2017 Travel Trends: The Airport as a Destination

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A rendering of Singapore's Jewel Changi biodome, set to open in 2019.

Kinder, Gentler Airports

No longer just hubs, the world’s best terminals aim to expedite and entertain.

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Emirates' posh First Class Lounge in Dubai.
Fresh fare at Newark Liberty.

By Elaine Glusac
 
Propelled by the changing face of air travel, from tech updates to airline-procedure tweaks, major airports are emerging from radical facelifts with a new transit model: the destination airport. These gateways – not just to flights, but to spas, top restaurants, and even meditation gardens – are making air travel smoother, more comfortable, and, dare we say, more fun. 
 
“There is more of an emphasis on the ‘airside’ experience and less on the ‘landside,’” says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly, referring to post- and pre-security areas, respectively. “Security expansions have moved forward at the same time as ticket-counter real estate has shrunk. Most fliers don’t need a ticket agent.”
 
From check-in to departure, these new airports promise travelers efficiency and diversion. “The airport isn’t just the starting and stopping point, but part of your trip,” says Darryn Weinstein, a New York City-based Virtuoso advisor who focuses on high-end air travel. Here, a few areas of innovation to look for en route to your final destination.
 
Security: Researchers are experimenting with biometrics at security checkpoints. Amsterdam Schiphol, for example, is testing screening that allows travelers to leave liquids in their bags.
 
Soothing with nature: Singapore’s Changi Airport set the standard with butterfly and orchid gardens; it will open Jewel Changi, its new biodome terminal, in 2019. London’s Heathrow recently installed a 1,680-plant vertical garden known as the Garden Gate, and a new terminal at South Korea’s Incheon, opening later this year, encompasses two skylighted indoor gardens with waterfalls and koi ponds.
 
Wellness and dining: Toronto Pearson hosts a full-service gym, while Newark Liberty’s new farm-to-terminal restaurant, Daily, changes its menu every day based on seasonal harvests. “It’s a new age of travel. People don’t want to eat a pizza and sit still for six hours,” notes Todd Bliwise, a Virtuoso travel advisor in New York City.
 
Culture: Seasonal pop-ups and special events are energizing airports, from a 2016 fashion show on the runway at Finland’s Helsinki Airport to an animated film festival recently held at Japan’s New Chitose. And outside the Sub Pop Records shop at Seattle-Tacoma, renowned musicians play live sets.
 
Lounge upgrades: Next-generation airline lounges are taking special treatment to new heights. For example, passengers in Emirates’ First Class Lounge at Dubai Airport can board their flights directly from the lounge. Another trend we love: fresh air, from the terrace at Zurich’s Swiss lounge to Munich’s VipWing open-air beer garden and Delta’s rooftop Sky Club deck at JFK. 
 
Self-service: If you don’t need a ticket-counter agent, why require one elsewhere? Self-boarding gates are expanding, including new DIY ones at Australia’s Melbourne Airport. 
 
*Economy Scales Up
A new class of airplane seating, premium economy, has alighted between business and the back of the plane. Singapore Airlines, SAS, and Lufthansa recently added the category, which features more-comfortable seats and roomier configurations, better food, and upgraded amenities, such as Lufthansa’s in-flight kits and welcome drinks.
 
“It’s business light,” says advisor Todd Bliwise. His favorite: Air New Zealand, whose premium economy “Spaceseats” angle you away from your seatmate for semiprivate snoozing. While most American carriers have yet to add the option, Delta has announced that it will roll out Delta Premium later this year on select international flights.
 
 
More 2017 Travel Trends:
The Future of Hospitality
The Smarter Suitcase
The Haute Homestay
The At-Sea Retiree
 
 Originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Virtuoso Life.