I’m one of the rare few who actually revels in the whole
airport experience. I get a thrill out of spotting the Benefit Cosmetics makeup kiosks, and I welcome the challenge (and it is often a challenge!) of finding a somewhat healthy vegan meal at food courts. But which airports are really the best? I was curious to know, so I went straight to the people who spend the most time in them — flight attendants — and asked which airports they love most, and why? Ahead, 11 flight attendants (from several different airlines) share their top destinations for passing the time between flights. Will it make you want to spend your next vacation kicking it in Terminal 5 instead of hitting the beach? Probably not. But at the very least, these rave reviews might help you decide where to schedule an unavoidable layover.
Editor’s note: The following interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photo: aoldman/Getty Images.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport “My favorite airport is Chicago O’Hare. I know a lot of people don't care for that airport because it is always very crowded and can sometimes be a stressful environment for passengers because of delays (especially in the wintertime). It’s great that you can connect directly to the subway from the airport, though. There’s a nice Hilton connected to the airport that you can stay at if you miss your flight or it gets cancelled. My favorite place to eat at that airport is Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless. In a couple of the terminals, you can find Vosges chocolates, which are to die for. My absolute favorite thing about O’Hare is that you can purchase Garrett Popcorn there, and that is definitely something I do every time I’m there!”
— Krystle Cowart, Delta Air Lines
Photo: Courtesy of Heathrow Airport.
Heathrow Airport “My favorite would probably be London Heathrow Airport. Although we are usually limited with our time, LHR has a wonderful variety of shops for those last-minute, must-have purchases. My fave store is Boots — they have their own cosmetics line, where I will usually splurge instead of back home at the local drugstore. I also must stop by Pret A Manger for a nice coffee and crawfish and avocado salad for the flight home.”
— Melinda Zengin, Delta Air Lines
Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
Sea-Tac International Airport “My favorite airport is Sea-Tac, which also happens to be my base. For me, there's no place like home (base) because this airport has great food options — a personal fave is Beecher's. “The main terminal has a giant window with a gorgeous view, and there's usually live music. The Sub Pop record shop is a highlight for me, and the MAC store is always there for me when I forget my eyeliner in a hotel room somewhere. The art exhibitions that pop up between the main terminal and the A gates are always beautiful. “As far as operations go, Seattle is usually a good bet for avoiding weather delays and cancellations, compared to other major international hubs. On a clear day, you have a pretty good chance of catching an Instagram-worthy view of Mount Rainier as you fly in or out. There's even a train the goes downtown from the airport — it’s quick, reliable, clean, and safe.” — Zohar Gewing-Derechinsky ,
S kyWest Airlines
Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
Miami International Airport “For me, it’s all about food. When you fly mainline or domestic routes, you never know when and where your next meal will be as crew meals are only catered on international flights. Whenever I pass through MIA, I make certain to stop at La Carreta and order one of my all-time favorite meals, vaca frita. Vaca frita is this perfectly salty, garlicky, oily shredded beef that is somehow pan fried until the edges become wonderfully crispy-chewy, and is topped with sautéed onions. It could easily be spread out over two meals although I always eat it in one sitting. I get it with yellow rice and plantains. My mouth waters just thinking about it. And, as a bonus, there is a Café Versailles right next door so you can follow up your meal with a killer cup of Cuban coffee.” — Christy Kurzeja , American Airlines
Photo: Fraport AG Fototeam Stefan Rebscher.
Frankfurt Airport “My favorite airport in the world is the Frankfurt Airport. It is literally the gateway to the world with connecting flights all over Europe, Asia, and Africa. There are tons of food and shopping options to help pass the time. I especially love an Italian restaurant there that serves a scrumptious breakfast.” — Sonya Payne, Jet Blue
Photo: mtcurado/Getty Images.
Seoul Incheon Airport “Incheon International Airport is one of my favorites. I love that the airport is clean and easy to navigate. Gate numbers are clearly marked and the customs process consistently runs smoothly. Plus, the options are endless when it come to shopping! I especially like perusing the high-fashion retailers to witness the new styles of Miu Miu, Givenchy, and Prada, to name a few. If I ever need to pick up a gift for a special occasion or feel like treating myself to something new, I can rest assured that I won’t have to look very far. And if I ever have the extra time, I would love to utilize the Korean spa and sauna within the airport. What an ideal way to prepare the body and mind for a long flight!” “Incheon International is a beautiful, state-of-the-art airport. The bathrooms are exceptionally clean and conveniently located. The duty free shopping there is THE best — from luxury brands to every cosmetic company possible, great tech and electronics, sunglasses, and tons of food to eat! They even have an airport hotel if you have a long layover and want to rest, as well as hair and nail salons, massage services, and great rest areas. I love the duty free cosmetics there. Korea is known for having the best skin-care products, and they have it all at duty-free prices! It's huge, but it's well thought out and everything is convenient. There’s no runner-up. Incheon is so far ahead of anything else I've seen.” — Heather Sanchez, Hawaiian Airlines — Grace Antipala, Hawaiian Airlines
Photo: Pavliha/Getty Images.
