The Layover Makeover

In more than 50 years of airplane travel I’ve logged hundreds of hours in airports, many during unanticipated layovers. I note this as I sit, delayed by thunderclouds and lightning, in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

My instinct is to spend as little time as possible here, yet these days I’m conflicted. This is no longer the drab place that 20 years ago offered travelers a handful of newsstands and fast-food joints. Atlanta’s airport now is a little city with a broad range of diversions.

It became the first airport in the United States to offer Minute Suites–small private rooms on Concourse B that include daybeds, workstations, free Wi-Fi, and a noise-neutralizing system. The restaurant, One Flew South, which bills itself as “the first upscale dining experience at the world’s busiest airport,” serves prime sushi and sources many of its provisions from around the area.

Other hunger busters include the regionally themed Atlanta Hawks Bar and Grill, Atlanta Bread Company, and Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. Shoppers can find everything from Brooks Brothers to Brookstone to Bulgari.

My delay looks to be a trivial two hours. If it were longer I’d weigh my options. Stay here–or venture into town (about 20 minutes on Atlanta’s rapid transit, MARTA), where I might catch Monets, Rodins, Renoirs, and works by Southern folk artists at the High Museum of Art?

The increasingly rich offerings at airports in Atlanta, Hong Kong, Dubai, and other cities, along with new high-speed access to many downtowns, have created a conundrum–and opportunity–for passengers with found time.

Here are five layover-worthy airports and another seven that offer up a convenient jumping off point for a whirlwind adventure between primary destinations

Keith Bellows is editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow his story on Twitter @KeithBellowNG.

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