Discovering the world’s best airports for transiting

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Air travel has transformed how we explore the world, connecting continents, cultures, and people. For many travellers, the layover experience can be as important as the final destination. Fortunately, several global airports have taken it to a new level, providing passengers with a seamless and enjoyable stopover.

Read on to explore some of the best airports for transiting and how South Africans can make the most of layovers to explore exciting destinations and get a bigger bang for their buck.

Hamad International Airport, Doha, Qatar

Hamad International Airport is renowned for its opulent design and world-class amenities. Passengers transiting through this airport can enjoy its numerous lounges, art installations, high-end shopping options, and complimentary Wi-Fi. It also offers spacious prayer rooms throughout the passenger terminal and a public mosque outside the terminal.

“Qatar’s Hamad International Airport is a shining example of luxury and efficiency. It’s known for its stunning architecture and an incredible range of services for travellers on layovers,” says Sue Garrett, GM Supply, Pricing and Marketing Flight at Centre South Africa.

Foodie? The airport boasts a range of culinary delights from around the world, making it a food lover’s paradise. Grab some Greek food at eatgreek Kouzina or treat yourself to a juicy burger of Gordon Ramsay standards at his very own burger restaurant, Gordon Ramsay Burger.

If your layover is longer than four hours, you’ll have access to exclusive transit tours, including coach city tours, golf tours, and in-airport tours. The Discover the Art of the Airport tour is a firm favourite, introducing you to all its unique art installations over the course of two hours.

Istanbul International Airport, Turkey

Unveiled shortly before the pandemic, Istanbul International Airport, one of Turkey’s aviation marvels, is a bustling hub seamlessly connecting East and West. Europe’s largest airport offers a unique blend of Turkish culture and modern facilities.

“Istanbul Airport is a gateway to two continents,” says Garrett. “Its vast size can be intimidating, but it also means you’ll find endless shopping, dining, and entertainment options.”

Transiting passengers can explore the airport’s Duty-Free Mall, one of the largest in the world, offering everything from luxury brands to local souvenirs. The airport’s cultural events and art installations also provide a taste of Turkey’s rich heritage, making for a culturally enriching layover experience.

Other notable offerings include a children’s playground, complimentary Wi-Fi, two IGA photo exhibitions, spa facilities, prayer rooms, and YOTEL Istanbul Airport (landside and airside).

Travellers with a layover of more than 10 hours are encouraged to apply for a transit visa online via evisa.gov.tr so they can get out and explore the best of Istanbul while awaiting their next flight.

Changi Airport, Singapore

Changi Airport in Singapore consistently ranks as one of the world’s best airports. Its commitment to passenger satisfaction is evident in its lush gardens, entertainment options, and efficient services.

Garrett notes, “Singapore’s Changi Airport is famous for its commitment to making the layover experience as enjoyable as possible. There’s even a butterfly garden and a rooftop pool!”

Changi Airport is designed to cater to all types of travellers. Whether you’re interested in exploring nature at the Butterfly Garden, taking a dip in the inviting pool at Aerobar by Aerotel, indulging in retail therapy at Jewel Changi, or savouring authentic Singaporean cuisine, this airport has it all.

The airport offers a free city tour for travellers on extended layovers of at least five-and-a-half hours, allowing you to explore Singapore’s top attractions in under three hours. When registering, you’ll need your passport, boarding passes, valid entry visa, and tour booking confirmation. Be sure to pre-book to secure your spot via the airport’s website.

Dubai International Airport, UAE

Dubai International Airport is already a global aviation hub, but it’s not resting on its laurels. Over the next five to seven years, the airport will undergo a massive $3 billion expansion to transform into a smart airport.

Garrett explains, “Dubai Airport is continuously evolving to provide passengers with the best possible experience. The expansion plans, which include new collaborations and tech upgrades, are incredibly ambitious and will solidify its position as a top layover destination.”

This transformation aims to drive growth for the next 10-15 years until the airport reaches its maximum capacity. Subsequently, expansion efforts will shift to Dubai’s second hub, Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC), ensuring Dubai remains a vital link in the global aviation network.

While there’s plenty of exciting amenities and experiences to come, Dubai International Airport is already a force to be reckoned with, offering world-class shopping and dining opportunities. There are also various lounges in which to kick back and catch your breath or keep the kids entertained, including Their Patio (arrival lounge), Game Space Gaming Lounge, and DXB Family Zone. The airport’s GFORCE Health Club is another value-add with a swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, and gym.

Exploring multiple destinations during layovers

Layover flights often come with the benefit of lower fares compared to non-stop flights. Garrett points out, “For budget-conscious travellers, layovers are an excellent way to maximise your travel budget. You can experience multiple destinations for the price of a single ticket.”

That said, for South Africans looking to explore multiple destinations during layovers, it’s essential to research visa requirements. Some countries offer transit visas, allowing passengers to leave the airport and explore the city during their layover. South Africans can leverage these opportunities to visit places they might not have considered otherwise, turning a layover into a mini-vacation.

Transiting through these global airports is no longer just a necessity but an experience to be relished. From the luxury and opulence of Hamad International Airport in Qatar to the cultural richness of Istanbul Airport in Turkey and the unparalleled efficiency and innovation of Changi Airport in Singapore, these airports redefine the layover experience.

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