There’s nothing more depressing than getting off a 12 hour flight, exhausted, bed-headed, and bedraggled just to bob and weave through the world’s longest stretch of beige airport seats and harsh florescent lighting. The airport should contribute to one’s travel experience, and not as some puce-colored purgatorial plateau. More and more, airport designers and restaurateurs are bringing their A-game to the world’s airline hubs, and we’ve got the list to prove it! From Gollums to gleaming teeth, these airport spaces are helping redefine the flight experience.
Wellington Airport, New Zealand
Wellington Airport’s motto is "Wild at Heart" and we can understand why. As Hobbit fever hit the country in a big way, Weta Workshop, the folks behind the visual effects, weapons, creatures, and other aspects of Middle Earth, installed a 13 meter long, 1.2 ton sculpture of the hellish creature Gollum in the airport’s main terminal building. That’s right, the stringy-haired monster of "my precious" fame now hovers over flyers while reaching out to grab one of three gigantic fish also hanging mid-air.
"Visitors can walk under and around Gollum and the fish to explore the sculpture’s beauty and intricate detail; it really does feel like you’re in the stream with him," said Steve Sanderson, Wellington Airport’s Chief Executive in a statement. Don’t know about you, but we find that thought utterly terrifying…and oddly intriguing.
Changi Airport, Singapore
Changi Airport has made waves on our blog before, but when you’re this good, you’re allowed a repeat. Specifically, the airport’s Butterfly Garden and Fresh Air Spaces in Terminal 3 earn it a spot on our spaces list. The airport also features koi ponds, but since dentists’ offices everywhere also feature koi ponds, we’ll focus on the winged creatures.
Featuring a six meter waterfall, a roster of live butterflies that changes based on season, and educational opportunities, the garden is less a diversion and more a space to relax and maybe even get a little inspired between flights. Feeling dangerous? Check out the garden’s 200 carnivorous tropical pitcher plants. Just don’t get too close…
São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport, Brazil
When we first read about the very special service offered at São Paulo-Guarulhos, we smiled from ear to ear. Then we covered our mouths and booked a flight to Brazil, specifically to Terminal 2, where customers can take time between flights to get their chompers cleaned at the Dental Clinic. Open Monday through Friday, the clinic offers cleaning and whitening services and X-rays for about $40-$60 according to TravelandLeisure.com.
Yes, airport dentistry sounds silly at first, but think about what your mouth feels like after a long flight. A quick jaunt to the dentist before you board (or head into Brazil) doesn’t seem like that bad of an idea, now does it?
Munich Airport, Germany
Ah, Munich, where the beer flows like water, and every day is Oktoberfest. Where else would you find an airport with its own brewery? At Airbräu, master brewer Rene Rainier heads up the process, which the company states matches exactly the standards of the Purity Decree of 1516. Tempt yourself with a beer from their fairly varied line—from weissbeir to double bocks—at a real, live Munich beer garden. The 600 seat beer garden, excuse us, biergarten, has chestnut trees, a maypole, and is apparently the largest roofed garden of its kind in Europe, allowing guests an opportunity to drink "outside" even in poor weather. Our favorite part? Airbräu offers party kegs of their finest brews for the casual airport get-together with hard-drinking friends.
San Francisco International Airport, California
Okay, no the space itself is not much to write home about, but its intention definitely is. Earlier this year, San Francisco Airport (another one of our top airport picks) opened its own Yoga Room at Terminal 2, just beyond the security checkpoint (right where it’s needed). It’s a relatively small room, awash in blue colors and dim lighting and featuring a floating wall. Quiet is mandatory. Opaque doors provide privacy. The room comes equipped with mats for those looking for a little relaxation and spirit-centering before hopping on red-eye with a middle seat, most likely in front of a screaming baby.
Photo credits: Wellington Airport courtesy of Wellington Airport, New Zealand and weta workshop; Changi Airport Butterfly Garden courtesy of Flickr/CHARAKA; Sao Paulo airport dentist via Shutterstock; Airbrau courtest of Munich Airport; SFO Yoga Room courtesy of Flickr/Threat to Democracy