These first-class airports are improving the travel experience

Kathryn Kyte

Whether you’re jet-setting for a special getaway or a frequent business flier, reliable air travel is central to the experience. Opting to fly comes with plenty of perks and pains—no one likes long layovers, right? However, there are ways to make those layovers more bearable and airports across the globe are gung ho about keeping customers happy on and off the ground.

Every year accolades are given to airports, like Skytrax’s World Airport Awards or the newly launched ‘Airport Innovation Power List’ from Future Travel Experience. Technological advances, architecture, airport culture, passenger accessibility and overall efficiency all come into consideration and critique when assessing what the best airports have to offer. Innovation is noticed and rewarded.

Automation, robotics, data analytics, smart infrastructure management are all areas that steer change, and airports invest millions of dollars to ensure their airport is offering only the best for its travelers.

Singapore’s Changi Airport, which is regarded as one of the most passenger-friendly airports, continues to be leading this innovation charge, and has been doing so consecutively for the past five years. In 2017 it once again topped Skytrax’s ‘best of’ list, and with its newly introduced Terminal 4 in early 2017, Changi will further shape the future of travel.

Terminal 4 is the first terminal at Changi Airport to offer end-to-end Fast and Seamless Travel (FAST) for departing passengers. Facial recognition software speeds up the efficiency of passenger’s check in, bag drop and immigration clearing. Nine airlines are slated to operate at Terminal 4 including Korean Air and Cathay Pacific.

In just under three years, the construction of Terminal 4 was completed, ringing in at a price tag of SGD$985 million (about CAD$908 million). Once the terminal is fully operational it is expected to facilitate 16 million passengers a year.

While Changi took the main award, four Canadian airports should be noted on the Top 100 list, too. Vancouver Airport came in at No. 13 (No. 14 in 2016), Toronto’s Pearson International Airport landed at No. 43 on the list (No. 44 in 2016), the Halifax Stanfield Airport is No. 65 (down from No. 61 in 2016) and Montreal Airport came in at No. 80 on the list, moving up eight spots from its 2016 ranking.

When it comes to innovation, there are seven airports that manage to attract, engage and respect travellers while they wait to fly.

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Changi Airport (Singapore)
Automation and technology are central to Changi’s infrastructure. LED screens broadcast mini-theatre shows like the “Peranakan Love Story,” while a Heritage Zone offers travelers a look into Peranakan culture, particularly architecture from the 1880s to 1950s. (Changi Airport Group)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Changi Airport (Singapore)
Petalclouds, the kinetic sculpture that spans 200 metres, is another visual which illuminates and animates the airport, showing slow moving clouds gliding to the sounds of BAFTA award-winning composer, Ólafur Arnalds. (Changi Airport Group)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Changi Airport (Singapore)
Between the existing Changi Airport and the Jewel Changi Airport, which is slated to open in 2019, there are plenty of eye-catching elements: there are 24-hour cinemas, a butterfly garden that houses hundreds of species, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and a canopy bridge which suspends 23 metres above the ground, just to name a few. You can get a full look at Changi’s unparalleled features here. (Changi Airport Group)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Heathrow Airport (London, U.K.)
In 2016, Heathrow Airport served over 75 million passengers, according to Business Insider. Utilizing big data, self-boarding tech and digital terminal maps, are among the ways the airport accommodates its passengers. (Heathrow Airport/Instagram)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Seoul Airport – Incheon (Seoul, South Korea)
Incheon Airport handles more than 5 million passengers a week and has plans to open another terminal in the new year, making it the first Korean single airport that will operate multiple terminals. It is the busiest (and biggest) airport in South Korea. Incheon only opened 16 years ago and its automation for check-in and bag drop plus its implementation of virtual reality and robots (who interact with fliers) highlight how smart airport technology can make a big difference. (Incheon Airport/Instagram)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Seoul Airport – Incheon (Seoul, South Korea)
These advances in combination with its medical services, ice rink, driving range and casino, make for a stopover that isn’t slim with its attractions and accommodations. (Incheon Airport/Instagram)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Dubai International Airport (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Dubai International Airport has seen steady increases in air travel, from 47 million in 2010 to over 83 million in 2016, and according to Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, with the “forecast of 89 million passengers in 2017, Dubai International is closing the gap on Atlanta and Beijing for the top spot in overall traffic.” DXB welcomed more than 7.6 million passengers in April 2017, which is up 9.2 per cent from April 2016. (Dubai Airports/Instagram)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Dubai International Airport (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Last year the airport opened Concourse D, which provides automated immigration gates for Emirates ID cardholders as well as optimal shuttles to bring passengers where they need to go, quickly. The airport has a prayer room, health centre and swimming pool, among other amenities. (Dubai Airports/Instagram)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Munich Airport (Munich, Germany)
Munich’s innovation changes depending on season with surfing and Christmas markets catering to fliers during designated times of the year. (Munich Airport/Instagram)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Munich Airport (Munich, Germany)
It houses an on-site brewery, mini golf and classy cabins for sleep, relaxing or simply to disappear from the world for a bit. (Munich Airport/Instagram)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Hong Kong International Airport (Hong Kong)
Since opening in 1998, this airport, similar to Changi, continues to make the Skytrax’s World Best Airport list, year after year. A couple of years ago it was announced that the airport would have 120 self-service bag drop units. (Hong Kong Airport/Instagram)

First-class airports are improving the travel experience

Hong Kong International Airport (Hong Kong)
HKIA knows the value of hosting high-stakes events like the Technovation event, which this year was all about robotics application. Biometric technology continues to keep HKIA initiatives at the forefront of travel. (Hong Kong Airport/Instagram)

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