New perks are in store for travelers returning to airports. Here’s a closer look at all the upgraded wellness lounges, game rooms, cocktail bars — and even a speakeasy — opening around the country.
Long lines, ever-changing rules, and patience-defying delays: the past couple of years have been a frustrating time for passengers moving through U.S. airports. But hubs around the country have used the downtime and lower passenger flow to upgrade the transit experience by improving lounges, food and beverage options, and play spaces.
Given that the pandemic has added an extra layer of stress to air travel, it’s not surprising that many initiatives are aimed at promoting relaxation. Denver International has taken advantage of its mile-high location, adding outdoor lounges with fire pits, modular furniture, and designated pet areas that look out toward the Rockies.
San Francisco International rolled out its Quiet Airport program in 2018. To reduce noise, TVs have been removed from waiting areas, music volume guidelines have been implemented, and gate and passenger announcements have been limited. The airport also deters passengers who play content on their personal devices without using headphones and employees from using their phones on speaker mode.
And in Seattle-Tacoma International, a new Sensory Room for travelers with hypersensitivities, such as people with autism, was designed with dimmable lighting, compression chairs, a night-sky ceiling installation, and sound-absorbing acoustic wall panels.
American Express Platinum Card holders can expect more luxurious journeys this year after the brand added high-touch wellness amenities to its Centurion Lounges. The 15,000-square-foot space at John F. Kennedy International — Amex’s largest to date — has an Equinox Body Lab that offers self-guided yoga and meditation sessions, plus a vibro-acoustic chair that uses targeted sounds and vibrations to help reduce anxiety. The Centurion Lounge in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental now has a wellness space created in partnership with the meditation app Calm. Fliers will find neck warmers, immunity-boosting beverages, and complimentary access to the platform’s audio content. Another Centurion Lounge is slated to open at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International next year.
Passengers looking for relaxation of a different kind will appreciate the high-end bars that are making their way into airports. Portland International just opened Juliett, a craft-cocktail bar inspired by women in aviation. There’s a strong retro slant to the menu, thanks to bartender Adam Ohlsson’s take on drinks like the Aviation and the Hotel Nacional. The speakeasy trend has even landed at the JFK Centurion Lounge, where the new boîte 1850 is a moody, low-lit spot that legendary mixologist Jim Meehan helped devise. And next year, Denver International will get an outpost of beloved watering hole Williams & Graham in Concourse A.
Family-friendly diversions have arrived, too. Los Angeles International, Charlotte Douglas International, and Dallas Fort Worth International now have Gameway, a video-game lounge outfitted with the latest consoles, including Xboxes and PlayStations, packed with popular games like Fortnite and FIFA. Denver’s open-air plaza is regularly transformed for kid-centric pop-ups, such as a skating rink in the winter and a nine-hole mini-golf course from mid-June to mid-July.
One of the most radical airport innovations is actually a comeback: non-ticketed visitors being allowed into post-security sections of airports. Seattle-Tacoma International just reinstated its SEA Visitor Pass program, which allows non-travelers to apply to accompany passengers to the departure gate.
A version of this story first appeared in the September 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline “Long Live the Layover.”