US airports have a long way to go to catch up with their international counterparts. Singapore’s Changi Airport, for example, boasts tropical gardens, a waterfall and a swimming pool along with free movies, sound and light shows, and retro arcade games—plus, world-class dining and shopping. Still, our country’s airports are innovating every day to make your time in the terminal more pleasurable.
Here are some of the new amenities travelers are discovering in airports at home and abroad.
Play areas such as this at MSP let kids expend stored-up energy. Photo courtesy of Minneapolis–St. Paul Airport
When Melanie Musson travels from Montana with her five children, she tries to arrange a layover at Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (MSP) so that her children can enjoy the play space. “Since we travel from a smaller airport, most of our flights include a layover,” she says. “And being able to play between flights makes the second leg of the journey more pleasant.”
At Washington, DC’s Dulles International Airport, a children’s play area designed by NASA includes interactive displays plus a “supersonic jet” and “hyperwing” to climb. Boston Logan International Airport’s “Kidports” play areas feature a baggage claim slide and climbable model plane.
For a little education with their fun, kids can gaze at a 30,000-gallon aquarium filled with 20,000 marine plants and animals at Vancouver International Airport. The food court at Orlando International Airport is enlivened by a 3,000-gallon fish tank.
Airports are also providing more private and better-equipped workspaces.
For a larger, more private space to work or sleep, Minute Suites will rent you a room with a desk and a sofa bed in 10 US airports. Prices start at $48 for the first hour, and some facilities offer showers for an additional fee.
Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (MSP) is among the airports where animal ambassadors visit passengers and staff. Photo courtesy of Minneapolis–St. Paul Airport
Traveling with Fido or Fluffy? You’ll find pet relief stations, both indoors and outdoors, at most airports. Facilities range from small patches of fake grass to fenced-in dog parks. Poop bags are usually provided, and sprinkler systems keep the “grass” clean.
Airport operators have also taken notice of studies showing that dogs can have a stress-reducing effect on travelers. That’s certainly the case at Miami International Airport (MIA) where its golden retriever ambassador, Casey, greets travelers twice a week. The Boarding Area Relaxation Corps (BARC) bring therapy dogs to Sacramento International Airport, and Denver International Airport’s Canine Airport Therapy Squad (CATS) brings dogs (sorry, despite the acronym, no cats) to the airport for travelers to pet.
Entertainment at Singapore’s Changi Airport includes movies. Photo courtesy of Changi Airport Group
If you’ll be at the airport for a few hours, you may be able to catch a popular movie. At Hong Kong International Airport, you can watch a film on the city’s largest movie screen. Airports in Seoul and Singapore have movie theaters, too.
Among the most useful amenities are sleep pods or kiosks, quiet places you can rent by the hour to nap or just get away from the noise. Sleeping options range from the hotel-room look of Minute Suites to GoSleep pods, which are basically fully reclining seats with sides and a roof you pull over yourself.
Airport gym ROAM Fitness is expanding to a host of airports. Photo by Ian Johnston/courtesy of ROAM Fitness
FITNESS AND REFLECTION ZONES
For travelers who want to exercise during their layover time, more airports are adding yoga rooms and fitness options.
Miami International Airport features a sensory room for travelers with autism. Photo courtesy of Miami International Airport
SPECIAL NEEDS SERVICES
Travelers with special needs get extra support at airports that have adopted the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program, which uses a lanyard to identify travelers with hidden disabilities, including autism. The lanyard lets employees know these travelers may need extra time or other assistance.
MSP and MIA also offer travelers with special needs the opportunity to prepare for the airport experience by registering for a test run that re-creates the experience, with future travelers invited to go through security and get on a plane. Both also provide illustrated narratives online, with accompanying text in English and Spanish, that explain what the experience will be like.
“People with autism, in general, do much better in situations where they have information that’s really clear,” says Diane Adreon, a division director for a University of Miami program that worked with MIA officials to develop the narratives and other services for travelers with autism.
Like many airports, Philadelphia International Airport provides quiet spaces for prayer and reflection. Photo by Dave Rosenblum/Courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport
PRAYER AND MEDITATION ROOMS
Philadelphia International Airport offers a Quiet Room for solitude and meditation, one of many large airports that offer such spaces. Germany’s Frankfurt Airport has 2 quiet rooms as well as 10 prayer rooms and chapels designed for Muslims, Christians and Jews.
With all these new airport amenities and special services, waiting at the airport can be time well spent—and perhaps even time well enjoyed.