Travelers know that time spent in an airport can wind up being more than what we bargained for. With a 2-3 hour airport arrival time recommendation for international flights, chances are, you’re often left with a tad too much time to kill. And, let’s face it – there are only so many travel gadgets you can buy and only so much overpriced coffee you can drink.
Of course, there’s always the thrill of landing after a 7 hour + flight only to be welcomed by grimy bathrooms, a snarky customs officer and a dizzying wait at the luggage belt for a suitcase that might as well be on its way from an alternate universe.
Then again, there are the airports that are not merely the bookends of the trip, but that become part of the trip. Airports that let you relax and build up excitement for what is to come. Airports that let you shop ’til you drop. Get a mani-pedi. Curl up with a good book. Most international airports these days are cities in and of themselves– and like any city, the energy is always unique.
When it comes to world-class airports, Asia is leading the way by leaps and bounds. According to the 2012 SKYTRAX airport customer survey, the top three airports in the world are found in Seoul, Singapore, and Hong Kong, respectively.
But unfortunately, not everyone gets the chance to travel to airports with the hyper efficiency and supreme functionality of Asian design. It’s not fair… you want an airport with its own golf course, indoor gardens, and spa too!
Though the airports in the rest of the world may not quite measure up to Asia’s level of excellence, there are a few that give them a run for their money.
Jorge Chavez International Airport – Lima, Peru
Winning best airport in South America for four years running according to SKYTRAX world airport awards, Peru’s major airport is one of the fastest growing airports in the Americas when it comes to passenger volume. Modern, clean, and well-organized, connections are described as smooth by many passengers, giving you just another reason to visit Machu Picchu.
Cape Town International Airport – Cape Town, South Africa
Brimming with light and flaunting a unique, well-designed layout, Cape Town International Airport is Africa’s most award-winning airport. A friendly staff often comes up in reviews, making all the difference on first impressions. After a $2.3 billion expansion program, the airport offers ease of passenger movement, reducing significant walking distances (phew!). With billion-dollar renovations due to be completed in 2015, it keeps on improving.
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Often identified as one of the most important airports in Europe, Amsterdam Schiphol airport is definitely one of the busiest in terms of numbers of flights and passengers. The first airport to adopt the concept of the “airport city”, it was also the first to incorporate features such as a museum, library and park into its infrastructure. Though vast, it remains easy to navigate in the tradition of functional Dutch design.
Abu Dhabi International Airport – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Having undergone extensive refurbishment and upgrades recently to stay competitive with Dubai International Airport, Abu Dhabi embodies the opulent tastes of the Emirates. Designer boutiques abound at this Middle Eastern hub, as well as exclusive business lounges, such as the Etihad Diamond First and Pearl Business Class, which offer world-class spa services.
Seoul Incheon International Airport – Seoul, Republic of Korea
Last but not least, the holy grail of airport design and functionality. Seoul Incheon is award-winning for its free wi-fi, indoor gardens, indoor ice rink, private sleeping rooms and fantastic shopping, not to mention its delicious noodle bar and Korean beef dishes. What’s also great about Seoul Incheon is how it incorporates Korean cultural performances as entertainment for passengers. This is the kind of airport you could go to as a day trip, without even getting on a plane!
I know you may be thinking… what about North America?
While North America may offer plenty of luxury (think Aspen villas or New York City shopping) it is notably lagging behind in airport innovation on the world scale, with less than glowing reviews from disgruntled travelers for key airports such in New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX). However, Canada can be proud of its Vancouver International Airport, which has been recognized as one of the best in North America.
You know, skating rinks and casinos may not be the things that make an airport experience memorable. For most, it’s the build-up of energy for the exciting trip ahead, and so the only thing that really matters is comfort and efficiency. Keeping delays to a minimum and a smile at check-in makes a world of difference. Give passengers a nice cozy chair, a panoramic view of the runway and a good cappuccino and we’re in airport heaven.