Airport fun is still a novelty for most

In the modern world of air travel, airports are the weak link in the chain. Through six decades of the jet age, they have remained an uncomfortable, inconvenient, highly regulated anachronism where the needs of their customers come last.

Even though they're monopolies that are a licence to print money, whether government-owned or privatised, airport managements have given little apparent thought to their convenience and user-friendliness.

Airports usually require hundreds of metres or kilometres of walking to get yourself to a plane, but travelators are still a random novelty.

I have never encountered seats in a public gate lounge that weren't the cheapest available.

And instead of bringing technological solutions to bear to solve the new need for high-level security, long queues of frustrated travellers - most of them sans shoes and belts - snake into the distance.

The security issue and the arrival of the low-cost airline fad means we are probably spending longer in airports than ever before. The fact that online check-in is still seen as high-tech and therefore high-cost means that on many low-cost carriers (LCCs) leaving it till the last minute is fraught with danger because missing a flight loads you up with extra expense.

In any case, allowing anything less than three hours if you're connecting between different airlines - I'm thinking in particular of entering and leaving the US via LAX - is a recipe for disappointment and financial penalty.

For Australians, spending time in airports is now almost part of daily life, whether as travellers or as meet-and-greeters or farewellers.

In Australia, airports are little more than expensive shopping centres that charge their customers for entry, whether by steep parking charges or tariffs on buses and taxis.

We must look overseas for customer-centred innovations – and they're not particularly plentiful. In a survey on Saturday, Andrea Sachs in the Washington Post got excited about "wild transformations" in world airports as they shed "their drab, utilitarian look for electric ensembles".

But it didn't seem to me that the airport industry had been invigorated by any sort of new paradigm, just a series of novelties: the slot-car racing track (around 50 metres long) at Tokyo's Haneda (mostly domestic) airport, the famous rooftop pool at Singapore's Changi, the new nine-hole golf course at Hong Kong's Chep Lap Kok, Incheon airport's Korean Culture Museum and the Floating Dutchman amphibious bus tour of the canals of Amsterdam from Schipol airport.

Considering that the essential ingredient of air travel is inactivity, long-haul in particular, it seems to me what should be proliferating is an array of fun/sport options, such as golf driving ranges (even small indoor ones, as most golf shops have), tennis courts and swimming pools should be standard airport equipment.

And not just slot cars but an array of amusements for kids, which is half the battle for families. Even better if it's something that helps run down kids' batteries in preparation for sitting still in a seat for hours.

Airports are still mostly an ordeal, I reckon. Yet many airports, especially the government-owned ones, are primarily grand nation-building monuments to extravagance. And as we have seen in Australia, when airports are privatised they become utilitarian cash cows to be milked for all they're worth.

Have you found an airport feature in your travels that gets your vote? Are there facilities in some out-of-the-way airport you’ve travelled to that you loved? Or is it all about comfort like the Rainforest Lounge at Changi? What’s needed in airports you regularly use here and overseas?

The story Airport fun is still a novelty for most first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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