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Staying Power: Airport Hotels

by Jeff Heilman
Best Airport Hotels Opening Spread

Investment in upscale restaurants, bars, shops, spas, and entertainment venues have given airports enhanced destination appeal, and airport hotels now include new luxury and boutique properties.

Jeff Heilman

Here is a portfolio of some world-ranked sensations with the best airport accommodations.

Visionary urban planners and architects have been hard at work reimagining the form, feel, and function of airport hotels. Breathless wonder in future-forward environments like Singapore’s Changi Airport will dazzle even the most frequent flyers. Investment in upscale restaurants, bars, shops, spas, and entertainment venues have given airports enhanced destination appeal, and airport hotels now include new luxury and boutique properties inside or near airports that are creating a new vogue for leisure and business travelers.

The segment was ascending before COVID-19. According to leading researcher STR, U.S. airport hotels experienced 73.8 percent occupancy in 2018, compared to 66.2 percent overall U.S. hotel occupancy in 2020. While airport hotels are typically on the landslide fringes and offer limited or select service, demand for airside luxury continues to inspire development around the globe.

Here is a portfolio of some world-ranked sensations with the best airport accommodations.

LONDON CALLING
“Heathrow,” wrote the Guardian in 2007, “looms in our collective imagination and collective experience as a kind of civil purgatory, a transport of horror.” That precisely describes my first ear-ringing encounter with Terminal 1’s congested, cacophonous, fluorescent-lit hell in 1970.

Rescue came in 2008 with the debut of the sleek new Terminal 5 complex and walkway-connected Sofitel London Heathrow (Terminal 5, London Heathrow Airport. Tel: +44-208-757-7777. www.sofitel.com). The 605-room property remains my gold standard for five-star airport hotels.

Fatigue evaporates in this Zen-like refuge, where five soaring atria form a central “Avenue” decorated with gardens, trees, and water sculptures. On that first visit, remedies included curated afternoon tea service and rejuvenating massages in the luxurious spa. Dinner was at Brasserie Roux, from the late Albert Roux, whose Le Gavroche, opened in 1967 in swinging Chelsea, was Britain’s first three Michelin-starred restaurant. Then, blissful sleep in a Superior room, with double-glazed windows and Hermès bath products among the luxurious appointments.

TWA Hotel Solari Board - Best Airport Hotels

TWA Hotel Solari Board
Photo: Jeff Heilman

John Donaldson, then executive director, perfectly expressed the property’s perennial appeal. “The Sofitel London Heathrow is not an airport hotel,” he said. “It’s a five-star luxury hotel which just happens to be at an airport. Given a choice, would you rise before dawn and fight your way from central London to Heathrow for an early flight? Or would you prefer to savor exquisite food, luxurious restful surroundings, a good night’s sleep and a short walk to the plane. No contest!”

Right he was. Voted Europe’s “Best Airport Hotel” and fifth in the world in the 2020 Skytrax World Airport Awards, the hotel, just 21 minutes from London by express train, retains every ounce of its competitive edge.

Brasserie Roux is now La Belle Époque, a violet-draped 3 Rosetteawarded refuge for gourmet French fare with private dining and a Chef ’s Table. Tea 5 Salon is still there, along with the spa, Vivre demonstration kitchen and Hermès in the luxury rooms. Plus, champagne at Le Bar Parisien; 24-hour fitness studio; 55 meeting rooms; Club Millesime Lounge; and for high-flyers, the three-bedroom Imperial Suite with Swarovski fixtures and meeting and dining space.

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