Changi

When you spend some time in Singapore’s Changi Airport, it kind of makes you sorry for everyone else. Just as Singapore Air is so superior to most others (especially in economy class) that it’s not really a contest, the country’s airport has no real competition. It’s so much more passenger-friendly than any other that it makes most other international gateways look like amateur hour.

On the basics alone it puts sad places like LAX, Heathrow, and JFK to shame. Luggage carts are widely available and free. Information kiosks are in every terminal section, they’re always staffed, and the people in them actually know what they’re talking about. The whole place is impeccably clean, including the bathrooms. There are mall-type directories everywhere pointing out every shop, restaurant, and airline lounge, plus there’s a printed map you can pick up and carry with you. Luggage arrives in a time period that shows you there have been no staff cutbacks and it’s the same at immigration. Wi-Fi is free throughout the airport and the drinking water is purified.

All that would be commendable, but it’s just the baseline of what should be expected anywhere. On top of that comes cake and icing.

sunflowers

This is the kind of airport you can spend six hours in, as I did recently, and be glad about it. You can actually go outside here and enjoy one of several gardens. There’s a garden that features cacti, one with sunflowers, one with orchids, and another with ferns. Two koi ponds are inside and there are lots of real plants. It keeps getting better though. There’s a movie theater, an MTV zone, and areas with Xbox and Playstation games. If you aren’t carrying a laptop or tablet, no problem—there are large computer kiosks all over the place. And all of this is freeXbox Kinect

Bring your bathing suit in your carry-on if you’ve got a long layover because there’s a rooftop pool outside and a whirlpool. There are plenty of other welcome features for parents, like a huge play area that has slides and TVs.

But wait, there’s more!

Many airports have charging stations, but the ones here allow you to put your gadget inside, set it to charge, then lock it up and go have a beer. You don’t have to hang out there while it’s juicing up. Go watch some big-screen TV in a comfy chair that has built-in speakers. Postcard kiosks allow you to shoot a photo of yourself and mail it off right there.

charging stationThere’s one cool option that should be prevalent in lots of cities, but isn’t: a free city tour. If you have a long layover and want a taste of Singapore, you can get on a two-hour bus tour that hits the highlights and gives you a sense of the city. It’s a smart strategy as surely some of those people will say, “Nice place” and return someday.

If you don’t mind spending some money, you can get a day pass for a lounge with showers and snacks and while you’re there can set up a massage or a pedicure. The shopping choices are extensive and prices are normal: if you find a lower one in the city itself and bring back the proof, they’re refund twice the difference.

The pleasant experience doesn’t end when it’s time to go to your gate. Here’s a shot of what the seats looked like at mine. No cramped rows of pleather seats separated by armrests. Here you have serpentine seating that’s more like sofas, colorful and clean, with a sense of whimsy and style. Aesthetic beauty shouldn’t be so surprising in an airport, but others have set the bar so low that it usually is.

Singapore travel

See the Changi Airport site for ideas and details.

You’ll usually find the best hotel deals in Singapore through Agoda.com.