20 Secret Perks at the World’s Busiest Airports
While taking a vacation can be a major stress-reliever, the prospect of spending hours milling the fluorescent-lit halls of an airport is rarely a highlight of anyone’s trip. It’s no surprise that, in a 2017 flight survey, more than half of respondents described their airport experience as “stressful,” “frustrating,” or “exhausting.” What may surprise some, however, are the steps many airports are taking to remedy their status as purgatories-on-earth.
From live performances to dog parks to indie movie theaters, several airport operators the world over are stepping up their game in the hopes of luring weary travelers to their decked-out terminals. While frequent fliers are likely well aware of these tricks of the trade, the average traveler probably isn’t. With that in mind, we’ve collected a list of some of the best airport perks out there.
1. MUC: The Christmas Market
For the past two decades, wintertime visitors to the Munich Airport have been treated to a veritable winter wonderland. Running from late November through December 30th, the Christmas Market installation includes a free skating rink, 40 local vendors offering everything from food and drink to traditional handicrafts, as well as a stage populated after 6:00 p.m. each day after with local musicians. And if you happen to time your trip just right, you might even get to participate in the Christmas Market’s famous wreath-making workshop.
2. ATL: Animal Relief Areas
Have you ever walked into an airport only to discover it lacked bathrooms? Of course not. Unfortunately, since time immemorial, that’s been the situation facing the pets flying the friendly skies. But Hartsfield-Jackson airport, in Atlanta, is putting an end to such canine discrimination, providing animal relief stations throughout their terminals. And if your furry friend is just looking for a little socialization, check out their 1,000 square foot dog park, replete with complimentary biodegradable bags and original sculptures paying tribute to man’s best friend.
3. SFO: Yoga Rooms
San Francisco’s reputation as a destination for the health conscious even extends to its airport. Case in point: the yoga room at the San Francisco International Airport. Stocked with yoga mats and cushions, and featuring floor-to-ceiling mirrors, soft lights, and walls painted in calming shades of blue and yellow, the two fitness-friendly rooms are “devoted to relaxation, self-reflection, and practicing yoga.” The only stretch you won’t be practicing here is the reach-for-your-wallet, as the facilities are free of charge.
4. DEN: The Canine Therapy Squad
While some airports are making it easier for travelers to bring their pets, Denver International Airport offers up furry companions of its own. Meet the DEN CATS (“Canine Airport Therapy Squad”), a team of over a hundred dogs, plus one cat, who roam the airport in blue plaid vests that urge visitors to pet them. From a “friendly wag” to a “furry cuddle,” this team—made up of a variety of breeds from German Shepherds to Toy Fox Terriers—is determined to make sure your time in the terminal is a real treat.
5. FWA: Fresh Baked Cookies
The Midwest is known for its hospitality, but even by their standards, the cookies at Fort Wayne Airport are quite the friendly gesture. Every guest arriving at FWA is met by so-called Hospitality Hosts who, along with providing recommendations, directions, and information, hand out freshly baked cookies. As of 2016, they’d handed out their two-millionth “welcome cookie,” and there are no plans to stop any time soon.
6. SYD: Showers
Flying to Sydney Airport from just about anywhere is bound to be a long journey. Getting there from any of the popular eastern seaboard ports, for example, takes about twenty-four hours. In light of this fact, the good folks down under offer a variety of locations within their airport where you can shower at no cost the moment you exit your plane. The only downside? You still need to supply your own shampoo.
7. PDX: The “Microcinema”
Portland, Oregon, has long been one of America’s epicenters of hipster cool. The addition of a free movie theatre within their airport—along with an old-Hollywood style marquee announcing its presence to those who pass by—only further cements that reputation. The one-of-a-kind “microcinema,” located within Concourse C, is free of charge for all visitors with a boarding pass. Since you probably won’t have time to sit through an entire summer blockbuster, the location shows screenings of short films by Oregon filmmakers. The complete schedule can be found online and, if you’re a local, you can even submit your own work for consideration.
8. SIN: Literally Everything
Changi Airport, in Singapore, is stocked with so many perks that it’s easy to forget that they’re actually in the business of hosting flights. From a walkable water lily garden to an “entertainment deck” stocked with the latest and greatest video games, you might just be tempted to take that voucher in exchange for giving up your seat on an overbooked plane—spending an extra day here doesn’t seem all that bad. Meanwhile, the airport only seems to be ratcheting up its extravagance: in 2010, they added a twelve-meter-high slide which, unsurprisingly, is the world’s tallest in an airport.
