For most travelers, airports are one of those places you want to get in and out of as quickly as possible, preferably in minutes and, at worst, a few hours. Sometimes longer stays are unavoidable. Take Viktor Navorski, the Tom Hanks character in The Terminal, who spent months trapped at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
In the real world, however, it's not inconceivable to be stuck in an airport for long periods -- hours, not months -- due to airplane mechanical problems, severe weather and extreme layovers. And airports around the world are striving to provide more creature comforts -- most at a cost, of course -- to make life more pleasant for those longer-term captives.
Depending upon the airport, you can get a massage, a spa treatment, a nap in a special pod, rent a portable DVD player and watch a movie, use an airline club lounge, take in a wine tasting, have quiet spiritual moments in a chapel -- any number of activities beyond mind-numbing shopping or watching CNN Airport Network.
"Airports are getting better at providing passengers with more comfort amenities," said Harriet Baskas, who reviews airports around the world for Expedia.com, is author of Stuck at the Airport and a contributor to USA Today. "Airports earn more money from these services and their shops carry more nice stuff."
From my own observations, passengers tend to hang out near their gates, reading, tapping on a laptop or talking on a cell phone, always fearful of missing a last-minute boarding call. To soothe the nerves, some passengers may wander off to get a chair backrub, but if you travel with carry-on luggage, that means schlepping your bag unless you have a travel companion guarding your stuff.
According to an Executive Travel SkyGuide listing, you can get a massage at airports in Anchorage, Alaska, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Orlando, Nashville, Tenn., Pittsburgh, San Diego and Seattle, to name a few. At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Destination Relaxation, in Pier A, is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. Chair massages are available for $15 per 10 minutes. Since concessions can come and go, ask airline personnel about specific massage locations at other airports.
For passengers who have the time and need more pampering, airport spas can provide not only massages, but facials, manicures, pedicures, hair styling / barber service and the like, reviving you before or after the flight.
Airports with spas include Boston Logan International with its Jet Setter Spa and Newark International Airport's d-parture spa, where passengers can de-stress with a facial ($30) massage ($10 for 10 minutes), shampoo and styling ($35-plus) or manicure ($25).
Chicago's O'Hare International has the Hilton Hotel Athletic Club, walkable from Terminals 1, 2 and 3. The club is used not only by hotel guests, said manager Bob Smith, but 300 to 400 passengers who use it daily and pay $11 to work out, swim, have a massage (that's extra) or use the sauna.
Among other airports with spas: Calgary, Alberta, which offers an oxygen wellness spa; Hong Kong's Regal Hotel health spa and pool; London Heathrow, with a Molton Brown Travel Spa, which also operates in the British Airways terminal at JFK; and Vancouver International with two Absolute Spa locations.
Depending on the airport, sleep-deprived passengers have napping options other than an uncomfortable lounge seat, the newest being MetroNaps pods. At the moment, only one airport, Vancouver International, offers pods to its passengers. The pods -- Vancouver has three -- are ergonomically designed for power nappers, and look like a super modern, hooded reclining chair / bed.
It might not be until the end of summer, if then, that the pods show up at other airports, said Arshad Chowdhury, its designer and company owner. At Vancouver, the pods rent for about $8.60 U.S. for half an hour, about $13.60 for up to two hours.
At airport hotel properties -- for example the Mercure at Amsterdam's Schiphol, the Hilton at London's Heathrow, the Hilton or Sheraton at Paris' Charles de Gaulle and Tokyo's Hilton Narita -- all offer day rates that can run about $100, or, in the case of the Hilton Narita, about $50 for five hours. Hotels close to an airport normally offer day rates as well.
If a hotel doesn't work for you, perhaps spending a few hours in a special airline lounge does, and you don't have to be an airline club member. A membership in Priority Pass (prioritypass.com; 800-352-2834) will get you into about 500 lounges in 90 countries. A standard membership costs $99 per year and the per visit cost is $24 per person. For this you can take advantage of all a club offers: complimentary refreshments, free newspapers, Internet access and shower facilities (if available). Otherwise, check with individual airline lounges about day passes.
If movies are your bag and you are fussy about what you watch, you can rent a portable DVD player and movies starting at $12 per day through InMotion Pictures, which operates kiosks in 21 airports across the United States, from New York to Anchorage, or the firm can deliver the DVD player to your home. Check out inmotionpictures.com for locations.
Often the stress of travel propels passengers to meditate or enjoy the quiet of a chapel. Boston, Chicago (O'Hare), Denver, Houston, Miami and JFK have chapels, as does Paris' Charles de Gaulle. Amsterdam's Schiphol has a Meditation Center, and Heathrow has the Chapel of St. George as well as Islamic prayer areas.
A drink can reduce stress too. Not that you can't find plenty of bars at airports, but at least two have wine bars to lure passengers with supposedly more discerning tastes. Vino Volo, a California group, has one at Washington's Dulles International and looks to open others. Dallas / Ft. Worth has its La Bodega, where you can sample Texas wines.
Alfred Borcover writes for the Chicago Tribune.