As an avid traveler I have been in many of the world’s airport. I’ve eaten in them, slept in them, and on one occasion, used a bathroom sink as a personal shower (I’m no longer allowed in the JetBlue terminal of Atlanta’s International Airport). Most airports are used as places to transport you to somewhere else; a quick entry and exit from/for extended transit (unless you’re Tom Hanks in The Terminal). Asides from myself and a couple other travel junkies, no one really enjoys being in airports. You associate them with the place you’re overcharged for bags, groped by pushy security agents, and stuck without wifi when your flight is canceled before Christmas. Airports fly low on the list of places travelers want to be (lower on the list is in the trunk of an Al Qaeda terrorist bus or hiking behind a pack of gassy donkeys). But thanks to the ingenuity and consideration of Korean engineers and designers, things just changed.
If you’ve never been to Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea it’s worth the trip. Not even to see the country, but solely for the opportunity to stay in the airport. Like their underground transit system (second best in the world), they built Incheon with the traveler in mind. As far as structure, it’s big and handsome like most new-age airports, but where this stands alone is in its accommodations. Accommodations? You mean like McDonald’s and a Sharper Image that charges six-hundred dollars for a pair of socks? No, silly. This place has a golf course, a museum, and a SKATING RINK! Let that sliver of airport luxury settle into your image of pre/post-airplane paradise. Legitmately, I would book a flight with a layover just to hangout at this place. It’s like a Discovery Zone for communing adults (foreigners: Discovery Zone was a place where little children could climb toy towers and jump into ball pits as deep at the Atlantic Ocean. Since the company closed, the percentage of people who believe in God has fallen). For seven years in a row it was rated the best airport in the world by Airports Council International (I don’t know who Airports Council International is, but they sound official). And as per Wikipedia: “It takes only 16 minutes for departure and 12 minutes for arrival process, which is far above the global standards of 60 and 45 minutes respectively.” Truly, this is a magical place. It is Disney World of airports, and they have a skating rink… people, a skating rink.
Whiling traveling from Shanghai to Kathmandu I had a ten hour layover in Incheon–the best layover of my life. By far the biggest perk was the sleeping accommodations. Yes, I know JFK and LAX have hotels right next to the airport that makes it “accommodating,” but you have to pay for those. I travel on a budget, and therefore dishing out a hundred something dollars for a room so I can sleep while waiting for my next flight is not something I’m going to do (think of how many dinners that would buy in Haiti). This place had a whole floor devoted to the enrichment of your layover. You take the escalator up toward heaven and what you find is a palace in which the world’s royalty lie around watching movies, using the internet, and getting massages on free massage chairs. The only things we get free in America is trans fat and videos of cats hugging dogs–I didn’t know how to act. I ran around using computers (specifically, setting my blog to each computer’s homepage), getting foot massages, and renting books from the 24-library. I thought: Finally a country recognizes my royal bloodline. This was the greatest layover of my life. Here’s an except from my travel journal:
It’s 2:30am and I’m at the airport in Seoul, South Korea. This might be the greatest airport I’ve ever been to. There’s a huge lounge with showers, beds and free back massage chairs. I’ve been getting a back massage for the past half hour in front of a Internet cafe covered in Chanukah lights. Is it possible to marry an airport?
As I flipped through my library book and browsed the showtimes for the movie theater, I strongly considered skipping my flight and living here for several months. If I had to reenact the life Tom Hanks’ character in The Terminal this is where I’d want to do it (I don’t know why I would ever have to reenact this character’s life). It would be like living in a giant hostel, but with less bed bugs and warmer showers (yes, there are warm showers in the airport–if only Atlanta’s airport added them as well).
Incheon had so many amenities that after landing I spent five hours wandering into different rooms and stores. I was exploring the inter-workings of an Asian airport in the middle of the night. But unfortunately, by the time my Louis and Clarke expedition was over, everyone else in the airport had found the travelers oasis and took up all the beds. Given, there were still plenty activities to keep me busy, but the time change and jet lag began to take effect. It was 4:15am and I walked around the floor considering my options for sleep: laying flat across the row of massage chairs, a booth at one of the sushi restaurants, and, and, then I saw this:
It was South Korea’s version of Discovery Zone–with added disco/holiday lights. I walked in, turned the lights off, and made my bed in a sea of plastic balls and gymnastic mattes. Not only did this airport offer golf, but it afforded me an opportunity to reignite the flame of childhood. I felt like a child–a balding, slightly bearded, jet-lagged child.
Note: At 6:15am I was awakened by a security office calling out: “Sir, why are you sleeping inside the play pen? There are beds everywhere.” I ignored him and played on the rope swing–my flight wasn’t for another two hours.
I’ve considered believing in God ever since that night,