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Image: Singapore Changi Airport. Credit: Singapore Changi Airport
It wasn't that long ago that airports were just 'infrastructure'. Anyone in Generation-X or older, will probably remember Australian airports being pretty stark places, built purely for the practical purpose of processing people in-and-out of a place. Dining options were meagre, likely limited to a generic cafe that served sandwiches (a carvery, if you were lucky) and small, brightly coloured jellies and desserts from a long, glass cabinet.
Customers shuffled along in single file pushing a tray, made a selection from the limited victuals, and continued in line to the till where a matronly employee in an apron would take more money from you than you might have expected.
It was pretty spartan, with a bit of an 'inmate' feel about it. And like prison, it was a place you probably couldn't wait to get out of. Oh, you wanted an espresso? Don’t even go there. Shopping, too would have been limited to 'duty free' and a souvenir shop or two.
Image: Hamad International Airport, Doha. Credit: Hamad International Airport
These days, the world's best airports are altogether different beasts offering services and activities almost unimaginable just a few decades ago. Like the luxury arms-race that has seen airlines raise the First and Business bar to new heights with each cabin iteration, airports are in fierce competition with each other. Not just to stand out, but to attract airlines, passengers, retailers, and even celebrity chefs whose in-transit outlets are a million miles from the dreary cafes of the past.
Image: Singapore Airport Terminal 3 - Shopping Street. Credit: Singapore Changi Airport
Step inside these leviathan halls and you might be forgiven for thinking you're in a place simply created to help you make the most of your leisure time. In fact, when your flight is called, you might not want to leave. How times have changed, and travellers are winning.
Image: Terminal 2, Tokyo Haneda Airport. Credit: Japan Airport Terminal Co.
So which airports are leading the way in traveller experience? ATAS accredited travel agent Lindy Hill says that Singapore Changi and Hong Kong Airport are two of the best. And if the Skytrax World Airport Awards are anything to go by, she'd be right, with Singapore and Hong Kong coming first and fourth respectively in the 2018 poll.
Image: Singapore Changi Airport’s new Terminal 4. Credit: Singapore Changi Airport.
"As a travel agent, I travel often and spend a fair bit of time in airports. Some are tedious, while others actually add to the travel experience. I would think nothing of whiling away hours in transit in Singapore or Hong Kong", says Lindy.
Image: Singapore Changi Terminal 1 Rooftop Swimming Pool. Credit: Singapore Changi Airport
"Some of my clients, too, have favourite airports that can influence how they get from A to B, even which airlines they fly.
"I have one who never misses an opportunity to stock up on salty, sweet Bakkwa (a type of Asian jerky) from the Bee Cheng Hiang outlets at Singapore Airport when he travels. Me? I head for the rooftop swimming pool at Terminal 1 or, if I have the kids in tow, the cinema and entertainment zone in Terminal 3", adds Lindy.
Image: Cinema at Singapore Airport, Terminal 3. Credit: Singapore Changi Airport
Seasoned travellers may miss Hong Kong's original Kai Tak airport with its white-knuckle approach between buildings and single runway that reached right out into Victoria Harbour, but not Lindy.
Image: Aircraft on dramatic approach into Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport. Kai Tak was decommissioned in 1998, with operations shifting to the new HKIA on Lantau Island.
"Hong Kong International Airport on Lantau Island is absolutely first class", she says.
"It's huge, but very easy to navigate, and the Airport Express train connections to downtown Hong Kong are speedy and brilliant. If you're not holding an airline lounge pass, there are a number of Plaza Premium Lounge facilities in the arrivals and departures areas of both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. They're a pay-per-visit affair, but offer great services like showers, food and beverage, workstations, beauty and massage treatments and more.
Image: Hong Kong International Airport, Lantau Island. Credit: Hong Kong International Airport
"There is free WIFI throughout, immigration is efficient, staff are helpful and shopping and food outlets are excellent. I'm not at all surprised that Hong Kong was also named Skytrax's World's Best Airport for Dining", says Lindy.
The Skytrax World Airport Awards are voted for by air travellers in the largest, annual global airport customer satisfaction survey. The 2018 Awards were based on more than 13 million airport survey questionnaires completed by airline customers during the survey period, covering 550 airports worldwide.
So, which airports rounded out the 2018 Skytrax top 10?
See the full list HERE
Like Lindy, ATAS accredited travel agents regularly explore the world as part of their professional development, getting to know the ins-and-outs of hotels, destinations, cruise lines, tour companies, airlines and airports. Their depth of first-hand knowledge, and the relationships they nurture with travel suppliers, is your ticket to travelling with confidence.
Ask your favourite ATAS accredited travel agent for advice on how to make the most of your holiday in this stunning corner of the world.
Looking for more holiday ideas? See what's new in Dubai in 2018 or if you're travelling with family...here's some tips for the best family holidays that the kids wont hate.
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