Traveling with a layover is a hassle, and it shouldn’t be. There’s really no reason my vacation shouldn’t start the moment I leave home; and, if I’m traveling for business, getting things done on the road, in the air, and in between should be easy—it should be seamless. In today’s study, we’ll look at some ways to turn that two-hour airport transfer into a vacation all in its own.
With more conscientious curation, the feeling of this experience I expect from travel could be consistent from door to beach. Right now, however, if you have a layover, it’s basically stale pretzels and perusing the same sunglasses you decided not to buy the last time you passed through Raleigh-Durham. What would it be like if every time you could have a new experience?
Sometimes I consider the business lounge, and even consider springing for it (or going for the Amex Platinum...) but alas, it’s over in the international terminal. facepalm
All this said, some airports are beginning to think outside the mediocre boxed-lunch options and opting instead to upgrade the whole system. I’m excited to see the future of air travel diversions expand to incorporate a focus on health, collaboration, learning, and entertainment. This should be standard for every airport. So I’d like to propose improvements and challenge the current public spaces we travel through so often and share.
One example of a terminal leading in the right direction is Virgin’s SFO terminal where, immediately following security, there’s a quiet yoga room, a Plant Organic, and Blue Bottle Coffee, in addition to some other healthy snacks. It’s affirming to see options outside the traditional brand circle—Hudson News.
Is this all rather pleasant? You betcha. Is it anywhere near the potential airports have to enhance the travel experience? Not even close. Let’s play some "What If?"
Airports give us a portal to one of my favorite views of nature but they are, in most cases, jarringly unnatural settings themselves. LAX used to have a sweet little outdoor area but it was designed exclusively for smokers. Now, they don’t allow smoking so they’ve closed off the only outdoor space! This is a design communication breakdown at best—there’s a park just out of reach! Eek! What makes matters worse, there is still an automated intercom announcement that confuses smokers—asserting that smoking may only take place in "designated smoking areas"...There are none... If you are someone high up at LAX maybe delete that message? Isn’t there something we could do to incorporate more natural features into airport travel? Where’s the Chelsea Highline project of JFK? Central Park was created so Manhattanites could get a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city life, and it works really well. What if airports had real nature, real grass, real trees—living systems! There’s no reason not to catch the water, harvest the wind, and actually use plants to clean the air. And what about animals? Sure, the cat coffee shops in Tokyo can be kinda creepy, but the idea of animal therapy has legs. (Get it?)
Just imagine a park with grass where you could picnic, with park benches, flowers, and a koi pond to enjoy! Maybe there’s a running track at the park—airports tend to have very high ceilings; could a track get raised up around the periphery as with some city gyms? This is the type of design intervention that should be happening! This is not unrealistic—this is the way it should be.
Exercise is an awesome way to make sitting still more bearable and reduce jet lag. How about a network of gyms offering yoga, spinning, stretching, and Pilates? Lululemon could sponsor events in collaboration with Equinox— you have a 45-minute layover? Some airlines do yoga in your seat—do some layover asanas to get the blood flowing. Traveling takes a huge toll on our immune system, our energy, and our stamina. It should be a priority to keep us healthy and fit while we are in between flights. There is nothing worse than needing a vacation after a vacation.
Are you more of a gamer? How about an arcade area with billiards, ping-pong, and a driving range? Red Bull trampolines, playful ways to seriously unwind.
What about a chess game with life-sized pieces? A Big-style piano?
The detachment required to make it through time in the airport drives me nuts. I can’t stand seeing people lying on the floor, trying to get horizontal without losing contact with their bags. We’ve all done it somehow—but there are literally no comfortable flat surfaces on which to relax. Where are the sleep pods? Again, the grassy knolls!
Everyone should have access to a comfy corner where they can plug in, maybe download some movies to rent for the next flight—Netflix sponsored? Or how about a place to just read a book, sip a drink, or people watch? At least Austin’s airport has jazz and bluegrass bands welcoming travelers home. What gives, LaGuardia?
How can we leverage the dynamic resources of an airport’s constantly changing community? I’d love to see Skillshare.com facilitate this potentially collaborative community. Think of how many travelers on layover share an interest or have a skill to teach—is there a way to connect? To communicate? Could I take a Skillshare class from a fellow traveler? Perhaps learn some poker tips before my trip to Vegas? How about a quick conversational Spanish class on my way to Barcelona? Would this empower us past just sitting down and watching Fox News? I caught up with Michael Karnjanaprakorn, CEO of Skillshare, about this type of integration. "I think this can work in two ways. If there was Skillshare hub at SFO, it would be centered around in-person bite-sized classes. These would probably be 20-minute classes offered by anyone and free for anyone to take," he said. Okay SFO, Let’s rock!
We should have standards for healthy airports: the elements needed to get our seal of approval. Many are mentioned above. What about you? What is missing on your layover?
Share your ideas at www.travelbrilliantly.com
Micah Spear is the Creative Braintrust Design Expert and Founder & CEO of Playtime