Monday, January 29, 2007
Top 10 airports in the world
Why spend your next layover in a mind-numbingly dull airport terminal when you can spend it catching a flick or taking a dip? "Enjoyable" might be the last word you would associate with air travel these days, but the experience of passing through one of our ten favorite airports comes pretty close. Pick your arrival or connecting airport from this list and enjoy fine art, city excursions, spas, and cowboy-hat-wearing welcome committees on your next trip, because whether an airport made this list because of its stellar amenities, spectacular natural surroundings, or award-winning architecture, it's guaranteed to remind you that getting there is half the fun.
1. Aéroport de St. Jean
Despite being the chicest island in the Caribbean, the airport on St. Barths is as simple and diminutive as it gets – but landing here is an experience nearly as memorable as the French savoir vivre and bikini-clad rock stars that make the island so alluring. Tiny puddle-jumpers (some with only 7 seats) arrive from St. Maarten and Guadeloupe during daytime hours, landing on a miniscule strip that ends abruptly at the edge of the Caribbean Sea, right on the cusp of the island's famed St. Jean beach. Upon descent, your heart rate will escalate as you dip between steep emerald hillsides and fly over gingerbread-trimmed Creole cazes before arriving with the nose of your plane so close to the Caribbean, you'd be forgiven for thinking you could just dive right in upon disembarking. Alas, you'll have to go indoors, and pass through customs, before being allowed to hit the surf.
2. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
As one of the world's busiest aviation hubs, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport could be deemed a travel destination in its own right – it boasts an on-site art gallery, casino, and even organized city excursions. You can easily arrive early here, and spend your pre-flight time viewing the Dutch masters on display from the famed Rijksmuseum, or trying your luck at the slots and gaming tables in the terminal's Holland Casino. Connecting passengers can rent mini office space to get work done, snooze in oversized lounge chairs, get a massage, or even head out on a short city excursion – regular bus tours leave from the airport. You can even plan on getting married here! All of this, coupled with worthwhile eateries and fantastic duty-free shopping, makes Schiphol one of our very top picks.
3. Calgary International Airport
Many travelers find themselves passing through Canada's Calgary International Airport on their way to Banff and the Canadian Rockies in ski season, but there's fun to be had no matter what time of year you find yourself in this airport. Sign up for a "white hat welcome ceremony" and be greeted at your gate by a group of white-cowboy-hat-wearing volunteers, who'll present you with your very own hat and Calgary-style welcome.
Proceed to baggage claim, where conveyer belts are anchored by rotating exhibits ranging from life-sized local animals to dinosaurs (all stuffed, of course). If you've got some time to kill, the airport also touts over 110 shops and restaurants with a "street-pricing" philosophy, guaranteeing prices won't be padded.
4. Changi Airport
There's so much to do at Singapore's Changi Airport, you may just want to miss your flight. If you're deplaning, make a beeline for the spa services, showers, or napping cubicles, all of which are available 24/7, or head out for a free tour of Singapore (choose from the Colonial, Cultural, or Lifestyle tours), swim a few laps in the pool, catch a flick in the airport movie theater, or take a nature walk through the onsite sunflower garden complete with Koi pond. Shoppers and diners won't be disappointed, either, what with the upscale stores (think Burberry, Celine, Hermes, Gucci, and Ferragamo) and over 50 restaurants here. No matter what you decide to do, a stopover in Changi promises to rejuvenate you.
5. Heathrow Airport
Two words: Duty free. At London's Heathrow airport, killing a few hours is both easy and enjoyable, especially when you board the plane with some extra goodies (tax free, of course). The long, glossy promenades in Terminals 1 to 4 are lined with stores, restaurants, bars, pubs, and cafés vying for your attention, but why not get gorgeous with a manicure or pedicure at Manicure Express or prep yourself for a long flight with a refreshing spa treatment at Rejuve? You can also pick up some last-minute souvenirs at Harrods – a mini-version of the retail staple in Knightsbridge – and revel in some heavy-duty shopping at high-end shops like Chanel, Hermes, and Christian Dior, so you can at least look like a first-class passenger, even when flying coach.
6. John F. Kennedy International Airport
This airport makes our list for one reason: JetBlue's Terminal 6. Besides having a dedicated online bag-drop counter (allowing you to check in for your flight online and still check your bags on arrival), the terminal also boasts a full-service Oasis Day Spa where you can get a pre- or post-flight manicure, facial, or massage. You can also let the kids blow off some pre-flight steam in the children's play area (your fellow passengers will thank you) or grab some made-to-order sushi at Deep Blue (just one of the many on-site restaurants) while taking in the sounds of one of the live bands that occasionally serenade terminal passengers. One caveat: While Terminal 6 is widely regarded as the best of all three New York airports, you'll need your own JetBlue boarding pass to see what the fuss is about.
7. Keflavik International Airport
Though Keflavik Airport is tops for being hassle-free (thanks in large part to its small size) and its design (white, mod, and virtually noiseless), the real reason Iceland's main airport makes this list is because of what's outside its perimeters. The country's main carrier, Icelandair (www.icelandair.com), offers a plethora of packages that allow passengers a free stopover en-route to one of the airline's other European destinations. Passengers can stay in Iceland for up to seven nights, and enjoy the country's stark beauty and legendary nightlife scene before hitting their next European capital without having to pay extra for an ongoing ticket. What's more, you can decompress before or after your flight with a mineral soak in the nearby Blue Lagoon, as airport shuttles conveniently offer drop-off/pick-up services to and from the airport.
8. Los Angeles International Airport
Although the TV series LAX was short-lived, the popularity of this mega airport (the world's fifth--busiest passenger airport) hasn’t dwindled. Get out your camera phone and keep an eye out for passengers sporting dark sunglasses indoors, because this airport is second to none for celebrity sightings. But even if no one famous crosses your path, you don't have to settle for reading a copy of US Weekly here – you can handily pass your time in one of the nine terminals, each filled with eateries, lounges, gift shops, duty-free stores, and business centers. The space-age-like Encounter Restaurant (in the central terminal area) is a standout, located 70 feet above ground and serving fresh California fare in a mod setting.
9. Madrid-Barajas Airport
Spain's busiest airport doubled its capacity in early 2006 and, with the addition of the sleek new Terminal 4 at Madrid's Barajas International came straightforward linear layouts and light-filled hallways. Along with extensive dining opportunities (including tapas and wine bars) and shopping (look for an outpost of chic boutique Zara), as well as banking, medical, tourism, and business amenities, the new terminal – designed by the same group responsible for London's Millennium Dome and the Centre Pompidou in Paris – is tops for architecture buffs, having reeled in a slew of accolades, including Britain’s most prestigious architecture award, the Stirling Prize.
10. Sydney Airport
The Aussies are known for being friendly, so it should come as no surprise that their hospitality starts as soon as your plane lands. Keep an eye out for the Gold Ambassadors, the smiling people in bright yellow jackets whose mission is to welcome and assist you. If you have a long layover, freshen up in the shower facilities (but bring your own towel) before storing your bags and heading into Sydney for some sightseeing via the Airport Link (it runs every 10 or 15 minutes, depending on the time of day, and takes just 15 minutes to the city center). If you choose to hang in the airport, you'll enjoy internet kiosks (free in Terminal 1), a children’s play area (in all terminals), 150 shops throughout the airport, and a multitude of dining opportunities.