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World’s favorite airport?

Urinals with an amazing view

Urinals with an amazing view at Singapore’s Changi Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Singapore’s Changi Airport is frequently recognized as the best in the world. On a recent trip to Singapore (on an assignment for my BBC.com Business Trip column, I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about, so I asked its communications team for a tour.

We walked all over the facility– smaller than you might imagine, and not really remarkable architecturally like airports in Seoul or Hong Kong– but it feels very welcoming, comfortable and easy. Come on along for the ride and see why people love this place so much. (Slideshow starts below.)

Some interesting tidbits I picked up during the tour:

>There is an outdoor pool, jacuzzi, patio and tiki bar that anyone can enter for a $14 fee. Nice! (See photos below)

>Airport security screening is done at each gate instead of a central security checkpoint– that means all you have to do is show your passport and ticket to get into the terminals. This decentralized approach eliminates any peak time lines. Smart!

>There’s an outdoor butterfly garden open to all passengers. Talk about peaceful…and beautiful! (See slideshow below)

>The airport has a full time staff of 10 horticulturalists and 100 gardeners and there’s not one fake plant anywhere.

>Changi is pronounced “Chawng-eee” with a soft g sound.

>The airport provides free internet access via wi-fi and 550 free terminals placed in pods throughout.

>What we call “moving sidewalks” they call “travelators.” (I like travelator and plan to incorporate that into my lexicon!)

>There is a basic by-the-hour hotel in each of its three terminals. There’s also a 280-room Crowne Plaza hotel in the middle of the airport, which mainly houses travelers on layovers from the “kangaroo route” between the UK and Australia. (However, QANTAS is switching its stopover point on the kangaroo route to Dubai next year.)

>Changi is the name of a local tree– a pleasant, eco-friendly change from other big airports named after politicians.

What’s your favorite airport in the world? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

Use the arrow keys on each image to move forward or back. Be sure to read the captions for an explanation of each shot.

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Long layover? No probs. For $14, anyone can swim or take a jacuzzi at the outdoor pool
Cool your jets with an exotic tropical cocktail at the pool's bar
Lush vertical gardens on every available wall
10 horticulturalists oversee 100 gardeners at Changi
There are 550 free (seriously!), internet connected PCs throughout the airport
One of many floral displays throughout the airport-- no fake plants allowed!
Urinals with an amazing view
Excellent immediate feedback system helps keep bathrooms clean
Bathroom feedback system
Singapore Airlines's business class lounge: one of the poshest in the world
Trolley service inside the lounge at tea time
By-the-hour hotels in each of three terminals
Airport hotels are basic, but clean and very quiet
First run movies in a free theater for those with long layovers
A butterfly garden! One of several outdoor gardens in terminals
Outdoor butterfly garden is just a few yards away from planes
When was the last time you saw a butterfly at the airport?
Changi is home base for Singapore Air's fleet of 19 big A380s
The enormous new Terminal 3 swallows crowds. And makes good use of natural light.
Changi's original Terminal 1 just emerged from a total re-do with a tropical feel.
I love an exotic old school departure board like this.
Now that's an immigration line anyone could love!
  • Andrew Selden

    Larry Niven–a great American science fiction author–called moving sidewalks “slidewalks.”

  • http://aimgroup.com Peter M. Zollman

    … and my kids and I invented a much better word than “moving sidewalks” for them — “flatscalators.”

  • http://aimgroup.com Peter M. Zollman

    Chris —

    Changi is gorgeous, but there’s good reason it should NOT be considered one of the best in the world. You can have a 20 to 25 minute walk to your gate. I know. When last I passed through, I looked up at the board over the entrance to the long hallway (not really the concourse yet) to my gate and it had images of walkers with the gate numbers. To some gates, it showed a 20- to 25-minute walk. As I recall, my gate was shown as 15-20 minutes away, and it took a solid 15 minutes to get there walking at a steady clip.
    Contrast that with Orlando, where (except for security) no gate is more than a five-six minute walk from the entrance to the airport.

  • Chris

    Good point, Peter! I did notice some mighty long distances, but it was helped by the travelators! ;) CJM

  • Shindig

    Finally, an answer on how to pronounce the airport’s name! That’s a nice inclusion.

  • Rolfe Shellenberger

    Hi, Chris:
    Perhaps you will excuse me for disagreeing on this issue and another in today’s email. Let me pontificate briefly:
    On this airport “beauty contest:”

    To my mind, all airports are bad! They make being an air traveler a chore in most instances. I have a solution:
    1. Stop using airports as terminals. All terminals should be near where people live and work (not including mechanics and cleaning crews. Instead, use ground transportation to/from a center city location to move only passengers to/from “planeside.”
    2. Use airports only for aircraft take-offs and landings plus boarding and unloading passengers directly between ground transport and aircraft. I envision a secure underground rail or bus corridor where the vehicle compartment can be elevated to provide direct access to aircraft.
    3. Wherever feasible, aircraft servicing, i.e. fueling, cleaning, mechanical, should also be performed from elevated platforms well away from landing strips.
    4. No above-ground structures like hangars should be built. All airport real estate should be limited to runways and service centers that can be stored below ground.
    5. Additional runways can thus be accommodated in real estate that is not directly accessible by private automobiles or service vehicles.
    6. By limiting private access to airports, better control of security can be promised.

