7 reasons to look on the bright side of air travel

Photograph by David Becker for St. George Municipal Airport
The new and improved St. George Municipal Airport in St. George, Utah

It's easy to get caught up in the doom-and-gloom stories of rising fuel (and ticket) prices, corrupt TSA agents, and those pernicious baggage fees. But there is a silver lining—if you squint hard enough! Airports all over the country (and the world) are rolling out improvements to make the air travel experience more comfortable, convenient, and streamlined. Here, a timeline of seven noteworthy developments from the last few months.

1. OCTOBER 2010: Tokyo's Haneda airport debuted a fun-tastic international terminal, complete with a shopping area designed to look like a traditional Edo village, a café with its own planetarium, a soft-serve green tea ice cream vendor, napping lounges (not just for elites!), and free Wi-Fi throughout. Best of all, a new monorail and train connections provide access to downtown Tokyo in under 30 minutes.

2. NOVEMBER 2010: Delta installed 200-plus iPads at JFK gates for checking flight data, playing games, and ordering food delivery from airport restaurants.

3. DECEMBER 2010: Minneapolis-St. Paul International added touch-screen directories (or Digital Concierges) at either end of its Terminal 1, which display terminal maps, options for hotels and ground transportation, flight information, and menus for in-airport restaurants (along with the approximate walking times to reach them).

4. JANUARY 2011: A brand-new, massively expanded St. George Municipal Airport opened in Southern Utah, giving better access to the national parks in the lower half of the state. All the better to live out those 127 Hours-inspired itineraries! (Bonus: It's actually kind of pretty, with a two-story wall of windows and lots of curved-wood panels.)

5. JANUARY 2011: Top Chef Master Rick Bayless opened Tortas Frontera, an upscale Mexican sandwich shop in Terminal 1 of Chicago's O'Hare airport; Bayless has another O'Hare restaurant in the works, too.

6. ONGOING: Delta is in the process of adding electronics-charging stations (with both USB ports and 110-volt outlets) at 19 U.S. airports. Keep an eye out for them in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Memphis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York (JFK), Salt Lake City, Boston, Columbus, OH, Hartford, CT, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Nashville, Norfolk, VA, Omaha, NE, Pittsburgh, Portland, OR, Seattle and St. Louis.

7. COMING SOON: Minute Suites, the rent-by-the-hour nap rooms that debuted in 2009 at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, make their way to Philadelphia National Airport this spring.

Have you noticed any upgrades in your own local airports—or any you've passed through? Post your report in the comments!

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