Last month’s news that New York plans to entirely rebuild the famously decrepit La Guardia Airport by 2021 has travelers and architecture buffs wondering what the new facility will look like. If searching for inspiration, planners would do well to check out these six airports, all of which feature notable innovations.
Changi Airport, Singapore: Butterfly Garden
Singapore’s Changi Airport routinely tops "Best Airports in the World" lists for its incredible amenities: a free 24-hour movie theater, a swimming pool, an enormous indoor children’s slide, massage chair lounges and more. But Changi's outdoor spaces are perhaps the most innovative of its offerings. Most airports don’t allow travelers outside once they’ve cleared security, which can make long delays or layovers feel even longer. But Changi has several unique outdoor spaces within its terminals, including a rooftop cactus garden, a cheerful sunflower garden and various orchid displays (orchids are Singapore’s national flower). Our favorite is the butterfly garden. Visitors step into a fenced outdoor grotto, where some 1,000 butterflies flit from flower to flower, occasionally landing on a head or shoulder. If you’re lucky, you can even see one emerging from its chrysalis in a special “emergence enclosure.”
Cork Airport, Ireland: Real-Time Flight Tracking
Circling the airport waiting for a loved one’s flight to arrive is one of life’s minor annoyances. Earlier this year, Cork Airport in Ireland made predicting arrival time a bit easier with a new live flight tracker app. Using data from the tracking service Flightradar24, the app shows the plane’s route, speed, altitude and time to destination. Ireland’s second busiest international airport is the first airport to utilize this kind of technology, but we’ve no doubt you’ll be seeing it elsewhere very soon.
Abu Dhabi International Airport and Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates: Nap Pods
If giant robots laid eggs, they might look like the GoSleep Sleeping Pods that line the terminals of the international airports of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Designed in Finland and opened in Abu Dhabi in 2013 and Dubai in 2014, the pods enclose a fully reclining chair. Once the hatch is shut, a sleeper inside the pod is fully shielded from light and noise. There’s space for luggage as well as ports for charging laptops and phones. Pods start at $14 an hour or $61 for a night. If only they had these inside planes.
Aruba International Airport, Aruba: Biometric Identification
Have you ever dashed through an airport with bags in both hands and your passport clenched between your teeth? Well, if you travel out of Aruba, that tiny speck of silver sand and turquoise seas in the Dutch Caribbean, you’ll have far fewer ID checkpoints to contend with. The Aruba International Airport recently implemented a biometrics program called Happy Flow, which allows passengers to scan their passport once and subsequently be ID’d by their facial features. Cameras equipped with facial recognition software will take the place of manual ID and boarding pass checks, streamlining the security and boarding process. If the pilot program is successful, it could be implemented at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and beyond.
Helsinki Airport, Finland: Crowd Tracking
From the moment you step inside the airport in Finland’s capital city, sensors begin monitoring your phone to track your movements. While this may sound creepy to some, it allows the airport to get a clear picture of crowd movements. This information is passed back to travelers via an airport app, which lets passengers know what parts of the airport are most crowded at any given time. Want to know if you’ve got time to stop at the airport’s Nordic Kitchen for a dinner of whitefish roe and leipäjuusto (Finnish cheese) with cloudberries before catching your flight? The app will tell you if there are any bottlenecks in your terminal to prevent an on-time departure.
Hamad International Airport, Qatar: 24-Hour Fitness Center
While many prefer to spend layovers sprawling prone across several airport seats while eating Big Macs, experts will tell you the “correct” way to beat jetlag is through sunlight, healthy eating and exercise. Doha’s new Hamad International Airport makes this easy with its 24-hour Vitality Wellbeing and Fitness Centre, a combo gym and spa with a 25-meter pool, squash courts, hydrotherapy tubs and exercise room manned by fitness instructors. At 130 Qatari Rials (about $36), it’s hardly a bargain. But then again, neither are airport Big Macs.