Hours of boredom, cramped seating and stale sandwiches—layovers are well known to be anything but fun. In addition, according to Rick Perdue, head of the department of hospitality and tourism management at Virginia Tech, layovers have gotten significantly longer because airlines fly bigger planes and have reduced the number of flights.
Here's the good news: In response to this woeful trend, a handful of well-managed airports around the world are taking their services and amenities up a serious notch.
Perdue points to advances in security processing such as the Global Entry program, which makes it much easier to navigate security without the need to take off your coat, remove your computer from its sleeve or slip off your shoes. Other improvements include shopping areas packed with haute boutiques (C'est la vie, standard duty free), hotels located within the security zone and varied, high-quality restaurant options, especially abroad.
But for Perdue, the one amenity that really matters is far less tangible: silence. Or at least something in the ballpark of peace and quiet. Many European and Asian hubs—such as Singapore's Changi International Airport and Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea—do an especially good job of reducing ambient noise, which contributes to stress and can permeate even the most exclusive clubs.
Changi, for example, has movie theaters, a butterfly garden, a 40-foot slide, a rooftop pool and other fun distractions, but also provides designated quiet zones where public announcements aren't piped in. To make sure you don't miss your flight, you can sign up for cell phone calls with airline updates.
Closer to home, San Francisco International Airport receives accolades for well-rounded offerings such as a SFMOMA Museum Store, a distinguished airport museum, a branch of the city's Steinhart Aquarium and seasonally sourced local grub (be sure to order a glass of California Cabernet at Vino Volo in Terminal 2).
Dubai International Airport ups the ante with the kind of unapologetic extravagance the city is known for, this time in the form of the world's largest duty-free shop at 58,000 square feet, open-air gardens and shopping stands where you can purchase actual gold bars. (No, there's no chocolate inside.)
Outrageous design elements like these certainly grab headlines, but at the end of the day—or the wee hours of the morning, depending on your layover—the formula that matters is simple, explains road warrior and India-born travel agent Pallavi Shah of Our Personal Guest: “Easy connections, Wi-Fi that works, great meal options, clean carpets that don't make a mockery of your wheeled luggage, comfortable seating and hotel rooms deliver the best layover experience. A lounge attendant who will actually make sure you don't sleep through your flight call? That's a rare but special touch.”