At Munich Airport, travelers can shop for delicacies at the airport grocery store or go to the nearby visitors center for a simulator ride and a tour of historic aircraft. At Singapore Changi International Airport, travelers can take a swim at the airport pool or watch movies for free at the airport theater.
As Denver gets more international flights - including Lufthansa's Denver-Munich flight starting March 31 - local residents will be able to travel overseas more easily, and they might find that the best airports in other countries have more to offer than what they're familiar with stateside.
Meanwhile, Denver International Airport is undergoing a review of its plans for growth in coming decades.
"There is no other major airport in the world that can expand like Denver International Airport can expand," said DIA deputy manager Sally Covington. But she acknowledges that when traveling through airports overseas, "I look at some features and think, 'Oh, I really wish we could do some of those things."'
Some of the best airports abroad are also known for expansive "aerotropolis" developments - in which a miniature city develops around an airport - and fancy amenities, particularly at on-site hotels.
DIA has the capacity to move further in that direction, with plans for a terminal hotel and an eye toward "aeropolitan" development in the vast area surrounding the airport.
"We have the visionary people to put an airport out here and lots of land - we really did plan for the future," Covington said. The space also means DIA can add fourth and fifth concourses and another terminal in the future.
"I do think there are things we can learn from other international airports - how we do customer service, how they build relationships with airlines ? with strategic partners," she said.
Munich Airport, for example, developed its second terminal in partnership with Lufthansa, while airports in Asia have dedicated significant attention to customer service, Covington said. Meanwhile, "people in the United States think that airports are a monopoly and a utility. ... That's a struggle for us because we have to compete."
Munich Airport's amenities include a full-service hospital and a brewery with live music that attracts locals from surrounding towns.
A hotel in walking distance has two full-service restaurants, conference facilities, a spa and a workout room.
"People will come out with their kids and spend the day looking at airplanes. It's a whole day of fun," said Munich Airport spokeswoman Erica Gingerich. "Having an airport city will become an important part of being an airport."
Singapore's airport - ranked No. 1 in the world in a Skytrax ranking and No. 4 by Airports Council International - has a hotel that rents rooms in six-hour blocks, shower facilities, a gym, spa services and napping areas. The airport has more than 160 stores, with a guarantee that its prices are no higher than "established downtown shops" and an offer to refund double the price difference.
"The concept is (to) keep passengers entertained while they are here," said Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore spokesman Goh Yong Long.
Along with wireless Internet access, the airport has more than 300 free Internet terminals. For passengers connecting through Singapore with long layovers, the airport also offers a free two-hour sightseeing tour of Singapore.
In the airport itself are a koi pond, waterfalls and gardens.
Among airports, "Singapore is probably the nicest one I've been to internationally," said Robert Polk, co-owner of Polk Majestic Travel Group in Denver.
Extras are valuable "because the world of travel has changed so much," Covington said.
At some international airports, "you'll see grocery stores, you'll see banks. There's a reason the consumer wants it - because they need it, they're time-sensitive," Covington said. And, she added, airports are always looking for more ways to bring in more revenue without further taxing airlines.
The new Denver-Munich flight is expected to generate $108 million in annual economic impact, which should provide plenty of incentive to pursue more direct overseas routes in the future.
Denver was not on the U.S. itinerary, but before the jets could land on a regular basis, the airport would require improvements on the airfield and in the concourse at a cost of $13.8 million.
At critical juncture, airport must balance growth, uncertainty
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