We’ve all been there: stuck at the airport due to a delay or long layover, with nothing to do but look at our phones or flip through the glossies on the magazine rack. Luckily, airports are taking notice that the more travelers spend time at the airport, the greater the need is for unique things to keep them busy. Here, we’ve rounded up a list of amenities that’ll actually make you relish your time at the airport.
1. Tastier food
Say goodbye to packaged wraps and salads. Airport restaurants are now dishing out fare more akin to hip dining districts. Denver International’s Root Down, for instance, works with area farms and suppliers for its Colorado lamb sliders ($16) and cranberry-chipotle buffalo duck wings ($14). It’s not the only airport eatery going the farm-to-table route: Colectivo Coffee at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International sources local eggs and milk for its various products. Earlier this year, The Publican — a huge proponent of regional sourcing — opened a 140-seat outpost at Chicago’s O’Hare International.
Celebrity chef restaurants are sprouting up at airports, too. Andrew Zimmern developed the menu for Minnibar at Minneapolis International. We recommend the Swedish meatball and lingonberry sandwich, an ode to the region’s Scandinavian heritage. Other big-name chefs with airport restaurants include Cat Cora’s Kitchen at Salt Lake City International; Michael Symon’s Bar Symon at Washington Dulles and Pittsburgh International; Masaharu Morimoto’s Skewers at Los Angeles International; and Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera at O’Hare.
2. Green spaces
When you need some quiet but don’t have time to leave the airport grounds, these spaces come in handy. Shore up some Zen at Honolulu International Airport by sitting in the shade and gazing into a goldfish pond at the Japanese, Hawaiian, and Chinese Cultural Gardens. At O’Hare, an aeroponic garden (growing plants without soil) lends itself to meditation or a respite from the hustle and bustle of the terminals.
3. Book signings
The next time you catch a flight, you might want to carve out some time to meet your favorite author. Earlier this year, London’s Heathrow Airport hosted six authors — including thriller writer Holly Seddon — as part of a WH Smith Travel promotion. Another thriller author, Jens Lapidus, made a stop on his book tour at Stockholm Arlanda Airport in 2015.
4. Pop-up shops
Save some room in your luggage. More and more airports are opening pop-up shops, where you can find unique gifts, gadgets, art, and culinary items that may not be sold anywhere else. This past June at Ottawa International, several retailers came together for an event called called ShopiFLY, during which shoppers could buy specialty apparel and accessories. Flying through Oakland International Airport at Christmastime? The airport temporarily sets up space for Oaklandish, selling hip, logoed apparel specific to Oakland.
5. Book lending
Don’t fret if you have to sit through a ridiculously long layover without a good book. Several airports — including Seattle-Tacoma International — have magazines and books on hand that you can borrow. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International and Harrisburg International offer free e-book downloads.
6. Innovative charging stations
Areas at the airport where you can charge your mobile devices are expected nowadays, but there’s a new way to power up those items. At Schiphol and Brussels airports, you can stretch your legs between flights (literally) by hopping on a WeWatt WeBike, a wooden bike and desk that requires you to pedal to charge your electronics. A little increased heartbeat and physical activity means you’ll arrive at your destination feeling more recharged, too.
7. Art exhibitions
Art lovers rejoice. A number of airports have art on display throughout their terminals: At San Diego International, for instance, the Point of Entry exhibit presents works by 14 artists that describe their cultural identity. Even cooler is the fact that this exhibit is one of more than a dozen currently on view. When passing through Miami International, keep your eyes peeled for creations from the Miami-Dade Art in Public Places program, along with other exhibitions. At LAX, artist Colette Miller brought her Global Angel Wings Project to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, where passengers have been flocking to snap photos with the wings.