Hong Kong International Airport “I just got back from spending 16 days in Asia, and was in awe at how easy transportation was in this part of the world. Hong Kong International Airport has to easily be one of the best airports I have ever been to. It is clean, modern, innovative, and bursting with foreign travelers arriving to this great city. “What I liked about this airport was not only the very smooth and quick breeze through customs and security, but also the helpful, smiling airport staff. I felt very comfortable traveling to this airport as a solo traveler. They answered any questions about gates, departure, security, or concerns with a smile on their faces, helping you get all the answers you needed. Getting through the check-in process, security, and customs took me less than 30 to 45 minutes (during peak travel season), which is saying a lot about how important it is for them to get customers to their final destination stress-free. Also sparing enough time to shop at duty free and stock up on Chinese pastries. And let me not forget to mention all of the amazing food options this airport has to offer. Who would have thought airport dim sum would be some of the best I ever had? “Although it is a very large airport, air trains and escalators get you quickly to your boarding gate. They also have a very modern and clean Airport Express train transferring you right into the city of Hong Kong in less than 25 minutes. You can purchase a $13 round-trip tickets rather than pay for an expensive taxi. This train also offers Wi-Fi with high-speed connection. Also, no worries if you do not speak an ounce of Chinese because they have English translations on every sign and placard.”
— Rachael Mayse, United Airlines
Photo: Courtesy of DFW Airport.
“My favorite airport is definitely Dallas Ft. Worth, especially the D Terminal, which I go in and out of a lot flying for American. I always stop by MAC and Benefit Cosmetics to freshen up my face, which spares me the hassle of having to dump my makeup bag out on the ground at the gate. I’m usually persuaded to buy a new lipliner or two. Jo Malone and L'Occitane both have storefronts in the D Terminal, so I’ll pop in for some samples and to take in the scents — I’m a major product addict so this is very relaxing for me. There’s also a yoga “studio” equipped with mats, sanitizer, and a killer view of American’s beautiful airplanes at D40. I don’t bust out into full Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport asanas or anything, but it is nice to stretch, breathe, and separate yourself from people in between legs sometimes. The whole terminal is just very open with high ceilings, a lot of sunlight, and a layout that allows you to forget for a second that you’re in an airport at all.” — Jordan Bishop, American Airlines
Photo: Nikada/Getty Images.
Suvarnabhumi Airport “My favorite airport in the world is Bangkok Suvarnabhumi. Once upon a time, I spent six months living in Thailand, and have flown through BKK as crew on several occasions. What I love most about BKK is that you can get to-go pad thai and mango sticky rice on either side of security (which is helpful, if you have a long layover at the airport between flights). They even have a 7/11 where you can buy a toasty (ham and cheese sandwich) for just a few baht, and a Singha beer. “It’s also modern, clean, and well looked after. Their security lines are never too long, their duty free is top-notch, and you can even buy beautiful Thai orchids on the way out that are properly packaged so that they can survive your upcoming flight and be enjoyed at your next destination. If you have a long layover, you can spend time browsing English titles at the bookstore (my favorite!), or even sneak in a Thai massage at the sauna and spa.”
— Annie Kingston, Emirates Airlines
Photo: Courtesy of Long Beach Airport.
Long Beach Airport “My favorite airport is the Long Beach Airport in Los Angeles County, California. This small airport has always left a huge impact on me. Being a native New Yorker, to think of an airport being outdoors seems unheard of. At this airport, you can literally wait for your flight outside, while still being past the security checkpoint. There is even a wine bar with fire pits where you can sit and wait for your flight. If you’ve got a long flight back to the East Coast, you’ll be cramped up in an airplane for the next four to six hours, and so this airport allows you to enjoy the last bit of sunshine! Another thing I LOVE about this airport is the food court selections. They are all super fresh, local, and really delicious. One of the best things I like to grab before a flight is the fresh made cinnamon rolls from Sweet Jill’s. They are huge, warm, icing-coated, and to die for!”
— Leah Cravenho, JetBlue