The perfect airport: Could this be it?
With crotchety airline reps and excessive security searches, most airports cause more cursing than cruising.
But that’s not always the case. Some deliver such swanky perks that getting stuck in the terminal is a treat.
Amenities like golf courses, free cinemas and runway-view bars make layovers a pleasure. Some lay on full curbside-to-planeside service where they sort out check-in, baggage and security for you. If you’ve got the dough, that is.
Since no one has bothered to assemble these travel luxuries into one sweet bundle of airport perfection, here’s what a fantasy version -- the airport of your dreams -- might look like.
All items are based on existing facilities. It's just a shame they're not all in one airport.
1. Arriving: VIP check-in service
Forget the hassle of checking in and dragging your own luggage to the gate. The Heathrow by Invitation VIP service at London’s Heathrow Airport -- which began as a service for royalty and heads of state -- handles it all.
But you don’t have to be Kate Middleton to experience this deluxe coddling. The service allows customers to skip the chase for a parking space within only a mild sweat of the departure hall and enter the airport via a private entrance.
The host who greets you takes over all check-in procedures while you lounge in private luxury enjoying biscuits and tea. And just before takeoff, a limousine delivers you right to the airplane steps.
London Heathrow Airport, Heathrow by Invitation VIP service, US$2,378 plus tax for up to six passengers, www.heathrowbyinvitation.com
2. Check in: Smart baggage handling
If you forego the all-inclusive VIP treatment and decide to fend for yourself, unloading baggage at self-service drop-off points like those at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport allows more time for being anywhere but in the baggage-check line.
When the inevitable annoying couple spends 20 minutes finding and removing their souvenir clogs to avoid the excess baggage fee, you’ll happily bypass them, print yourself a barcode tag and place your bag into the luggage-sorting machine that will make sure it gets onto the aircraft before you do.
On the other side of the world, your luggage takes a cue from the zippy and efficient Beijing Capital International Airport’s Terminal 3 luggage system. It sorts 19,200 pieces of luggage per hour -- or 320 in the time it takes to unbuckle your seatbelt, remove your book from the seatback and make sure your hair looks passable.
With a boast of less than five minutes between aircraft unloading and luggage retrieval, your bag will be twiddling its thumbs waiting for you to claim it.
3. Security pass: Swift and speedy
The faster you pass gruff security bouncers, the faster you can lace your sneakers and go on your way to less invasive adventures.
An efficient security-processing system with courteous staff like the one at Narita International Airport (winner of the 2012 Skytrax annual World Airport Award for Best Airport Security Processing) gets travelers thoroughly checked and off to their gates without feeling frazzled and frustrated.
Because each airline takes responsibility for its security screening, the same politeness exhibited in-flight is present in this pre-flight procedure.
Narita International Airport, www.narita-airport.jp/en
4. Pre-flight gorging: Good restaurants
Like the "Top Chef" kitchen, a dining scene like the one at Hong Kong International Airport teems with culinary choices. Serving more than 70 appetizing options, HKIA presents only one challenge -- what type of food to choose.
You could sample Hong Kong-style street food like a crispy bun with condensed milk, get a takeaway roast goose from Maxim’s Food2 or opt for a French casse-croûte at Délifrance -- a taste tour of any capital’s culture exists for the eating.
Hong Kong International Airport, Dining, Terminals 1 and 2, www.hongkongairport.com
But travelers do not get by on roast goose alone. Most enjoy knocking back spirits and watching aircraft take off at Zurich Airport’s stylish Center Bar.
Named Best Airport Bar in the 2011 Airport Food and Beverage Awards, Center Bar is known for its cozy atmosphere and excellent service. With fresh sushi and dim sum available to complement cocktails and a live pianist to set the ambience, a lounge like this erases all travel stresses.
Zurich Airport, Center Bar, www.zurich-airport.com
5. Done eating, now need entertaining
Harrod’s and Cartier and Valentino, oh my.
Like the 80 or so shops across London’s Heathrow Airport, shopping offers more than just “I love fill-in-the-country” trinkets.
You could grab the Swarovski wedding bears gift you forgot to buy or the Burberry aviator shades you forgot to pack and arrive prepared.
London Heathrow Airport, Shopping, www.heathrowairport.com
Seoul Incheon airport, which just snagged the 2012 Skytrax award for World’s Best Airport, offers tee time for travelers.
Located in the airport’s International Business Center, the Incheon Golf Club features 120 bays for practicing your swing with 330 yards of driving space and an 18-hole putting course.
Use idle time to work on your golf game with the swing analysis offering, or capitalize on the fitness center and sauna also available.
Seoul Incheon airport, Incheon Golf Club, www.airport.kr
Reduce the pain of a four-hour layover by watching "Tron: Legacy" or "Ice Age" at free movie theaters like those in Singapore Changi Airport.
Open and screening flicks all day and night, the theaters provide affordable boredom reduction.
Singapore Changi Airport, Movie Theater, Terminals 2 and 3, www.changiairport.com
6. Rest and refresh
For just under US$20 enjoy your own personal bathroom.
Shower units like those at Munich Airport include a sink, a toilet, towels, body wash and shampoo and a place to stow your stuff, which are all included in the cost.
Munich Airport, Showers, US$20, Terminal 2, www.munich-airport.de
Avoid curling up in cushion-less chairs with immovable armrests by visiting free rest areas like Singapore Changi’s.
You can recline on leather chairs complete with headrests and footrests and sleep away your travels and your layover time.
Singapore Changi Airport, Free Rest Areas, www.changiairport.com