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On Thursday, The New York Times published a story about airports scrambling “to brand themselves as luxury entities rather than mere transportation centers.” In that process, some airports are adopting a star system, and others are installing an array of new amenities.

Which got us here at Tripping Over the World thinking about all the boring hours we’ve sat in airports, watching closed-captioned CNN and wandering around the giant Toblerone section of duty free shops. The truth is that in most airports, there’s not a lot to do.

That ought to change — and in the spirit of making the world a better place, we’ve included a list of four things we’d like to see at more airports. Ideally, we’d also like to see these amenities available to the average traveler — i.e. not only first class — and within the terminals so travelers don’t have to go through security to use them.

1. Movie theaters

This one seems like a no-brainer: travelers who have hours to kill are a captive audience with often looser-than-normal wallets. They’re an ideal movie-going crowd, and I know I’ve had long delays during which I would gladly have paid to see a movie in an actual theater.

Apparently this idea has been around for a while and U.S. travel experts have pooh-poohed it for not being cost effective. But there are already Asian airports with movie theaters and while an IMAX in a regional airport might indeed not work, a modest-sized theater in a major hub seems like it could be a worthwhile loss leader.

Hong Kong's airport, which reportedly has a movie theater, via Alyson Hau.
Hong Kong’s airport, which reportedly has a movie theater, via Alyson Hau.

2. Gyms

Staying fit is one of the biggest challenges a traveler faces, so it’d be nice to see more airports with gyms that are available for all travelers. As is the case with movies, I’d be willing to pay a modest fee — maybe $10 max — for one-time use.

Turns out, there is an entire site dedicated to airport gyms, and it claims they exist in San Diego, Dallas, and Miami (I have never seen a gym in any of those airports). There has been some limited reporting on these gyms elsewhere as well. So airport gyms are obviously a possibility. The problem now is that they’re not widespread, not well-publicized, and it seems that some are not actually in the terminals, which means you might have to exit security.

3. Local restaurants

There was a time when it seemed like most airports were filled with generic chain restaurants. That’s still true in many cases — I associate the smell of Auntie Anne’s with travel now — but many airports have made laudable efforts to localize their dining options. One example that immediately comes to mind is Salt Lake International, which has a local brewpub, pizza restaurant, and greek place.

In Long Beach, the airport actually has a food truck, which is outside of security but also quite delicious.


4. Gardens

If movie theaters are too difficult for many airports, gardens seem like an even bigger pipe dream. But in fact the Times story reveals that Singapore’s Changi Airport includes several gardens, including one filled with butterflies.

The “Enchanted Garden” in Singapore, via Eustaquio Santimano

There are other airports that have gardens though some, like Vancouver’s (which I saw in 2013), are really more for glancing at as you walk by.

In any case, airports tend to be simultaneously high-stress and oppressively artificial environments. As a result, more gardens would offer a welcome respite.

*Cover image of Frankfurt Airport, via Allan.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


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