“Wow, this place looks like the Jetsons’ house,” said the guy in front of us at the hotel check-in desk. Indeed, there were echoes of the 1960’s-era space-age cartoon show in the lobby’s curvaceous lines, colorful globe lamps, and streamlined design. A side door led to an outdoor pool with cabanas and fire pits.
But — as foodie travelers who never have time to hit all of the must-do restaurants on our list — we were attracted by the hotel’s myriad dining options, with flavors inspired by LA’s neighborhoods. At unity LA restaurant, we discovered a tempting array of local eats, including charred Korean sticky ribs and drunken noodles. Meanwhile, servers at the bar were delivering tasty nibbles like carne asada fries and ginger-vegetable dumplings. Also available: a selection of “best of Los Angeles” treats, like Randy’s Doughnuts, Deluscious Cookies, and Florentino’s Gelato.
Surprise! All of this was at an airport hotel, the Hyatt Regency LAX, a former Radisson that got a recent $75 million face lift. That’s a lot of money for a freshening-up, even by LA standards.
“We’ve conditioned travelers not to expect too much from an airport hotel,” says Libby Zarrahy, sales and marketing manager of the Hyatt Regency LAX. Here, however, “We want guest to feel the ‘wow’ factor.” It’s definitely a lively vibe. Inside the guest rooms, we found more Jetsonian-mod design, including egg-yolk yellow chairs and bubble-shaped lighting.
The airport hotel has long been a necessary evil — soulless, cookie-cutter, and price-gouging — purgatory for the poor soul who’s got an absurdly early a.m. flight, canceled flight, or crazy-long layover. Those days are vanishing into the clouds, as new airport hotels open and change the game, adding amenities galore. Witness the Fairmont hotel at the Vancouver airport in Canada, with its afternoon tea, live music, Jetside Bar, “fish valet,” and — our favorite feature — a pink grapefruit jet-lag treatment at the onsite spa. Meanwhile, the Westin Denver International Airport offers killer views of the Rockies, direct rail service into downtown from its door, and rentals of New Balance exercise gear to get road warriors out of their rooms.
Excitement is mounting for the arrival (next spring) of the 512-room TWA Hotel (www.twahotel.com) at JFK Airport in New York, built around the futuristic, Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal from the early 1960s. Besides being the only on-airport hotel at JFK, this one will be a draw for aviation buffs, with a museum devoted to the Jet Age, a reception desk modeled after TWA’s 1960s-era ticket counters, plus six restaurants and eight bars. One of the bars will be housed in a TWA Constellation aircraft from the mid 1950s. Think Sinatra music, rotary phones, vintage TWA uniforms, and — of course — Tab cola in the mini-fridge. The average room rate, alas, isn’t stuck in the 1960s; it’ll be about $250 per night.
Skytrax, an airline industry reporting service, surveyed guests about their preferences in airport hotels. Their ratings were based on elements including overall experience, access to the airport, friendly/professional reception and service, cleanliness, in-room amenities, facilities, quality of food, and value for the money. According to guest surveys, the top airport hotels in the world are: Crowne Plaza Changi (Singapore); Pullman Guangzhou; Hilton Munich; Fairmont Vancouver; Sofitel London: Hong Kong Sky City Marriott; Langham Place, Beijing; Regal Airport Hong Kong; Sheraton Amsterdam; and Hilton Frankfurt.
Their picks for best airport hotels in North America are: Fairmont Vancouver; Westin SFO (San Francisco); Grand Hyatt DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth); Renaissance Concourse Atlanta, and, coming in at number four, our very own Hilton Boston Logan.
Here are a few more (some, brand new) that we think deserve a special shout-out.
There’s no getting around it — the flight to Auckland, New Zealand, is one long haul. But the 193-room Naumi Hotel Auckland (pronounced “know-me”) at the airport, opened in February, will instantly put a smile on your (bleary) face. There’s a wall display that dispenses doughnuts, plus mini golf and a swimming pool featuring inflatable unicorns, making this hotel the ultimate in Kiwi quirkiness. Rates start at $135. www.naumihotels.com.
Also high on the fun-o-meter: The Aloft San Francisco Airport hotel (www.aloftsanfranciscoairport.com). Waiting to board a red-eye flight was never so diverting. At the XYZ Bar, the hotel’s lounge, shoot pool or grab a book from the library and chill on a couch, or grab a pre- or post-flight snack at re:fuel, a pantry that’s open 24/7. They’re also a dog-friendly property — the pooch in your party gets use of a dog bed, bowl, treats, and toys. Rates from $149.
If you’re stuck in Paris, you won’t mind (much) if you’re ensconced in the citizenM Charles De Gaulle Airport (www.citzenm.com.) About a seven-minute walk from CDG’s Terminal 3, and a free shuttle ride from Terminals 1 and 2, citizenM is primarily self-service. A touch-screen Mood Pad controls room lighting, temperature, and so on. Rooms are smallish, but beds are large — XL kings, in fact, suitable for one or two people — no kiddie cots or rollaway beds. And they offer the things that really count when you’re rolling in late or way early, like 24/7 food and drinks at the canteen, free movies and WiFi, and a lobby that feels like an oversize living room (good if you’re here for a while), filled with books, magazines, and art. Long layover? Trains and buses to the city run from Terminal 3. Typical weekend rate is around $100.
Yo! There’s a YOTEL — aka YOTELAIR — at London’s Gatwick Airport, located in the South Terminal next to international arrivals. If you like the concept of the Japanese-style capsule hotel (read: super compact), you’ll appreciate this one, since the rooms offer good value and can be rented for as few as four hours for a lower price. (Grab a nap; it sure beats trying to snooze in economy seats!) The rooms are puny, but the design is ingenious — for example, the beds fold from sofa-shape to flat for sleeping, and luggage tucks under the bed. Rooms come in two sizes, for single travelers and couples (or a single who wants extra space). Plus, there’s free Wi-Fi, hot drinks, and grab-and-go food available 24/7. If you’re not a claustrophobe, this is a great choice; rooms rent by day for four hours or more (from $50). Overnight, standard rooms start at about $82; premium rooms, from about $110. www.yotel.com.
One of the few US hotels actually inside an airport, the Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport (www.westindetroitmetroairport.com) has a unique amenity — its own private TSA checkpoint for easy in and out. And this is a true full-service hotel, with an indoor pool, fitness studio, restaurant, and even the Westin Gear Lending program (New Balance fitness shoes and apparel available for rent for $5). They, too, offer rooms by the day (from $109 on weekends between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.) and weekdays (from $150), a handy thing if your flight is delayed and you don’t mind parting with a little cash to feel comfortable.
Just need to crash? Um, maybe we should put it another way, considering that the Jumbo Hostel Stockholm is actually a decommissioned 1976 Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Set on a concrete platform at the entrance of the city’s Arlanda Airport, about 10 minutes to the check-in counters via shuttle bus, the Jumbo Hostel is definitely unique. The most luxurious room is the double bed en suite in the cockpit, featuring panoramic views of the airport. The controls are still there! The rest of the 76 beds are configured as singles, doubles, and in two- and four-person dorm rooms; prices range from $50 to $200 SEK for the cockpit suite. Some rooms have private restrooms and showers, some are shared, all are as tiny as you’d expect, given that this is an actual airplane. There’s also a café, with better food than typical airline fare, we hope. Even if you’ve never slept on a plane before, the odds are you’ll be able to catch some ZZs in this one. www.jumbostay.com