The Best Airports for Student Travelers

Traveling, whether going home or heading to study abroad, can be exciting and fun. It can also be a drain on your energy, time, and sanity when flights are canceled or delayed and you’re stuck at the airport. While you obviously want to get on to your destination, there are some airports that are more student-friendly than others, offering lots of shopping, dining, fun activities, and helpful amenities that make getting stuck for a few hours a little less painful. Here are our picks in six different categories (though many of these tricked-out terminals could take top honors in more than one).

For Getting Things Done

Need to get some work done before you head home or back to school? These airports are some of the best for boosting productivity, offering workspaces, super-fast free WiFi, and other great amenities.

  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport:If you’ve got to get things done today, getting stuck at the Charlotte Airport in North Carolina isn’t the worst thing in the world. The airport offers WiFi that isn’t just free, it also measures faster than any other airport’s WiFi in the U.S. If you get bored, you can also take advantage of the airport’s overlook (for watching planes take off and land) or the Carolinas Aviation Museum.
  • JFK International, New York:Need to squeeze in a doctor’s appointment during your travels? At JFK, travelers can take advantage of everything from primary care physicians to travel immunizations, to physical therapy. Even better, you can pay the bulk of the bill through insurance, as most major plans are accepted. JFK isn’t the only airport that offers these kinds of services. You can also find medical care at airports
    in Baltimore, Atlanta, and more. If dental care is what you need, fly into LaGuardia instead, as it boasts an in-terminal dentist.
  • O’Hare International Airport, Chicago:Your fitness doesn’t have to suffer just because you’re stuck at an airport. When you have time to spare at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, use it to get in a quick workout at the Hilton Hotel’s attached gym facilities. For $15, you can work out, swim, shower, or take advantage of the steam room. For long layovers, students can also hop on Chicago’s famous El (the station is located in the airport) and tour downtown.
  • Dubai International:You won’t be bored for a minute at this amazing airport. For those who need to do work, there’s free WiFi and lounges that are perfect for studying or writing, not to mention studded with palm trees. If you need to work out, there’s a fully outfitted health center with showers, a gym, and a swimming pool. And if you’re really into getting loads done at the airport, you can shop for some last-minute souvenirs duty-free in the airport’s 200,000-square foot shopping center.

For Shopping

Whether you’re trying to pick up a few things for yourself or bringing home some souvenirs for friends, these airports let you shop in style.

  • London Heathrow International Airport:You can indulge in a bit of retail therapy to help you while away a long layover with the help of Heathrow’s abundance of retail shops. All in all, there’s more than 671,000 square feet of retail space in Heathrow, including outposts of the iconic Harrod’s in four terminals, and high-end boutiques like Jo Malone and Prada which are perfect for dreamy window shopping.
  • Zurich Airport:If you’re in Zurich on your way home, you can stock up on snacks, water, or magazines for your trip at the in-airport supermarket. A relative rarity, the airport supermarket offers cheaper prices on all the essentials so you won’t have to shell out big bucks at the kiosks throughout the terminal. Other cities whose airports have supermarkets include Geneva, Singapore, and Frankfurt, so Zurich isn’t your only option for pre-flight grocery shopping. Zurich does offer some other amazing amenities, however. When you’re done shopping, take advantage of bike, inline skate, and walking pole rentals that can let you get a workout while seeing the lovely Swiss scenery around the airport.
  • Haneda Airport, Tokyo:The international terminal at this Tokyo airport will give you a real taste of Japan as you’re on your way home. Students can find authentic food stalls as well as traditional shops offer up wares that make great gifts for friends and relatives back home. Even better, it’s easy to get to and from the airport via public transport, which leaves directly from the airport.

For Learning

Spending time stuck at the airport isn’t quite as bad if you can actually take in some art or make your layover into an educational adventure. These airports are ideal for student travelers who want to double up on traveling and learning.

  • San Francisco International Airport:The SFO Museum inside this newly renovated airport is a great distraction when you’re waiting for your flight. It features all kinds of exhibits, from stone carvings of ancient deities, to board games, to air travel collectibles. When you’re done there, take advantage of ample power outlets for charging your devices (even in the dining areas), workstations, and free WiFi to catch up on emails and get work done, or clear your mind with the airport’s yoga room.
  • Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam:If you don’t have time for a full tour of Amsterdam, or just want to soak in a little bit more culture before you leave, check out the Schiphol Airport’s outpost of the Rijksmuseum. While exhibits rotate, there are always 10-20 works of Dutch masters to check out, sometimes even including big names like Van Gogh. Even better, admission is free. If traveling abroad and flying around the world isn’t enough of a gamble for you, this airport offers access to the Holland Casino so you can play blackjack while you wait. If gambling’s not your style, there’s also an XD movie theatre, offering short movies with seats that move and offer wind and lighting effects, short boat tours on the Floating Dutchman, and a library where you can check out e-books, music, and movies.
  • Incheon Airport, Seoul:Whether you’re connecting through Seoul or heading back home after some study abroad, you can make the most of your hours in the city by taking advantage of an informational tour that leaves from the airport. Tours range from an hour to eight hours or more, and can take you to temples, shopping malls, theatres, or other cultural landmarks. You can also dabble in Korean culture at the airport, with a Korean bathhouse, an on-site museum, and stations that let you try out traditional crafts or take photos in traditional clothing.
  • Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport:Read for pleasure or learning with a little help from the e-book library at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport. You can rent an iPad or other e-reader while at the airport and take advantage of more than 400 different books housed on them, in both English and Chinese. If e-readers aren’t your thing, the airport stocks thousands of traditional books, magazines, and newspapers, too.

