Once upon a time, waiting in an airport departure lounge meant hours of sitting in uncomfortable seats, drinking bitter coffee and staring at screen. Monotony – airports seemed to have the monopoly on it.
Following the trends of the hospitality industry to wow and pamper, the airport departure lounge is now often as enticing and exciting as the end destination. What’s more, luxury facilities as spa treatments and shower rooms are no longer the exclusive benefits of those travelling at the front of the plane.
Singapore’s Changi Airport launched its latest themed garden this year, offering a dramatic display of vibrant colours and interactive technology.
Changi has spearheaded airport gardens, its first opening in 1981. This year, the airport has opened its fifth themed garden. Located in Terminal 2’s departure transit mall, the new ‘Enchanted Garden’ offers undulating pathways, a fishpond, flowers and ferns, and an interactive system using motion sensors to trigger sounds of nature. The garden is open and free of charge to passengers 24-hours a day.
Amsterdam Schiphol offers an indoor/outdoor Airport Park located in the centre of the airport and featuring a 130-year-old tree as its centrepiece. The park offers picnic tables, a café and sun terrace, while images of butterflies are projected onto the walls.
Dubai International Airport’s Terminal 3 offers a Zen Garden with palm and pine trees and ferns. The area is even fitted with refreshing mist machines.
Today’s weary travellers can rejuvenate themselves mid-journey with a massage, facial, pedicure or oxygen treatment.
At London Heathrow, British Airways has teamed up with skincare brand Elemis to offer customers Elemis Travel Spas in the southern Galleries lounges, the Galleries arrivals lounge and the Galleries club lounge.
These spas are open to first class and Club World customers or Gold Executive Club members travelling on long-haul flights, and all treatments are offered on a complimentary basis.
The spas offer a range of 15-minute treatments, from facials to shoulder massages and hot stone massages for the feet.
For a real breath of fresh air, OraOxygen offers a spa with a twist at Calgary International Airport. Designed to combat the tiredness that comes from breathing in pressurised, recycled cabin air, the spa offers boosts of oxygen alongside its menu of facials, massages and other beauty treatments.
In the US, XpresSpa has made the airport spa its speciality. The company opened its first spa at New York’s John F Kennedy Airport in 2003, and now operates in 22 airports. The outlets offer massage, nail care, skin care, or waxing treatments.
For a quick freshen up, San Francisco International Airport offers a Freshen Up! store providing shower facilities and toiletries for $15 a go.
For most international travellers, the ultimate luxury is sleep. Airport sleep pods are growing in popularity following the roll-out of Yotel at London Gatwick and London Heathrow in 2007. Yotel now also operates at Amsterdam Schiphol.
Inspired by first-class airline cabins, Yotel offers an affordable accommodation option offering bed and shower in four-hour intervals. The cabins are equipped with rain showers, desks, Wi-Fi and flatscreen televisions. Prices start from €28.
Other airports are replicating the Yotel model. Dubai’s Terminal 1 offers SnoozeCubes, with full-size bed, touch-screen TV, Wi-Fi and flight updates.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Abu Dhabi International has just launched its GoSleep pod, available from €9.2 per hour. Located in Terminal 3 and the Al Dhabi Lounge in Terminal 1, the pods are effectively chairs that convert into flat beds.
Airport operator, Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), initially installed 10 pods, and plans to introduce 35 more before the end of the year.
ADAC’s chief commercial officer, Mohammed Al Bulooki, enthuses: “We continually strive to enhance the experience of passengers travelling to, from or via Abu Dhabi International Airport, and view the introduction of ‘GoSleep’ sleeping pods as another step towards exceeding customer expectations and delivering world-class levels of service.
“Abu Dhabi Airports Company is proud that it is the first airport in the world to have secured an agreement to install the very latest passenger experience that embraces the latest technology.”
The stylish, Finnish-designed sleeping pods are easy to operate and feature a partial or fully enclosed sliding shade that isolates the customer from noise, light and crowds.
After an initial launch phase, the chairs will be upgraded to include Internet access, will include secure storage for luggage and other valuables, and will allow customers to charge their laptops, mobile telephones, and other electronic devices.
Fit to fly
For those travellers who feel more invigorated through exercise, many airports are now offering the option to take in a round of golf or a gym session while in transit.
Seoul’s Incheon International Airport offers a ‘Golf Town’ with a 330-yard driving range, 18-hole putting course and swing analysis centre.
At Hong Kong, passengers can tee-off on the Nine Eagles golf course. Offering a challenging nine holes, the course includes an island in the middle of a man-made lake and some pretty tough bunkers to navigate around. Floodlit, the course is open around the clock, as is the clubhouse.
The Airport Fitness & Wellness Club at Zurich Airport is located at the Radisson Blu hotel, connected to the airport by covered walkway. The facility offers a gym, group classes, personal trainers, Turkish baths and a sleeping room with waterbeds.
For those travellers truly looking to find their inner Zen, San Francisco’s Terminal 2 opened the world’s first airport yoga room in January 2012. The room is open to any ticketed passenger.
Something a little different is provided by World Health Networks, which, working in partnership with the World Heart Federation, is installing ‘Health Stations’ at airports across the globe to help monitor people’s health.
The unmanned, free-to-use, medical grade Health Stations measure blood pressure, weight, body mass index (BMI), body fat content, and heart rate allowing for early detection of a number of risk factors related to heart disease and stroke.
“The core objective of our partnership is to tackle heart disease through easy access, early detection education and empowerment of individuals,” says Lon von Hurwitz, CEO of World Health Networks.
“We provide this service free of charge to both airports and passengers through associated sponsorships. Airports will therefore be able to offer their customers with potential life-saving facilities.”
Amsterdam and Incheon are among the airports to install its Health Stations to date.
For those wanting the first-class lounge experience without the first-class ticket price, Plaza Premium offers a network of lounges at 25 international airports, including Hong Kong, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Riyadh and Toronto.
The Plaza Premium lounges offer varying services, including nap areas, spa facilities, shower rooms and refreshments.
Similarly, Priority Pass is a membership organisation that allows members access to airport VIP lounges whenever they travel.
Members pay an annual fee to be entitled to enter lounges around the world. Operating since 1992, the system now offers access to more than 600 lounges.
And it’s not just the extra little services and facilities that are good for you these days at airports, as apparently the food is getting healthier, too!
This is certainly true for young travellers at Chicago Midway’s restaurants, courtesy of the Healthy Fare for Kids initiative in conjunction with F&B concessionaire, Premier Restaurant Group.
The initiative is designed to bring healthier meal options for the more than nine million children that pass through Chicago Midway International Airport each year.
“An airport is a great place to reach children where there are few options for healthy food,” says Diane Schmidt, president and founder of Healthy Fare for Kids, a local parent and health educator, who started the initiative with chef, Sarah Stegner, and holistic nutritional consultant, Carol Wagoner.
Two-time James Beard award winner Stegner is co-owner and co-chef of the Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, Illinois.
“We ask chefs to use antibiotic-free meat and poultry, whole grains, local produce, and to prepare foods that are lower in fat and sugar,” said Stegner.
“And above all, we ask for a smaller portion size for the kids.”