9. MKE: Ping-Pong Tables
In 2011, Wisconsin played host to the U.S. Table Tennis Open (yes, that’s a thing). To spread the word about the event, the state placed a ping pong table in the General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. After only a few months, the table proved such a hit that they decided to make it a permanent fixture, and it’s been delighting airport-goers ever since.
10. ICN: Golf Courses
During a stopover in South Korea’s Incheon Airport, guests can avail themselves of the SKY72 golf course, the largest course in northeast Asia. Featuring the 54-hole Bada Course and the 18-hole Haneul Course, the SKY72 offers plenty of options to accommodate players of all levels. Flight getting in too soon to enjoy a full eighteen? Feel free to hit their practice range—the world’s largest, according to the 2006 Guinness Book of Records.
11. YVR: Dual Aquariums
Vancouver International Airport happily plays host to two satellite locations of the acclaimed Vancouver Aquarium. With a main tank housing over 5,000 species—including wolf eels and kelp greenlings—as well as a smaller tank that’s home to their jellyfish exhibit, these locations are so much more than advertisements for their sister establishment. In fact, they even take part in ongoing marine research studies, under the watchful eye of some of the main Vancouver Aquarium’s foremost experts.
12. GEG: Free Car Washes
At Spokane International Airport, in Washington, visitors parking in one of their two garages or outside parking lots are entitled to a free car wash. The automatic machines are able to easily handle the more than 200 cars they receive every week, and are reportedly very helpful in removing the salt and snow remnants that vehicles accumulate during those famously-freezing Spokane winters.
13. AMS: Curated Museum
Since 2002, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in has been offering visitors a preview of the country’s world-famous Rijksmuseum. A carefully curated exhibition of eight to ten “masterpiece paintings” involving travel-related themes, the airport gallery has housed works from Van Gogh to Brueghel, while the rest of the airport houses larger pieces of sculptural art, as well. Admission is free, but make sure you get there before 8:00 p.m. local time, when the gallery closes for the day.
14. IND: E-Bike Chargers
Some airports have begun offering exercise rooms, while others have begun filling their terminals with charging stations. At Indianapolis International Airport, they’re doing both. Since 2017, the airport has hosted four “human-powered charging stations.” Stationary bikes that are connected to small generators, they allow travelers to break a sweat and stretch their legs while recharging their devices for the journey ahead. Burning off that Cinnabon is just an added bonus.
15. HNL: The Cultural Garden
While airports are typically hectic places, Daniel K. Inouye International in Honolulu provides some much-needed respite for the weary traveler. The airport’s Japanese Cultural garden is the antidote to stale airplane air and crowded terminals, thanks to its waterfalls, koi ponds, and its nightly Luau torch lighting.
16. ORD: History Collection
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is the take-off location for countless trips—including one back in time. Visitors to O’Hare’s Terminal 1 get the unique experience of coming face-to-face with a seventy-two-foot-long brachiosaurus skeleton on loan from the Field Museum of Natural History. For those who enjoy more modern marvels, head to their fighter plane exhibit in Terminal 2, exploring O’Hare’s role in WWII.
17. CTS: Hot Springs
Need a break from the soreness caused by hours of sitting in a cramped airplane seat? Check out the hot springs at New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, Japan. For a small fee, visitors can soak in the airport’s sodium chloride springs, which have circulation-promoting properties—perfect for anyone who’s just spent hours in a stationary position.
18. ZRH: Playrooms
Traveling can be hard on anyone, but it’s particularly onerous for little kids. Fortunately, at Zurich Airport, they’ve got the perfect place for little ones to expend some excess energy. Located in their departure areas are fully-stocked playrooms where kids can run around before boarding. Just make sure to get there early enough for your kids to use them and enjoy the rare peace of taking a flight with your kids fast asleep.
19. KUL: The Indoor Rainforest
Just finding yourself in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia, is pretty exotic to begin with. Add in the fact that the airport houses a walkable indoor rainforest and you’ll really feel like you’ve been transported to a whole new world. However, despite the boardwalk that passes through its dense vegetation, it really is a rainforest for all intents and purposes—intense humidity included—so make sure to bring your umbrella and a pair of waterproof shoes.
20. CLT: Rocking Chairs
Sometimes, the simplest perks are the best—just ask the visitors to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. In 1997, the airport installed a group of rocking chairs as part of an exhibit exploring Charlotte’s culture of “Porchsitting.” After the exhibition’s end—and the chairs’ subsequent removal—the outcry from the public was so strong that the airport decided to bring the chairs back, and they’ve been kept as an amenity for travelers ever since.
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