Let's face it. Unless you're traveling by private jet, air travel these days is anything but fun.
From long security lines and cramped coach seating to a near universal lack of free food on domestic routes, getting from point A to point B by commercial airlines in the US lacks any hint of grandeur.
As rising ticket rates price many passengers out of expensive nonstop routes, there's a good chance that a layover will be part of your travel plans. And with more and more flights being delayed, chances are you're going to be spending a lot more time in the departure lounge than you'd like.
But it's not all bad news.
There are some fine airports out there -- both in America and abroad -- where waiting to board your flight can actually be enjoyable.
Here are some of our favorite airports when it comes to getting stuck.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta, Georgia
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport -- the world's busiest passenger airport -- encompasses 6 concourses and a sprawling main terminal that stretch across 130 acres, with more than 180 gates. But timely underground trains transporting passengers between the departure zones mean you have vast terrain you can explore while waiting for your connecting flight. If you're not into terminal-hopping by train, you can spend your layover getting some exercise by wandering the miles of tunnels connecting the terminals. The underground passages are usually pretty empty and make for a leisurely stroll before you squeeze yourself into another coach seat. The airport's a shopping paradise, too, featuring more than 200 concessions and retailers. Even the food courts are pleasant, with plenty of seating near electrical outlets so you can charge your cell phone and laptop while you eat. There's also live music in the food court to keep you entertained.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Los Angeles, California
We know, we know -- we can hear you groaning already. And we agree -- LAX is a big, swirling, hectic and often disorganized mass of traveling humanity. And there are plenty of airports with better retail therapy and far more serene surrounds. But when it comes to people-watching as a means of making a layover fly by, it doesn't get any better than LAX. Travelers from east and west converge in the world's fifth-busiest passenger airport, and you've got the added bonus of possible celebrity sightings to while away the hours. Just watching the big black-and-white departure boards flicker through exotic destinations -- Papeete, Hong Kong, Auckland -- is enough to get your wanderlust going. And for killer California cuisine in contemporary surrounds, snag a table at the Encounter Restaurant in the main terminal while keeping an eye out for starlets who are similarly stuck.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the Netherlands
A major international hub, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is a sophisticated stopover. Where else can you spend your time between flights ogling masterpieces by Dutch painters such as Van Gogh on display from the city's legendary Rijksmuseum? Just beyond passport control is where you'll find the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, the first museum in the world to be annexed in an airport -- and admission is free. On the opposite end of the cultural spectrum is the Holland Casino in departure hall 2 between gates E and F, where you can work on winning some euros with your dollars before making your connection. Other airport amenities include mini office spaces for rent and endless duty-free shopping options. And how's this for turning a layover into a day to remember? You can actually get married at Schiphol, thanks to the airport's in-terminal wedding-planning service.
Singapore Changi Airport
From free internet access and free movies to special napping cubicles available to rent by the hour, themed gardens with sunflowers and koi ponds, spa services and world-class shopping, Singapore's Changi Airport brings a layover as close as possible to a Zen transit experience. Near the Ambassador Transit Hotel in Terminal 1, there's even a Balinese-themed swimming pool and a whirlpool open to non-hotel guests for a small fee, towel and fruity drink included. Though the in-airport amenities make it tempting to spend even a long layover indoors, if you're inclined to check out one of the world's cleanest and most organized cities, you can sign up for a free city tour of Singapore. A layover of at least 5 hours is sufficient to take part in the 2-hour bus tour of the city's cultural and colonial sights that departs from the main terminal.
Munich Airport Centre, Germany
For sheer architectural beauty and first-class amenities, few airports can hang with the big MAC -- Munich Airport Centre, Germany's second-busiest airport after Frankfurt. MAC takes the cake when it comes to aesthetics. Terminal 2 here is an architectural masterpiece wrought with sweeping sails, metal beams and glass galore. Its fishbowl effect shelters you from the roar of departing jets while bringing the rush of air travel tantalizing close. Hopefully, hunger will strike while you're here and you can indulge in a beer and weisswurst. If you're lucky enough to be here from late November through the end of December, you can experience a traditional German Christmas market outside the terminal, complete with an ice-skating rink, alfresco stalls selling gluhwein and bratwursts and plenty of Bavarian holiday liquid cheer.