Top 10 Airport Terminals for 2014

Courtesy of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport

For most travelers, the less time spent in airports, the better. But in recent years, airports have been stepping up their game in hopes of making the travel experience more enjoyable and efficient for an ever-increasing number of passengers. And with new destinations on the rise, especially in emerging countries like China, India, and Brazil, the race to impress international travelers is on. The newest airport terminals feature lots of natural light, smart design, and amenities like showers and dressing rooms. Those perks and more can be found in these 10 notable new terminals, all of which should inspire you to start booking your next flight.

By Sandra Ramani

Courtesy of Heathrow

Heathrow Terminal 2, The Queen’s Terminal

WHERE: London

Opening: June 4, 2014

Spacious and airy, the £2.5 billion Terminal 2 will be the new hub of all Star Alliance member airlines (including United, Singapore, and Lufthansa), making for easier connections and shorter transfer distances for passengers flying on partner carriers. Rail, bus, and tube lines will feed directly into the terminal's central courtyard, which also houses the giant “Slipstream” sculpture by noted British artist Richard Wilson. When bidding for retail space, each of the 52 shops and 17 bars and restaurants had to show how they could personalize the guest experience and incorporate technology and social media to help customers on the move. The environment is catered to as well: Skylights and floor-to-ceilings maximize natural light (with solar-controlled glass and angled louvers preventing it from getting too warm), and water-efficient fittings help reduce waste.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's London Travel Guide

By T1259 [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license], via Wikimedia Commons

Terminal D, Queen Alia International Airport

WHERE: Amman, Jordan

Opened: March 2013

In 2011, about 5.5 million passengers flew through Jordan's Queen Alia International; by 2020, that figure is expected to more than double to 12 million. With that increase in mind, the airport enlisted noted design firm Foster + Partners to create this spacious new main terminal, which has handled all flights as of March 21, 2013. Designed to evoke the flowing fabric of Bedouin tents when viewed from above, the terminal has 127 heat-dissipating (and thus energy-efficient) concrete domes that branch out from central columns, so they look like leaves of a desert palm from the ground. All the gates are on one side, with check-in, retail, dining and waiting spaces in the center; in between these area are several open-air courtyards filled with greenery and reflecting pools.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Jordan Guide

Terminal 4, JFK International Airport

WHERE: New York City

Opened: May 2013

The carrier's new Terminal 4 opened in 2013, and now services all international, transcontinental, and many partner airline flights. Check-in is made easier with more kiosks, agent desks, and a larger SkyPriority section, as well as a 12-lane security checkpoint. Once past security, travelers can enjoy eats from big names in NYC dining like Danny Meyer (Shake Shack, Blue Smoke) and Marcus Samuelsson (Uptown Brasserie), then proceed to one of the nine new gates or seven renovated ones. The star perk here, however, is reserved for travelers with lounge access: The new flagship Delta Sky Club has a mod design, complimentary booze, a Ciroc Vodka-sponsored VIP room, and—best of all—a swanky, al fresco Sky Deck, on which you can order cocktails and watch the planes take off and land.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's New York City Guide

Terminal 3, Lyon-Saint Exupery Airport

WHERE: Lyon, France

Opened: June 2012

“Simple, but not cheap,” was how the Aéroports de Lyon chairman described this €24.2 million terminal upon its launch, adding that despite serving as a hub for Air France-KLM and budget carriers like easyJet and AirAsia, the airport wants to be known for being “low-stress, not low-cost.”Accordingly, the terminal is less about high-tech advances or splashy perks and more about the personal experience, with the introduction of floating customer service reps to help answer questions and seating areas awash in bright colors to help lighten the mood. The final effect may not be as awe-inspiring as some of the other new terminals out there, but this is just the first step for the airport: In anticipation of a 35 percent increase in passengers within five years, the airport will be demolishing some of Terminal 3's temporary elements in 2016 and doing a total T1-T3 overhaul, to be completed by 2020.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Lyon and The Alps Guide

Passenger Concourse, Long Beach Airport

WHERE: Long Beach, California

Opened: December 2012

The west coast hub for JetBlue, boasting the second-lowest average airfares in the country, Long Beach Airport has proved to be both a money- and time-saving option for travelers coming to Southern California. The three million passengers flying through here annually spend an average of just 20 minutes going from curb to concourse, and only about seven minutes of that time in security lines. With the airport's recent $140 million makeover, though, you may want to come early and spend some time in the terminal, which has been re-launched with boutique hotel style. Past the original Art Deco facade, you'll find 100 percent local dining and retail outlets designed with a beach resort theme, including a high-end food court modeled to look like a outdoor market. For your last taste of California sunshine, head outside to wait for boarding around the fire pits, cabanas, patios, and live music performance spaces.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Los Angeles Guide

