Travel tips and advice: How to create the perfect airport
Most travellers have a love-hate relationship with airports. We love going there, because it means there's a holiday happening. We hate being there, however, because most airports are soulless, expensive and uncomfortable.
I've spent countless hours wandering around airports thinking about how I could improve them, the facilities I'd add, the annoyances I'd take away, to create my perfect terminal.
And most of these ideas have been stolen from various hubs around the world, cherry-picked to form my ideal Franken-airport.
A rooftop pool
Changi will be mentioned fairly often in this story, because it is a phenomenally good airport. It has plenty of facilities designed for leisure and relaxing – there are massage therapists, an orchid garden, a cinema, multiple games rooms, and even a freakin' butterfly garden – but it's the rooftop pool that takes the cake.
Sunshine and swimming: that's what stopovers should be about.
Easy public transport access
It's about 30 kilometres from downtown Shanghai to Pudong International Airport – however, you can cover that distance in eight minutes thanks to the Maglev train, which hits speeds of 431km/h as it whisks passengers to the terminal.
Hong Kong, too, deserves a special mention, given you can check in for your flight from the train station at Central.
Like: Munich Airport
I don't think I'm alone here in wanting to actually do something when I'm at an airport, rather than just sit around. I'd go hit golf balls if there was a little driving range. I'd play putt-putt. Or, if I was at Munich Airport in August, I'd go surfing on the standing wave that's set up – and open to the public – in the Munich Airport Centre.
Or I'd have a go on the four-storey-high slide at Singapore's Changi.
Plenty of power points
Like: Hamad International, Doha
Pretty much any traveller on a long journey is going to want to charge something at the airport – a phone, a laptop, a tablet. And very few airports have outlets from which to do that.
Hamad International in Doha, meanwhile, is a very fancy-looking airport with surprisingly few useful facilities, except that it does have a lot of power points – under the counters in the food court, set into the chairs in the waiting areas – for passengers to use.
Authentic local food
Why is this so hard for airports to understand? Even if you're just passing through in transit, you want to sample some of the local culture. And what better way to do that than with food? At Changi you've got a replica hawker centre, where you can grab Hainanese chicken rice, char kway teo and chilli crab before your next flight. The new terminal at LAX is also good for this, with several Los Angeles restaurants represented.
Great lounge facilities
Obviously in my perfect airport I'd have access to places like the Qantas First Lounge at Sydney Kingsford Smith, where you have a full sit-down restaurant that's absolutely free, plus a day spa, and private suites for meetings or relaxing. If we're talking business class, then the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong – which include showers and a free dumpling and noodle bar – would have to be up there.
Airports love spruiking the fact that they have all these fancy, high-end stores, the likes of Gucci, Prada and Hermes, but how many people can actually afford to shop at those places? My ideal airport would have a few places you can actually buy something from. And of course, Changi has got it right. In Singapore you can visit the aforementioned luxury stores, but you can also call into Uniqlo, Cotton On, or Zara. London Heathrow is also good for this.
You walk out towards your plane at Queenstown Airport and you're surrounded by stunning natural beauty: the Remarkables range towering over one side of the horizon, Coronet Peak way over on the other, grassy hills and Lake Wakatipu near by. If only all airports had such lovely locales.
It's nice that while you're experiencing the bad part of travelling – hanging around in an airport – you can also enjoy the good part of travelling – checking out another country's culture. At Seoul Incheon you have the Korean Cultural Experience and the Korean Culture Museum, where you can make Korean crafts or watch a dance performance or check out thousand-year-old artworks. Better than another lap around duty free.
A good, affordable airport hotel
Not only does Changi have three transit hotels, with rooms that can be rented out in six-hour blocks for about $50 each, but it also has two "snooze lounges", a "sanctuary lounge" and an "oasis lounge" in the main concourse. Even my house isn't that comfortable.
A nice place to drink
Like: Hartsfield Jackson Airport, Atlanta
Many overpriced airport bars are about as character-filled as, well, an airport terminal. At Hartsfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta, however, you've got One Flew South, a cocktail and wine bar that's as good as any you'd find in the city itself. Maybe better. At Munich Airport, meanwhile, there's a proper beer garden, called Airbrau. That is definitely getting a place in my dream airport.
Some public artwork
While the vast bulk of LAX is a soulless hellhole, the new Tom Bradley Terminal, from which most flights to Australia now depart, is surprisingly pleasant, not least because of the huge walls of video art that hang over the main hall. Hamad International in Doha, and, of course, Changi, also have some great artwork to stare at while you wait forever for your flight.