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Alternatives to Boredom at Airport

March 02, 1986|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

A friend once described waiting at an airport as "being trapped inside a large, dirty sock." At most airports there is nothing quite as frustrating or as boring as waiting for planes to arrive or for planes to leave. Within just a few minutes, terminal boredom sets in and, for most of us, it's downhill from there.

If you're waiting at the airport in Syracuse, New York, at O'Hare in Chicago, at Majorca, in Spain, or at any of dozens of airports around the world, you can share the same, lonely, debilitating experience.

In many cases we react by doing something stupid--we go shopping. Most airports encourage such expensive and usually unnecessary behavior.

Occasionally, there are bargains. At the Frankfurt Airport in Germany, and at Schiphol in Amsterdam, it's quite fun to shop while waiting. Not only can you sometimes find bargains, you can sometimes even find things you need.

At other airports you're on your own. Do you really want that Lladro porcelain? That's about all you see at most airports in Spain. Waiting at Nairobi Airport is a total bore; after all, how much Kenyan coffee can one consume?

Duty Free Labels

At Hong Kong's Kai-Tak Airport everything is labeled duty free. Waiting there begins to look like fun until you realize that all of Hong Kong is duty free and if you expect any bargains at the airport you're mistaken.

Then there's the shopping at the airport in Honolulu. A few words to the wise: You can buy that Hawaiian pineapple cheaper on the mainland. Also, try to face facts--no one really wants that gift of 200 overpriced, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts anyway. (The one compensation at Honolulu International for waiting passengers is one of the best-stocked newsstands I've ever encountered, offering a wide variety of magazines and same-day newspapers.)

Some bored and brave souls have attempted getting haircuts from airport barbers to kill some time (and, possibly, some good hair styles as well). With few exceptions, airport barbers are hard to find. Even airport shoeshine locations are nearly extinct.

However, if you are ever stuck at the Dayton, Ohio, airport, you're in luck. The airport features a legendary shoeshine operation. Still, how long does even a great shoeshine take? Airport waits are nothing to write home about, although out of boredom you just might do that, too.

But don't despair. A few airports are beginning to do something to make the ordeal of long passenger waits a bearable, if not downright refreshing.

While there are some other airports that offer limited facilities--public showers at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and at Frankfurt Airport--Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen features private rooms available with single beds that are rented for nominal by-the-hour prices. The Helsinki airport not only offers rent-a-beds but saunas for transiting passengers.

When the Terminal 4 complex opens at London's Heathrow Airport in April, transit passengers can use the Oasis Lounge to grab a shower or nap, and British Airways is installing a Young Flyers Lounge for children traveling unaccompanied.

New Attention

In Europe the new attention given to waiting passengers isn't just limited to airports. Travelers going between Paris and Strasbourg by train can wait inside new luxury lounges equipped with computer terminals and printers at the Paris, Nancy and Strasbourg stations. At London's Kings Cross Station, another lounge for first-class passengers has opened, complete with photocopying equipment and bar.

In the United States, the 260-room Miami International Airport Hotel, which is actually inside the airport, welcomes day sleeper passengers with a reduced 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. room rate, $50 (instead of the regular $98 tariffs).

At LAX there's something called Skytel. You can find it in the new International terminal next to the Air France ticket counter. Skytel features 13 6-by-15-foot rooms. For $5.50 for the first 20 minutes and 25 cents each minute thereafter (it works out to $15.50 for the first hour) passengers get a single bed, private toilet and shower, color TV, phone and computer phone jack and an assortment of bathroom amenities. In case anyone's wondering, one strict rule applies: rooms will only be rented on a single-occupancy basis. Even married couples must book separate rooms.

Occasionally, new airlines try to compete with their service on the ground, too. Presidential Airways just opened a midfield terminal at Dulles Airport in Washington. Included in the terminal facilities are an eight-room conference center, a private VIP lounge, restaurants and cocktail lounges.

At the Seattle airport, Pacific Northwest Bell has installed a Business Communications Center, with photocopying machines, facsimile machines, calling card phones in six workrooms with work areas and computer data terminals, and a conference call room.

Although the facility has been in place for more than 18 months, only a few people seem to know about it. The phone company estimates that only 500 people use it in a year.

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