For Eating

It’s never too early to become a foodie, and these airports offer students the chance to taste some amazing local foods without ever having to leave the comfort of the main terminal.

  • Munich Franz Josef Strauss Airport:This airport boasts its own authentic Bavarian brewery (aptly named Airbrau) that offers up a variety of classic lagers and a beautiful beer garden (the drinking age in Germany is much lower than in the U.S., so even younger students can imbibe quite legally). If you’re there at the holidays, make sure to check out the Christmas market for a taste of traditional German holiday treats.
  • Logan International Airport, Boston:Ice cream lovers will melt for the MooBella Ice Creamery Machines at Logan Airport in Boston. They’re self-serve, allowing you to create the perfect sundae with the help of a touch screen and more than 96 different combinations of ice creams and mix-ins. The lactose intolerant and those looking for something more savory should check out Legal Seafood for one last taste of Boston before departing.
  • Miami International Airport:As a hub for flights to and from Central and South America, it should come as no surprise that this airport boasts some amazing Latin cuisine. Check out La Carreta for homestyle Cuban cooking and you might not even mind being stuck at the airport. There are other south of the border offerings as well, so save room for a few samples from around the food court.

For Public Transport

As many students are on a tight budget, renting a car or paying for a taxi may be out of the question. If you can’t hitch a ride or don’t have your own car, then public transportation is a must. These airports make getting around on a dime easier than ever.

  • Chek Lap Kok Airport, Hong Kong:Public transportation doesn’t get much easier than this. At two of Hong Kong’s downtown train stations heading to the airport, passengers can print boarding passes and check luggage, then just hop on the train. The train stops right inside the terminal, making getting around insanely easy. If you arrive too early, take advantage of the airport’s nine-hole golf course, which is pricey for students (about $40) but not extravagant.
  • Kastrup Airport, Copenhagen:This amazing airport in Denmark is just a 12-minute train ride to downtown, and at just $6 each way, it’s also friendly on the wallet. Not only does Kastrup offer efficient public transport, but electronic boards in the airport track your checked luggage’s arrival down to the minute, so you’ll know if you have time to get a latte or if you should hang out by the baggage claim.
  • London City Airport:While it might not have the name recognition of Heathrow, London City still offers student travelers access to public transportation that’s pretty admirable. The rail connection is located right in the terminal, and can take you to the Underground in about 18 minutes, from which you can head just about anywhere in London for just a couple of quid.
  • Portland International Airport:Portland in Oregon has a reputation for being an incredibly green city, so it should come as no surprise that public transport options abound for travelers to this airport. There’s easy access to the city’s train system or, if you’re into cycling, you can bring your own bike along and assemble it in-airport using the bike assembly stations in the terminal. If you don’t have the tools, they can be borrowed from the airport, along with biking maps of the city that will help you to get around. Portland is also a great airport for some last-minute shopping. There’s a kiosk-laden hall that boasts loads of items that are locally made, from clothing to wine. You can also enjoy some great locally brewed beers from the on-site outpost of Laurelwood Brewing Company.

For Fun

No one likes being bored at the airport waiting for a flight or stuck with delays and layovers. Students will love these airports with amazing amenities that offer loads of fun while waiting to get on to their next destination.

  • Changi International Airport, Singapore:In this airport, you’ll find the world’s tallest water slide, a free movie theater, free Xbox and Playstation console stations, a swimming pool, free massage stations, a spa, and a large butterfly garden (one of five gardens in the airport) to keep you busy and having fun, whatever your interests may be. Of course, these are only a handful of the amenities at Changi. There’s also free Internet, a post office, and snooze rooms for those who want to capitalize on downtime in other ways, making it one of the best airports to have a layover anywhere in the world.
  • Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport:Located throughout this Minnesota airport are 11 Digiboo kiosks. These kiosks allow student travelers to download, via flash drive, digital versions of movies that can be watched at the airport or while in flight. Soon, many U.S. airports may be home to this service, but currently only Minneapolis-St.Paul, Portland, and Seattle have them. If you tire of watching movies, you can head over to the airport’s mall for some shopping, get a meal at the famous Ike’s, or relax on the observation deck.
  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport:Austin is a city that loves its music, and you can get a taste of it right from the moment you arrive at Bergstrom. There are four different music venues in the airport that offer a wide range of concerts (at least a dozen a week), from country classics to swingin’ jazz. The only ticket you need to enjoy this is your ticket for your flight, as they’re offered free to anyone in the airport’s terminals.
  • General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee:While not as exciting as a waterslide or butterfly garden, this Milwaukee airport does offer young travelers a fun and free option for making the most of a layover: a ping-pong table. Installed as part of a special event, the ping-pong table has become a permanent fixture because it was so popular with travelers. If your arm gets tired, head over to the Renaissance Book Shop to pick up something to read before your flight, or check out the Mitchell Gallery of Flight, a museum honoring Wisconsin’s WWII heroes.