a reading room staffed by a librarian; other airports have partnered with local libraries to set up stands at airports for free downloads and hard copies of books to take home.
Movies sound like a great way to kill time during a long layover or delay, and some airports already are ahead of the curve. Airports in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Seoul have theaters with cozy seats, snacks—all the works. Hong Kong even offers a full-fledged IMAX screen.
Munich’s International Airport takes things a step further than the average airport brewpub. The brewers there make beer on site, and offer brewery tours to interested travelers.
Vancouver International Airport boasts two massive Vancouver Aquarium satellite exhibits. One is a 30,000-gallon aquarium housing more than 5,000 creatures from giant kelp to sea stars. The other exhibit is devoted entirely to jellyfish.
Seoul’s Incheon International Airport offers a traditional cultural experience where visitors can make crafts, try on traditional clothing, and watch free performances on a first come, first served basis.
We saved the best for last. Several US airports provide therapy dogs to help alleviate airport and travel stress.You can immerse yourself in the puppy love at the major airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Florida. And a good number of airports feature dog parks—a nice perk if you’re traveling with pets, and perhaps even if you’re not.