World's Strangest Airport Attractions
From teeth cleaning to “4-D” movies, fliers are finding unusual ways to make the most of their layovers.
En route to the Czech
Republic her junior year of college, Rachal Royce was faced with five hours to kill at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle
Airport—not enough time to visit the city, but just enough to go a little crazy. Fueled by a
few café au laits, she paced the corridors of Terminal 1 looking for
something—anything—to keep her occupied until her flight. That’s when she
stumbled across free Sony PlayStation kiosks and settled into a fierce multiplayer game of Hot
“I must have played 15 games with some guys in my group and dominated every single one,
even the playoff,” says Royce. “The guys were furious, but I gained their respect. Two
of them ended up being my best friends in Prague that semester. Finding the
Sony PlayStations was a happy accident.”
For so long, airport layovers have meant tucking into a Robert Ludlum novel or impulse shopping
in duty free. No longer. Much to the delight—and relief—of travelers of all ages, new
resources are cropping up to help fliers beat the layover blues, including Travel + Leisure’s
new Navigator guides to 20 of the world’s top airports. Among a slew of new iPhone apps are
handy interactive airport maps designed to assist fliers daunted by the sheer size and distance
between terminals. There’s even a website dedicated to finding the best airport bar, complete
with Top 10 lists, ratings, and reviews (“This place is like the beach but [it’s] at an
airport…and with a strong Wi-Fi signal”).
“Much like the city that never sleeps, JFK airport remains open around the clock,” says a
spokesperson for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey “Passengers
taking off late on red-eyes can get massages at certain airport spa kiosks until midnight. We also
have new computer-based welcome centers.”
Not surprisingly, it’s the unexpected services and attractions, big and small, that are
generating the most airport buzz. Asia’s largest 4-D projection screen,
for example, is not in the heart of Tokyo, Beijing, or Shanghai—it’s at the
Hong Kong Airport. Curious fliers
can not only enjoy the latest blockbuster, but they can even go inside the movie, thanks to
3-D glasses and extreme real-life special effects—wind, water, and murky foglike clouds.
Other popular attractions are decidedly low-tech, not to mention unique to the country or city,
like Istanbul’s Atatürk
Airport’s “chewy” ice cream vendor, who roves Terminal 1 astounding travelers by
stretching this Turkish treat like ribbons of taffy.
But it’s not all fun and food at airports these days; some industrious businesses are
appealing to travelers who want to use their free time in smart, productive ways. At São Paulo-Guarulhos
International Airport in Brazil,
fliers fearful of cavities, overdue for a visit to the dentist, or just looking to brighten their
pearly whites for their arrival are in luck. Inside a spotless office, a small team of licensed
dental professionals does everything from quick teeth cleanings and X-rays to whitening—and
for a fraction of the cost in the U.S.
Even meditation rooms—which are popping up at airports around the world—can seem
like novel attractions inside a humming terminal. Nature, too. Inside Singapore Changi
International Airport, an enclosed tropical oasis teems with no fewer than 47 species of
butterflies native to Singapore and Malaysia. Here, butterflies roam freely, alighting on hanging
ferns and travelers’ shoulders. It’s hard to imagine a more unusual—or
peaceful—place to wait for your boarding call.