There used to be a time when air travel was as quick, painless and stress-free as waiting for a public transit carrier to arrive at your neighborhood bus stop. All you had to do was show up an hour at the airline front desk an hour before your plane took off, show them your ticket, check your luggage and head down the hall to find your departure gate. Easy peasy, right?
Not any more. These days, the processing time has doubled and even tripled at busier hubs. You need more documentation for check-in, while security procedures have become more intense to mitigate threats ranging from disease to terrorism. Increasing air traffic and unpredictable weather patterns (a symptom of climate change to some wags) is causing more delays than ever, adding to the frustration and even longer waiting times. It's as if airports have become second homes to regular travelers.
Some of the world's savvier airports have taken those gripes to heart and even created a few remedies to alleviate the stress and boredom of those lengthy waits. They've offered additional services, almost all of them available on request. Take advantage of some of these next time you're stuck indefinitely at a terminal.
Bored and Stranded? Go Out And About!
Once you get to the seating area by the gate and depending on how late your flight might be from taking off, it's going to get tedious watching all those planes creeping across the tarmac outside. If you're into a change of scenery, some hubs will offer a free tour of the airport. And for nervous fliers, it might serve them well to see how such a service operates, from ground safety features to baggage handling.
They're not widely publicized, however, although a few of them already have some degree of recognition worldwide, such as one tour at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, where visitors can get a peek at what goes on in the observation tower. San Diego also has a reputable tour on various Thursday and Friday dates that last up to two hours.
If you're trying to endure a much longer layover, a multitude of airports in Southeast Asia offer visitors a chance to see a city they wouldn't otherwise experience if their connecting flight has a much shorter waiting time. The best-known junkets are offered at international airports in Seoul, Singapore, Taiwan, and Tokyo. Elsewhere, popular civic excursions are available at hubs in Istanbul and even Salt Lake City.
Take In Some Local Culture
To newcomers, an airport destination is usually the first experience of what awaits in the city hosting that facility and to that end, municipal tourism offices often love to show visitors the best their locale has to offer.
Probably the most common way to garner that attention has been via setting up stages between the arrival gates and the main airport exits to facilitate some of the best musical talents in the city. Airports in Austin, Nashville, and Seattle—cities famous for their musical cultures—often have acts performing. In Canada, Calgary has a YYC Music Program that showcases its local performers.
Also available and usually a short stroll elsewhere on the premises, you'll likely find an art gallery or a series of wall mounts featuring works of the city's highly-lauded visual artists. Some world-class works exist in such stops as Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, although plenty of U.S. airports like those in Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, and St. Louis have plenty of space dedicated to art.
Stuff For The Mind, Body, And Soul
More faith-oriented travelers might be comforting to know that most airports have a chapel or some small room suitable for prayer, almost of them designed to handle Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic worshipers. For more secular passengers, a meditation room can also be made available on request.
That takes care of the spirit, now what about the mind and body? Well in the case of the latter, yoga studios at airports are more popular than ever, with free sessions at stops in Miami, Fort Worth, Burlington, San Francisco, Chicago, and some smaller hubs. The Baltimore/Washington airport recently added a short-track cardio trail.
And for those wanting to kill a few layover hours, the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport led the pack by being the first facility to create a movie theatre. Others have followed including the hub in Portland, Oregon which screens art-oriented flicks. But for the huge cinematic experience, terminals in Hong Kong and Delhi have multiple-dimension films complete with special effects built into the theater for added effects.
Fill Yourself Up
Because water fountains are notorious for spreading diseases, health-conscious airports offer stations enabling passengers to fill their own water bottles for free as long as they have their own sealed, leak-proof containers. As an additional safeguard, some airports like those in Atlanta, Chicago, London, and San Francisco have hands-free terminals to do the refilling for you.
While on the subject of reversing that empty feeling, several airports also offer charging stations for passengers with laptops and cellphones getting low on juice. But just in case those facilities are all occupied, some wiser patrons carry with them their own adapters and search for a handy wall socket.
Some Doggone Good Ideas
It's not just human requiring some care during lengthy airport stays, sometimes Rover needs a bit of relief as well. With that in mind, adventurous airports in places like Detroit, Miami, and New York have set up dog parks outside their terminals to address those canine needs.
In turn, dogs also provide a handy paw or two as service animals. Volunteers usually bring in their service pups to put stressed-out passengers at ease in such hubs as Los Angeles. Other airports have more novel creatures performing similar functions such as a pig in San Francisco, a cat in Denver and even miniature horses at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky stopover.