Main Terminal, Hamad International Airport

WHERE: Doha, Qatar

Opening: Mid-2014

Doha's new $15 billion airport has undergone a series of delays over the last seven years; at the last minute, its April 2013 opening was scrapped, and the latest promise is that it will launch mid-2014. While it was being built, hometown Qatar Airlines has grown to become a top global carrier, so many of the delays are being attributed to the need to expand the airport even further. (Once the terminal is open, Qatar Airlines will be based here.) Whatever the case, when it does open it's going to be a stunner: already-finished parts of the passenger terminal include an internal monorail, a spa, squash courts, a swimming pool, public mosque, over a dozen lounges, and space for 100 food and beverage outlets and 28 art installations. A third phase of the build, planned for 2015, is already underway; when totally done, the airport will be able to service about 30 million fliers annually.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit the Qatar Tourism Authority

Courtesy of Christchurch International Airport Limited

Domestic Terminal, Christchurch Airport

WHERE: Christchurch, New Zealand

Opened: April 2013

Snowstorms, volcanic ash clouds, and 11,000 (yes, that's thousand) earthquakes during construction didn't stop this terminal from opening pretty much on budget in 2013. Christchurch's previous domestic terminal was built in 1960 to handle about 200,000 travelers a year—but now that the airport (the second largest in New Zealand) sees that many fliers every 2 weeks, it was time for something bigger and better. Integrated into the existing international terminal, the new section was built to carbonZero standards, and handles domestic travel and some international check-in and baggage claim. Once past security, you'll find free WiFi, kids' zones, premium lounges, free shower facilities, and a mix of fast-food spots and restaurants and bars highlighting local cuisine, beers, and wines.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Christchurch and Canterbury Guide

Courtesy of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport

T2, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport

WHERE: Mumbai, India

Opened: February 12, 2014

Past the striking carved, curved external columns inspired by dancing peacocks, the terminal features 60 counters for immigration checks (twice the previous number), 16 security lanes (with four extra for VIPs), and a high-tech baggage system that can sort 9,600 bags an hour (and, on the green side, uses only electric vehicles.) In addition to plenty of dining, lounging, and retail areas, the terminal houses one of the largest art collections in India: Between the arrivals, departures and connecting areas, there are more than 7, 000 pieces of artwork on display. Also museum-like: The “Silent Terminal” policy that drops constant public announcements in favor of gentle pings from giant wind chimes, prompting travelers to describe the airport as “serene.”

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Mumbai Guide

Courtesy of San Francisco International Airport

Terminal 3E, San Francisco International Airport

WHERE: San Francisco

Opened: January 2014

This latest addition to SFO is technically just Boarding Area E of Terminal 3, but the changes and additions are so dramatic that passengers have nicknamed it “Terminal 3E.” Formerly the American Airlines area, 3E was transformed into a new United section to the tune of $138 million, and now features 20-to-30-foot ceilings, plenty of natural light, and a sleek, modern design, with quirky egg- and people-shaped chairs scattered throughout the lounge areas. The kids' play section has interactive installations instead of traditional games, and there's a yoga room—complete with twinkling ceiling—for adults who want to relax pre-flight. Local stores and restaurant (including two pop-up stores that will rotate throughout the year) bring SF flavor to the terminal; on the tech side, there's 375 power outlets, nine work stations, and free WiFi, plus terminals from which you can download airport info to your phone. Even the bathrooms have been upgraded with natural light and hotel suite-style dressing rooms. 

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's San Francisco Guide

© Archivio Fuksas

Terminal 3, Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport

WHERE: Shenzhen, China

Opened: November 2013

Built in just three years, with a price tag of about $1.4 billion, this futuristic terminal was designed by Rome-based architects FUKSAS to resemble a mobula, or manta-like flying ray, with a fluid form and all-white, “double skin” textured exterior. The emphasis on texture continues inside, with honeycomb-patterned windows bringing in natural light, web-like patterns throughout, and 116 tree-shaped structures doing triple duty as A/C units, PA systems, and fire safety hubs. The new terminal replaces three old ones, and now can service about 45 million passengers annually with 200 check-in counters, 200 retail and dining outlets, and 76 aircraft bays. Although this is not China's largest airport, it might be its greenest, with components like a 10-megawatt on-site solar plant and a rainwater collection system. A five-star hotel and subway link are forthcoming.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Shenzhen Guide