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Changi (Singapore International Airport): What Great Airports Should Be
© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.
The ideal airport for international layovers should contain recreational activities to while away the waiting hours, plenty of retail and restaurant options, and a place to rest the body after a long, confining airplane flight. Changi Airport, which is a main hub for Singapore and Southeast Asia, delivers on all these promises with efficient and modern style. It’s about the only airport in the world where I schedule extra time for stopovers to enjoy its features.
International airports often trumpet the virtues of their airline lounges, which are accessible to anybody who buys a first- or business-class ticket. Such high-priced comfort is almost irrelevant at Changi given the free amenities available. Start with the different types of chairs, which range from undistinguished metal benches to plush and comfortable wrap-around armchairs.
You can catch 40 winks at leather snooze chairs with head and foot rests. If you’re lucky, you can snag a free massage on one of the recliners, though you’re limited to 15 minutes when people are waiting. Separate foot massage machine are also available. The best way to find these goodies is to ask at the information desk.
Many seating areas are clustered around large flat-screen TVs showing English-speaking channels like CNN or National Geographic. Look for the world’s largest 103-inch HD plasma display at Terminal 2. If you need to browse the web, free Internet terminals are plentiful. But my favorite stations are located at the iConnect Lounge on the second floor of Terminal 2. They’re next to the Gaming Center that showcases the latest in console entertainment. If you prefer your entertainment on the big screen, check out the free movie theaters in Terminals 2 and 3.
Exhibits displaying the latest high-tech products or celebrating holidays or art are common and always changing. I’ve encountered gift-laden Volkswagen beetles at Christmas, camcorder launches, boy bands and Chinese New Year festivities. Check out the latest activities at the airport website.
What is billed as the world’s tallest airport slide rushes you from the top of Terminal 3 down four stories through a winding tube. You’ll need to spend at least 10 Singapore dollars in one receipt at an airport retailer to redeem a ride. Or you can try a free 1.5-story preview ride at Basement 2. One other catch: the slide is in the public area, so it’s not accessible if you’re only in transit.
If you have at least five hours until your next flight, take one of the free city tours, which whisks you in air-conditioned comfort to famous landmarks, . You’ll even have time to leave the bus and explore the outdoors. The Cultural Tour is recommended for first-timers to the city because it gives you a taste of the country’s Malay, Indian and Chinese cultures. If you’re more interested in history, the Colonial Tour explains how Britain influenced local growth. You can register at Terminals 2 or 3.
The airport’s 300 retail spaces, consisting of more than duty-free shops, put many city malls to shame. Souvenirs, clothes, books, electronics, toys and jewelry are just some of the items that provide hours of browsing. Selections range from the low end such as 7-Eleven, Burger King, and Starbucks to the top-of-the line like Bvlgari, Swarovski and Cartier. Though most of the eateries keep regular business hours, if your flight arrives at an odd time, you can dine at the 24-Hour Food Gallery or at such outlets as McDonald’s, KFC, Delifrance and Dome.
When you’re finished with the selections at your terminal, enjoy the free and efficient Skytrain to travel among other terminals and visit other shops. The airport guarantees that the prices you pay are not more expensive than the retailer’s off-airport locations. Otherwise, you get twice the price difference in refunds.
After the enclosed artificiality of an airline cabin, You can experience natural beauty through Changi’s six gardens, which display butterflies, cacti, ferns, orchids, koi and fragrant plants. My favorite is the sunflower garden, which is the only one located outdoors, and exposes you to the city’s sunny and humid weather. The planes and the runways are visible from here but you have to contend with smoke in this designated smoking area.
If the freebies aren’t enough to keep you busy, Changi has no shortage of paid delights. The Crowne Plaza Hotel is linked to Terminal 3 by a sky bridge and offers luxurious accommodations and restaurants. However, the Ambassador Transit Hotel offers cheaper rooms that don’t require you to go through immigration. You can take a dip in the Balinese-style swimming pool, which also includes jacuzzi, shower, towel and a free non-alcoholic drink. Finally, haircuts, massages and other services to pamper you are available in all three terminals.