Surprising Airport Services

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
April 3, 2013
An American Airlines plane
Courtesy American Airlines

Time was, an airport was a place to get on or off a plane. If you were so inclined, you could pay way too much money for terrible food or kill time at a bar. That was about it.

Boy, have things changed. As demonstrates in a news item on its website by Emily Fisher, airports now offer some unexpected services. Not only will you find the obvious chain stores, boutiques, and other shops, but also medical services, fitness centers, and even pet care and movie theaters. But for me, the most eye-catching airport offerings in recent years have been the cultural ones. Here, some examples, courtesy of, of how airports have given themselves an infusion of class.

Live music. Sure, Brian Eno's Music for Airports album was a gorgeous, pioneering piece of ambient music. But live performances of country, pop, and jazz are now regular fixtures at some major airports. In "Music City," free concerts are offered at Nashville International Airport. Texas's Austin-Bergstrom Airport showcases local music artists performing for passengers Monday through Friday. Vancouver International Airport in British Columbia features Take Off Fridays parties in summer. Concerts are also regular occurrences at airports in Atlanta, New York, and Washington, DC, which often includes jazz artists in its performance roster.

Museums. Public art has become increasingly common at terminals around the world. But how about paintings from Dutch masters? Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has partnered with the Rijksmuseum to create an annex of the Netherlands' national museum featuring a permanent collection and a series of new shows. Similarly, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have helped create 30 galleries throughout San Francisco International Airport focusing on art, culture, and history.

Classes. We always like to say that travel educates us. But you can literally take classes on local culture at South Korea's Incheon Airport and savor a tea-making workshop at Hong Kong International Airport. Also,'s Emily Fisher points out that Paris's Orly and Charles De Gaulle airports have offered classes in French cooking and hopefully will again!

Nature exhibits. I remember fondly how getting off a plane at Glacier International Airport always feels a little like stepping right into the wild—exhibits include mountain goats and loons. Singapore's Changi Airport raises the bar, with a Butterfly Garden with an indoor waterfall and more than 1,000 winged beauties. Vancouver International boasts a mini-aquarium with 5,000 marine creatures, plus a separate tank devoted to jellies.

TALK TO US! Share your own airport discoveries with other Budget Travel readers: Have you found a great free cultural perk while flying?

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