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Weird and Wild Airport Attractions That Make Layovers More Appealing

Airport delays have never been more fun when there are slot machines to play
Airport delays have never been more fun when there are slot machines to play | © Jack Hobhouse / Alamy Stock Photo
Picture of Amy Schulman
Food Editor
Updated: 3 June 2019
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These days, travellers expect more than the requisite stale muffin and celebrity gossip magazine. Airports have emerged as bona fide destinations themselves, enticing visitors with spas and swimming pools, fine dining establishments and nap pods. These weird and wacky facilities almost constitute an entire trip within a trip.

Nap pods

Trips can easily be dominated by delays at the airport. Most travellers are far too accustomed to scrunching up in a lounge seat in a cold terminal, contorting their bodies like acrobats in an effort to convince themselves their chair is masquerading as a bed. Mercifully, airports are slowly rolling out nap pods: soundproofed cabins with built-in beds for a quick snooze. At Berlin and Munich’s airports, there are NapCity napcabs: squat boxes complete with a bed, a desk and a charging station, where the temperature and lighting can be changed to suit the sleeper. And at the Dubai International Airport, sleep pods have morphed into sleep rooms, thanks to Sleep ‘N Fly. Families can rent a room with a double bed and a pull-out cot – and even wake up with hot or cold towel service.

Fish spa pedicure

Regular pedicures are so yesterday. Wellness Oasis at Singapore airport wants to treat your feet a little differently. Instead of a traditional pedicure, the spa is all about letting garra rufa (dainty nibble fish) gently munch on your feet and toes, pulling off dead skin cells to leave them smooth and exfoliated. Your feet simply dangle into a small pool filled with fish; it feels a bit ticklish at first, but the super-soft results are worth it.

Fish Spa pedicure
© Sergey Kolesnikov / Alamy Stock Photo

Virtual reality massages

At Dubai International Airport, carve out time before your flight and head to Be Relax Spa. Here, you can escape all the stress of travelling by immersing yourself in VR – all while having your feet gloriously rubbed. Put on the glasses and you’re instantly transported to the beach (complete with chattering dolphins leaping out of the water), or you can catch a ride in a hot air balloon and watch as the ground slowly recedes. The VR is free with any purchase of a BE FEET massage.

Casinos

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas doesn’t merely boast Hudson News and Chili’s Too (although those are equally important airport staples). The southwestern airport actually doubles as a mini casino, complete with colourful slot machines. No need to wait until you hit the Strip to pull that lever; simply hop off the plane and settle in front of any of the slot machines scattered throughout the airport.

Las Vegas airport
© Greg Gard / Alamy Stock Photo

Oxygen treatments

The air is undeniably stuffy on planes, and it certainly doesn’t help that you’re breathing in the same recycled air for hours on end. Luckily, Narita International Airport in Tokyo offers a solution before you hit 30,000 feet. At Juko Oxygen Lounge, attendants pump oxygen infused with cinnamon and eucalyptus (and other soothing flavours) directly into your lungs. This practice is said to help minimise stress, alleviate headaches and thwart jet lag.

Over-the-top malls

Shops are ubiquitous in airports, but there’s nothing quite like the newly opened mall in Singapore’s airport. The Jewel is 10 floors, complete with a 130-foot indoor waterfall, over 280 shops and restaurants, a lush forest, a 165-foot sky bridge, two mazes, a giant slide, a supermarket and a cinema. It’s an adult amusement park so intriguing that you may end up accidentally-on-purpose missing your flight.

Singapore citizen go to see the amazing indoor waterfall at Jewel in Changi Airport.
© Patchiya Wasitworapol / Alamy Stock Photo

Good restaurants

Gone are the days when all airports had to offer hungry travellers were limp salads and lukewarm pizza. Airports across the world are opening restaurants and cafes that actually serve good food. At Hong Kong International airport, there’s Maxim’s Jade Garden, home to roasted goose and deep-fried crispy pork; at Le Chef in Geneva, feast on French fare like sole meuniere and duck foie gras; and at Custom Burger by Pat LaFreida at New York’s LaGuardia, griddled patties topped with cheese are squeezed between soft potato rolls. After a mini feast, you won’t need to subject yourself to questionable aeroplane food.

On-site hotels

Fret no more – you’ll never need to stay at that Holiday Inn off the highway again. JFK’s old 1962 TWA terminal – the one that resembles a flying bird – has been repurposed into a luxury hotel. Situated right on the airport grounds, the hotel boasts over 500 soundproof rooms, a roof complete with a lounge and infinity pool with views of the runway, a restaurant helmed by chef Jean-George Vongerichten and a lobby bar straight out of the ‘60s. In Vancouver, the Fairmont doesn’t merely offer a place to bed down for the night. There’s a spa with a slew of treatments (including body scrubs and aromatherapy), 24-hour dining services, residence programs for artists and nightly live music. At the InterContinental at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, guests can be shuttled for free to the Mall of America, or simply stick around the hotel and book a treatment at the spa or watch planes land from the 12th-floor bar.

Eero Saarinen’s soaring terminal serves as the heart of the TWA Hotel.
© TWA Hotel / David Mitchell

Hydrotherapy

There may be a 25-metre indoor pool and squash courts at the Qatar airport spa, but if you’re in the mood for relaxation there’s also an opportunity to sink into a hydrotherapy tub. Here, you’ll bathe in both hot and cold water, which is supposed to increase circulation, relax your body, enhance your immune system and help you sleep.

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