It’s safe to say that for the most part the days of glamorous travel on commercial jets, when passengers would dress in their best suit and tie or skirt and blouse and step into the plush environment and cutting-edge technology of an airplane, are over. In the golden age of flight in North America, passengers were often fed full meals and strong drinks regardless of the flight time or the class they were flying. It’s a far cry from today’s busy airport surroundings, filled with bleary-eyed passengers in casual clothes that look better suited for the gym than a professional airport. Travellers are often forced to grab a greasy meal and lukewarm coffee in a terminal while running to make their next connection.
There is hope for weary flyers that long for a more sophisticated way to travel and more upscale shops and environment. In recent years, a couple of airports have begun to distinguish themselves by creating comfortable, well-designed interiors, offering expensive shopping options and providing a wide selection of gourmet food choices and even restaurants with celebrity chefs at the helm. Spas and relaxation centers have been added to many of the world’s busiest airports to help harried passengers unwind. So while the days of glamorous airplane travel might be over, travellers can still get a taste of the good life on the go if they plan to transit through some of the world’s more sophisticated airports.
7. San Francisco International Airport
In recent years, San Francisco (SFO) has distinguished itself with fashionable shopping, upscale dining, and of course, wine. Meals will satisfy passengers in transit who are longing for fresh, organic choices to take away hunger pains (and counteract the bad fast food from that previous airport layover). Napa Farms Market provides bagels, sandwiches, pizza and cupcakes highlighting local flavors, such as meals made with free range chicken and salads featuring locally-grown greens. Chef Tyler Florence’s rotisserie is a passenger favorite, offering luscious chicken and designer sides. Lobster Mac and cheese also provides a hearty meal option at Cat Cora. If passengers are just in the mood for a snack, they can select a flavorful (and expensive) bite to take on the road –uh, air – from Simply Gourmet, which offers up caviar, truffles, meats and cheese. Of course, San Francisco is close to wine country, a fact the airport doesn’t ignore. Vino Volo wine bar allows passengers to pick out a bottle (or more) of the region’s best wines to take home as a souvenir. Once fully fed, passengers can stroll through the SFO museum (found in all four terminals), while younger travelers can take a look at the children’s museum in Terminal 1. If they have any cash leftover after an expensive meal, passengers can have a shopping spree at Burberry, Gucci, Kiehl’s and Mango. Just be sure to leave room in the carry on for all of the wine, food and clothes.
6. Miami International Airport
Although Miami International (MIA) is the gateway for a lot of American flyers heading to Central and South America and the Caribbean, the Latin flavor starts at the airport before passengers even step on the plane. Look for Lorena Garcia Cocina, restaurant run by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia. The menu includes ingredients that are prepared from scratch daily, a rarity in airports, and highlights dishes such as Caribbean jerk chicken, fine salads and shrimp ceviche. Shopping choices in MIA cater to its fashion-minded passengers and includes Coach, Emporio Armani, L’Occitane and Michael Kors.
5. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
Detroit Metropolitan (DTW) could prove to be an expensive layover. Upon landing, passengers might notice that the space looks more like a long, airy mall than a typical airport. A long layover can be whiled away by wandering up and down the McNamara terminal, picking up treasures from boutiques including L’Occitane, Pandora Jewelry, See’s Candy, Spanx, The Body Shop and Swarovski, as well as a number of niche boutiques that are more frequently seen in a mall than in an airport. If passengers are feeling thirsty after all of the walking and shopping, a glass of local Michigan wine at Vino Volo or a margarita at one of several of the terminal’s Mexican-style cantinas might be in order.
4. London Heathrow Airport
So much for the reputation of the Britain being the home of less-than-gourmet food. Heathrow (LHR) airport in the UK turns that unflattering rumour on its head: the airport has choices that will satisfy any gourmand. Passengers can indulge in a light meal of caviar at Caviar House & Prunier Seafood Bar that can easily ring up a tab of hundreds of dollars for caviar and a glass or two of fine wine. For a heartier meal, Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food in Terminal 5 offers gourmet options. Pasta and risotto, steaks and meals to go are all on offer by the famous chef. Reservations for the restaurant can be made online, or for passengers in a bit of a rush, picnic baskets can be bought on the go. Afterwards, passengers can shop until boarding time at the legendary Harrod’s, which has a store in each of the airport’s five terminals.
3. Hong Kong International Airport
Reportedly the most expensive airport ever built, the busy Hong Kong (HKG) airport was actually built on an artificial island. With around 160 shops, the airport offers extensive shopping options including big name designers such as Burberry, Chanel, Versace, Prada, Tiffany, Giorgio Armani beauty and Kiehl’s. More homegrown fashions can be found at the Chinese luxury label Shanghai Tang, offering garments in sumptuous brocades, silk, velvet and cashmere. The airport offers much more than just shopping: travellers can practice their swing at an indoor golf course that offers nine holes or catch a flick at the airport’s 3D IMAX theatre.
2. Incheon International Airport
Another of the busiest airports in the world, Incheon, South Korea (ICN) provides some welcome opportunities for deep relaxation: a spa and sauna, Thai massages and private sleeping rooms. Passengers in need of fresh air after long-haul flights can forget they are in an airport and meander through seven gardens and relax on an observation deck. There’s also a space run by the Cultural Museum of Korea for travelers to get a dose of Korean culture on the go.
1. Singapore Changi Airport
Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) was clearly designed to help passengers unwind. Filled with lots of greenery and a butterfly garden, the airport also offers passengers an outdoor pool to while away the hours between layovers in leisure. In some ways the airport resembles a resort more than a transportation hub: it also has movie theatres, spas, showers and a four-story slide. After travelers have had the opportunity to completely unwind, they can take a taste of relaxation on the road with trendy teas from the TWG Tea Boutiques. Once their energy is restored, if they still have time before their flight, the more fashion-minded can peruse upscale labels at Prada, Gucci, Bvlgari, Chloé, and Miu Miu.
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