Airport spectacular – A water slide at the gate, a brewery in the terminal, a beach by the runway: Modern airports offer passengers the works
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The most fabulous airports in the world

  • TEXT ANDREAS SPAETH

A water slide at the gate, a brewery in the terminal, a beach by the runway: Modern airports offer passengers the works

Airports always used to be pretty inhospitable. These days, prestige is key, and so international star architects are commissioned to design spectacular buildings that are ­places of interest in their own right. And that’s not all: Airports are also rapidly morphing into adventure parks. Beneath the ­bold curves of their transparent roofs, they offer passengers an array of attractions wholly unconnected to air travel. Visitors can seek out the spa for a relaxing massage, stroll through the rainforest, surf artificial waves, enjoy locally brewed beer, chill on panoramic terraces, wander through museums – knowing that their children are having fun whooshing down a four-level giant water slide or flitting around on roller skates. Asian airports have been particularly successful on this score: In almost every survey, Changi Airport in Singapore and Incheon Airport in Seoul come out near the top.

But other cities are catching up fast. One of the boldest projects is currently underway in Mexico City, where a new airport – scheduled to replace the existing one, Benito Juarez Airport (which is far too small for a city of 20 million) in 2020 – aims to set the trend for tomorrow’s airports. Not one, but two highly respected architects and their teams have been entrusted with the job: Norman Foster from Great Britain, whose work includes the dome of the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building in Berlin, as well as Hong Kong Airport. The other big name is Mexican architect Fernando Romero, son-in-law of billionaire Carlos Slim, who built the Convention Center in Los Cabos and the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City. An X-shaped terminal will be the eye-catcher here.

“Mexico is taking global airport construction to a new level,” says architect Antoinette Nassopoulos-Erickson, who has been working on Norman Foster airport projects for 20 years. “Airports of the future have to offer passengers a fantastic experience and at the same time give them a sense of the actual country or city they are in.” Passengers want to personalize their experience at the airport terminal, “that’s why it’s important to offer a variety of facilities that suit individual moods.” And there’s already plenty to choose from at airline hubs around the world: The yoga rooms in Frankfurt, the golf course at Incheon, near Seoul, and the 4D movie theater with wind and olfactory effects in Hong Kong are only the beginning.

Airport spectacular – Nagoya, Japan
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Nagoya, Japan

For relaxation

Hot baths are very popular, especially in Japan. So Nagoya Airport has a bathhouse, where transit passengers can enjoy a luxurious steep.

Airport spectacular – Frankfurt, Germany
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Frankfurt, Germany

For yoga fans

Salute the sun or make the mountain pose to keep limber between flights. Frankfurt Airport has two rooms where passengers can do yoga.

Airport spectacular – Singapore
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Singapore

For thrills

Terminal 3 at Changi Airport in Singapore has the world’s biggest airport water slide. It hurtles you into the depths at six meters per second. Make a purchase at an airport shop to get a free coupon for the slide.


 

Airport spectacular – Munich, Germany
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Munich, Germany

For surfers

Every summer, Munich Airport becomes a surfer’s paradise. It’s the site of the world’s first standing wave (at an airport). Professional competitions take place here, too.


 

Airport spectacular – San Francisco, USA
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San Francisco, USA

For history buffs

San Francisco Airport in California has built a replica of its 1930s airport terminal and turned it into an aviation museum.

Airport spectacular – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

For nature enthusiasts

The airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, backs right onto the rainforest, parts of which are even inside the terminal. A jungle path takes visitors past dense greenery and a rushing waterfall.


 

Airport spectacular – Incheon, South Korea
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Incheon, South Korea

For skaters

Incheon International Airport, situated west of the South Korean capital, Seoul, has an inline skating rink with space for up to 150 people. The rink is located in the Transportation Center right beside the terminal and rents out skates.

Airport spectacular – Salzburg, Austria
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Salzburg, Austria

For speed freaks

At Salzburg Airport in Austria, passengers can admire the Red Bull collection of airplanes, race cars and racing motor­cycles at the Hangar 7 glass museum. The exhibition also includes the helium balloon capsule Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner used to make his record-breaking jump from the stratosphere in 2012.

Airport spectacular – Stockholm, Sweden
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Stockholm, Sweden

For fans of the jumbo jet

At Stockholm Airport, passengers can spend the night in a 1976-built 747 that flew all over the world before becoming a 33-room hotel. Best choice: the cockpit suite.


 

Airport spectacular – Vancouver, Canada
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Vancouver, Canada

For underwater fans

At Vancouver Airport in Canada, you can see more than 5000 different sea dwellers – including wolf eels, various types of jellyfish and brightly colored sea anemones – in two aquariums with a combined volume of around 116 cubic meters.


 

Airport spectacular – Nashville, USA
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Nashville, USA

For country music lovers

Nashville International Airport in the United States cultivates the Tennessee state capital’s famous musical heritage: Live bands play here up to 100 times a year.

Airport spectacular – Los Angeles, USA
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Los Angeles, USA

For loungers

The Star Alliance Lounge at Los Angeles Airport is one of the most beautiful airport lounges in the world. Don’t miss the roof terrace with its magnificent view of the Hollywood Hills.

Airport spectacular – Munich, Germany
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Munich, Germany

Da braut sich was zusammen

For beer drinkers Airbräu is the only beer that is actually brewed at an airport. At Munich Airport, passengers can watch the brewing process and enjoy a glass in the adjoining beer garden. Cheers!


 

Airport spectacular – St. Martin, Netherlands
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St. Martin, Netherlands

For plane spotters

The airport on the Caribbean island of St. Martin in the Antilles is right next to the sea, so it’s quite loud on the beach. But how about cooling off while you plane-spot – or the other way around?