  • http://murphyanddavids.com paul kasitn

    there are a lot of airports that are more dynamic, more beautiful, but, for me,
    TPA is in a class by itself.
    1. on site rental cars
    2. i checked in for an earlier flight 22 minutes ahead of departure time and both my luggage and i made the flight!
    3. the pod concept keeps crowds minimal.
    4. the skyclub is spacious and well staffed.

  • Bob Sabin

    I have to agree that MCO and the renovated TPA have large airport conveniences, (shopping in a mall atmosphere, hotels and lots of food), while having relatively short walks and convenient on airport car rental facilities. I hate to hate on ATL, my home base, but it is a behemoth, and NOTHING is spectacular or convenient – with the possible exception of the new International Terminal. And that is only convenient if you don’t change planes or have to rent a car….

  • Frank

    I will agree that ATL is horrendous.
    A few examples:
    * During slow periods, like Sunday or Monday nights, why is it necessary to have a 20+ minute wait to get through security? And why are pre-check lanes closed during these times?
    * TSA agents are either being rude or flirting with the girls or goofing off. Totally unprofessional.
    * See-through toilet paper; why?
    * The mural at the top of the escalator leading to baggage claim has been there for at least 15 years; it’s time for a change.
    * Have you ever gotten a sip of cold water from a fountain? I can’t say that I have…
    * If you’re not a fan of African art, you’re pretty much out of luck as far as art exhibits there.

  • a w sherwood

    Changi beats ATL and most other US airports for international arrivals because:
    1. Easy walk to Immigration with or without travelators – compare the pain of landing at ATL Concourse E!
    2. Immigration process fast and simple; even at peak times queues move quickly.
    3. However fast you clear Immigration, your checked bags are already waiting for you on the other side.
    4. A short level walk from Customs brings you to an indoor taxi rank with the fastest dispatchers and politest cabbies anywhere; no waiting for hours in the rain, heat, cold or wind — and NO TIPPING!

    For departing and connecting passengers it beats most US and European airports – notably because once inside you feel you are in the lobby of a 5-star hotel, not a provincial bus station. Would-be competitors, take note!

  • James Skelton

    Austin’s well–designed airport features local restaurateurs, from authentic Tex-Mex to a family-owned Chinese restaurant whose brink-and-mortar version was one of my favorites, even Austin’s own Amy’s Ice cream. No over-salted Chili’s or super-sized fast food nastiness. There’s live music, appropriately enough, featuring local acts on a stage near the main bar. All gates are an easy walk. Rental cars are close-in, on-site. If only we had rapid transit right to the airport like the marvelous MARTA trains at ATL! Somethin to aspire to for Texas’s most progressive city.

  • http://www.skyshirts.com exgateagt

    One thing I like about Changi (for someone cheap like me) is in the basement (and they have had this for MANY years) is a quasi 7-11 where you can buy inexpensive drinks and snack (for me, Tiger Beer), and then because of the fact that you don’t have to go thru security to the gate areas, you can carry the drink of your choice out to the gate and enjoy!

  • Mark

    Having security at the gate is not good if you are just in transit – I guess that’s why Qantas is changing its transit point from Changi to Dubai.

    The “travelators” as you called them are not well designed – they start and stop halfway between the large gaps between gates, and also have large gaps between each other, making getting from one gate to another very time consuming.

    And you don’t have personal freedom at Changi, make any criticism to your own companion, and a local official appears to tell you you can’t say that. Oh, and don’t chew gum, or smoke – not that I do either.

  • Nick B

    Chris, a couple of things. QF is switching to DXB as of 1 April 2013, not next year. And the Crowne Plaza may have guests from QF flights, however if someone is going to/from Australia to/from LHR/FRA on QF through SIN, they’ll be in transit for usually no more than 2 hours. So the CP does not ‘mainly house travelers on layovers from the “kangaroo route” between the UK and Australia.’

    @Mark Qantas switched to DXB because they now have a partnership with EK, not because SIN has security at the gate. And travelators are what they are called in SIN (and Australia), Chris didn’t make it up. And they’re less time consuming than walking the whole way.

    @PeterMZollman, you cannot contrast MCO with SIN. SIN is a major Asian airport and hub with a multitude of gates. MCO is a regional airport built for holidaymakers and a p2p flights. It’s expected that it might take 15-25 minutes to get to your gate at an airport like SIN.