Top 5 International Airports Getting the Travel Experience Right

Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1
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Top 5 International Airports Getting the Travel Experience Right

Nothing has revolutionized air travel more than technology. Think back to the last time you booked a flight. Chances are good you used an app. After all, more than half of U.S. travelers have at least one installed on their phones.

Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 3
Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 3 By David – I (David) created this work entirely by myself., Public Domain

But for all the ease and convenience these apps provide us, all that changes when we arrive at the often outdated, overcrowded gate. Many airports’ infrastructure has remained unchanged for decades, and for those located in larger cities, even getting to them can pose a problem. Passengers must sometimes sit idle in gridlock for hours, only to find people standing body-to-body at the security queues — not the most idyllic way to start your holiday.

And if your flight can’t get to the gate, which happens at least three-quarters of the time, you’ll find it next to impossible to sit, eat, shop, charge a phone, or even use the bathroom. Sounds like the best vacation may just be spent on the couch at home.

Let the Revolution Begin

Meanwhile, Singapore Changi Airport has all but avoided such problems by always building years ahead of demand. Its long-term expansion initiatives have led to near flawless check-ins, swift security procedures, and a hyperorganized layout that makes it a cinch to find your gate, suitcase, or anything else that might strike your fancy.

If you do find yourself lost, Changi has assigned “experience agents” to assist you. They can direct you to the Balinese-style rooftop pool, IMAX theater, entertainment deck, or one of Changi’s many gardens — butterflies, orchids, water lilies, or cacti.

And when hunger strikes, a hot pretzel won’t be your only option. Choose from a wide variety of bars, restaurants, cafés, and fast food. Plus, you can always find plenty of places to shop, sit, relax, or charge your phone.

Of course, Singapore Changi Airport isn’t alone in its investment in air infrastructure and travel experience. We’ve all heard stories of airports with histories of incorporating architecture with design and technology to make any layover worth the wait. Here are five:

1. Narita International Airport

One of my favorites, Narita International Airport is head and shoulders above many of its American counterparts. It’s generously staffed, so help is always readily available.

Narita International Airport Exterior of Terminal 1
Narita International Airport Exterior of Terminal 1 By Terence Ong – Own work, CC BY 2.5

It also has an abundance of stores, bars, and restaurants that cater to almost anyone’s taste. What’s more, it just feels newer than most North American airports. There’s something to be said for an attention to detail — from the fixtures to the finishes.

2. Dubai International Airport

Besides sending travelers through check-in, security, and immigration at breakneck speeds, Dubai International Airport often tops many a best list thanks to its opulent amenities.

Dubai International Airport Duty Free Area
Dubai International Airport Duty Free Area By Patrik Nemes from Melbourne, VIC, Australia – Emirates Business class travel _ DSC01434, CC BY-SA 2.0

Not only will you find a five-star hotel, but you’ll also enjoy a health club, swimming pool, spa facility, and SnoozeCube — where you can catch some z’s in a soundproof cubicle with a bed, TV, and Wi-Fi.

3. Helsinki Airport

Helsinki Airport takes its Finnish heritage seriously. Upon arrival, you can chose to disrobe and detox in a Finnish sauna, nosh on some Finnish sausage, or just get comfortable on some Finnish furniture while looking at Finnish art in the Aspire Lounge.

Helsinki Airport Terminal 1
Helsinki Airport Terminal 1 By Jaakko – originally posted to Flickr as Terminal 1, CC BY 2.0

If immersion isn’t what you’re looking for, you can always bide your time at a free yoga or Pilates class, with a good read from a book-swapping station, or on a leisurely stroll through the Aviation Museum located nearby.



4. Munich Airport

While most airports don’t always have little travelers in mind, Munich Airport knows its customers. Its Visitors Park has a playground with climbing frames, a miniature golf course, and an observation deck for parents to watch their tykes.

Munich Airport Boarding Gate
Munich Airport Boarding Gate By Tiia Monto, CC BY-SA 3.0

But those traveling unencumbered with kids never go forgotten. You can get a taste of Bavaria from more than 50 different bars and restaurants — or even take a free surfing lesson at the airport’s wave machine.

5. Hong Kong International Airport

A golf course, education park, and IMAX theater aren’t the only amenities Hong Kong International Airport offers travelers. If you’ve got a few minutes, you can explore the art and culture exhibitions it regularly brings in.

Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1
Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1 By ChristianSchd Christian Schröder – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

And like many of our other entries, shopping and dining is front and center. In fact, you can grab a number of Lou Seoi specialties, such as marinated goose, duck tongues in Chinese liquor, and Chua Lam’s mixed noodles.

It’s time we put down our phones and turn our attention from apps to infrastructure. Who cares if you can book a flight to Toronto in five minutes when you’ll be waiting an hour for it to arrive? What are some of your favorite airports?

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