The Layover Makeover

In more than 50 years of airplane travel I’ve logged hundreds of hours in airports, many during unanticipated layovers. I note this as I sit, delayed by thunderclouds and lightning, in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

My instinct is to spend as little time as possible here, yet these days I’m conflicted. This is no longer the drab place that 20 years ago offered travelers a handful of newsstands and fast-food joints. Atlanta’s airport now is a little city with a broad range of diversions.

It became the first airport in the United States to offer Minute Suites–small private rooms on Concourse B that include daybeds, workstations, free Wi-Fi, and a noise-neutralizing system. The restaurant, One Flew South, which bills itself as “the first upscale dining experience at the world’s busiest airport,” serves prime sushi and sources many of its provisions from around the area.

Other hunger busters include the regionally themed Atlanta Hawks Bar and Grill, Atlanta Bread Company, and Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. Shoppers can find everything from Brooks Brothers to Brookstone to Bulgari.

My delay looks to be a trivial two hours. If it were longer I’d weigh my options. Stay here–or venture into town (about 20 minutes on Atlanta’s rapid transit, MARTA), where I might catch Monets, Rodins, Renoirs, and works by Southern folk artists at the High Museum of Art?

The increasingly rich offerings at airports in Atlanta, Hong Kong, Dubai, and other cities, along with new high-speed access to many downtowns, have created a conundrum–and opportunity–for passengers with found time.

Here are five layover-worthy airports and another seven that offer up a convenient jumping off point for a whirlwind adventure between primary destinations

Keith Bellows is editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow his story on Twitter @KeithBellowNG.

What’s your favorite airport and why? Tell us in the comments section below.



  1. Celine
    January 2, 2014, 2:44 pm

    AMS is my favorite for several reasons:
    1. The KLM Crown Lounge at pier 52- This lounge is massive for such a small airport. There is always plenty of seating options. Don’t get tempted to sit right by the entry. Go to the left and up a level for more space and low noise. The showers (7) are clean and have great water pressure. The food offering is good and if you are there at 10:30-11 you might get breakfast and lunch offerings. The soup is always good and love the pannekoeken.

    2. Shopping
    I’ve passed the time waiting for a ride or before I hop on the train to Rotterdam by shopping at Schiphol. Not just duty free but the actual shops on landside. I usually find good deals at H&M and pickup toiletries at HEMA (NL Target equivalent). Between the two stores you can get new clothes and toiletries if your luggage is lost on arrival. I can attest to that as it’s happened to me.

    3. Size
    Schiphol is small and I like that. The longest walk a person would have is from the end of the Schengen to passport control at 12 minutes tops. I think most places is under 20 minutes and I’m being generous. I also like the fact that I don’t have to make a maze through Duty Free from passport control such as at DUS, MAN, and CDG.

    3. Fastest trip into major city.
    Granted I’ve only been to 29 countries but AMS to Amsterdam City center is at most 15 minutes. If you are on a long layover it’s the best airport to stop in since Amsterdam is so close.