International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Your bags have been checked, your boarding pass issued... and now you have hours to wait before getting on your plane.
What can you do with an airport layover? Plenty, as it turns out.
Feeling your muscles atrophy from all those flight delays? Hit the gym! Many airport hotels have fitness centres in them with day passes available for the public; some are even open 24 hours. If you do not have a spare set of workout clothes, get on your feet and take a brisk walk around the terminal, mall-walking-style. But avoid running if you do not want to risk getting tackled by security.
Day spas and massage shops have become ubiquitous at international airports. Have a fear of flying? Melt away your jitters with a muscle-tingling back or foot massage, or treat yourself to a facial treatment and a mani-pedi. Do not get so relaxed that you forget your boarding time.
Once reserved for the hotshots in First Class, deluxe lounges can now be your home away from home - for a few hours anyway - for a small fee. At minimum they usually have comfy seating, newspapers and magazines, a food buffet and free wi-fi (a real boon in those airports that still charge for wi-fi access).
Some higher-end ones, such as the Plaza Premium Lounge in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, feature showers, free draught beer, movies and even a putting green. Fore!
If there is anything airports are rarely short of, it is people. Take an interest in your fellow travellers: play detective and see how much you can figure out about them through your powers of observation (or play fashion police and judge their bad taste in clothing instead). If you enjoyed the film Love, Actually, reenact the opening scene by watching the emotional reunions at the international arrivals gate. Bring your own tissues.
Some airports these days almost seem like glorified shopping malls and prices are high since there is nowhere else to go. But you can have plenty of free fun playing with the travel gadgets and massage chairs at Brookstone, sampling moisturiser and testing fragrances at L'Occitane, browsing books in WH Smith and goggling at the price tags in Prada. Have some extra currency to get rid of? Spend it on some locally made souvenirs or sweets to bring home.
Get back to nature
If you are flying through Southeast Asia, you can find a lovely green respite from the normal concrete-and-glass airport experience. Kuala Lumpur International Airport has transplanted a section of Malaysian rainforest inside the airport for visitors to explore, and Singapore's Changi Airport has half a dozen different gardens throughout the complex, including an orchid garden with koi pond and a tropical habitat filled with butterflies, carnivorous plants and a waterfall grotto.
Take a day-trip
If you have an extra long layover between flights, consider skipping the airport experience altogether and play tourist for a half a day. Many city airports have direct train service downtown, such as Chicago, Sydney and Hong Kong - where you can even check your bags and get a boarding pass at the station. Singapore's Changi Airport offers free two-hour tours of town to passengers who have a layover of at least five hours.
If you cannot bear the thought of tucking into a tray of single-serving generica on your flight, treat yourself to a good meal before you board. But forget a plastic-tray meal at the food court: airports these days have started featuring nice restaurants, often with celebrity-chef pedigrees. It can also be a good way to sample a bit of regional cuisine. If you are a meat-lover transferring through Memphis, for example, try one of their four in-terminal BBQ restaurants.
Enjoy some quiet time
Most airports have chapels and "quiet rooms" that are good for a little bit of solitary introspection, whether you want to pray, meditate or just contemplate your belly button in silence for a while. For those who feel like they need some pastoral guidance, London's Heathrow Airport even has Anglican and Catholic chaplains and Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh "faith representatives" on call.
Singapore's superstar Changi Airport pulls out all the stops in providing boredom-killers for its passengers. Besides a children's playground, arts and crafts workshop, three screening rooms with free movies and an entertainment area with free video games and music-listening pods, they have recently installed a four-storey-high slide so you can relive your playground salad days, as well as a half-size version for anyone afraid of heights.
And of course if you have one of those new-fangled iPads handy, you will be able to while away your layover reading e-books, playing i-games or surfing the web on the airport wi-fi.