Photo by Hotelstvedi
In last week’s post, I wrote about grisly stays in flophouses and soulless chains, but for annoyance and discomfort, it’s hard to beat the night I spent in Newark Airport. Our flight from Spain had arrived late, somewhere around midnight, long after our connecting flight had departed. In our naiveté, Rich and I thought it would be a simple matter to book a room in a nearby hotel, but 45 minutes on the phone convinced us there wasn’t an available bed within 20 miles. “I guess we’ll just have to spend the night here,” Rich said, eyeing the plastic benches with disfavor. That’s when the security guard came up to us and said, “I’m sorry but we’re closing the terminal. You’ll have to leave.”
Leave? And go where? I pictured Rich and myself outside, huddled on the concrete, pressed up against the darkened building to absorb the last vestiges of warmth. I imagined us roaming the parking lot, searching for a car window carelessly left open that we might crawl through to spend a few precious hours in the comfort of a back seat. Maybe we could ask the guard for some sheets of cardboard and old airline blankets. But in the end we were herded, along with a gaggle of other stranded passengers, into the adjacent terminal’s food court. There, I pushed three wooden chairs together, stretched out with my head on my suitcase, and fell into a fitful doze in the gentle glow of back-lit fast food logos.
Hanging around Newark, Heathrow, O’Hare or any major air transportation hub is tedious at best, nightmarish at worst. But with nearly one third of all flights experiencing a delay, sooner or later you’re likely to find yourself in an airport with time on your hands. And new, innovative businesses are springing up to entertain you during those hours. Strolling around Heathrow recently, I discovered the No. 1 Travel Spa, an oasis of comfort where you can get a massage, a hot shower, a nap in a real bed, that overdue haircut or bikini wax, or simply a hot meal in congenial surroundings. You don’t have to be a member; if you're a walk-in, you'll pay £35 for basics including food, shower and use of the lounge, and/or you can book individual spa services, such as a massage (£60/hour). If your budget doesn’t stretch to that kind of pampering, Heathrow also offers the free “play me” piano. This little upright is discreetly tucked away in an obscure corner far from the maddening crowds, so no one can hear how badly you mangle Benny and the Jets or La Bomba. Knock yourself out.
Next time you’re booking a flight, go online to check out the airport’s entertainment options. A few international transportation hubs offer athletic diversions, such as Hong Kong's golf course or Singapore's rooftop swimming pool. Many US and European facilities offer kid-friendly play areas and free wi-fi zones. Dallas Fort Worth, determined to become "the healthiest airport in the country, if not the world," has built a yoga studio and a walking path that’s seven-tenths of a mile (1100 meters). Some airports are edging out fast food chains and souvenir shops in favor of Wolfgang Puck, Gucci and, in Heathrow’s T5, an 11,000-square-foot Harrods.
Photo by chrismar
All that helps while away the time, but the best antidote for the airport blues is moving on to your destination. Or at least, a destination. Once, en route home after a volunteer work assignment in the former Soviet Union, Rich and I were delayed coming through Paris and raced to our connecting flight, arriving just as the doors were closing. We urged the staff to reopen and let us board; to be totally honest with you, it’s possible I may have expressed my sentiments with unbecoming vigor. The manager arrived and said sternly, “Madam, we will put you on tomorrow night’s flight to Cleveland. You have no alternative but to spend the next 24 hours in Paris.” I was drawing breath to resume battle, when I suddenly realized what he had said. Mais oui! Within the hour Rich and I were sitting at a sidewalk café sipping vin and watching tout Paris stroll by. Knowing that at that very moment we could have been juddering around in a plane 35,000 feet above the earth, or, worse, spending the night at the airport, made that wine some of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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