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 Shots Tennis.
“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.