Ever had a long layover at an airport and wondered what to do with yourself? Believe it or not, when I was 16 years old, my dad and I got stuck at Singapore’s Changi Airport for five days.
We were travelling from Perth to Belfast as Qantas staff, the deal being, in return for heavily discounted fares, we’d be the first to be off-loaded from an over- booked flight. There were six of us altogether and we made it to Changi, only to hear the dreaded “O” word.
We went through customs and found a cheap hotel for the night and returned to the airport the following day. There were four seats on the next flight to London. Since I was the eldest, Dad said I’d stay with him and let Mum and the three younger kids aged six, 11 and 13 go on their way.
As we watched their jumbo head skyward, our mood further darkened. Mum, the kids and I were on a family passport and it was heading to Belfast.
I was in no-person’s land. A foreigner without a passport.
Dad tried to get us on each departing flight, meaning we couldn’t leave the airport, but the fact that we had done so on the first night meant we couldn’t proceed to the comforts of the inner sanctum, where there were rest areas, without a boarding pass.
I roamed the airport spending countless hours taking the new inter-terminal sky-train back and forth and sleeping on the hard plastic seats in McDonald’s, mind numbed by the looping muzak.
Thanks to a very insistent and sympathetic Qantas captain – all I remember is he was a big Queenslander called Bill – we eventually made it out. The last thing I recall is airport officials imploring us to “Run, run, run”, as they washed their hands of the boy without a passport and wished their problem away. The five days of absolute boredom, which I felt might last a lifetime, were over.
And that brings me to a new list compiled by Changi Airport. I don’t imagine anyone would get “stuck” at Singapore for more than 12 hours these days but for those who have a layover, there are umpteen activities to fill the time.
REST AND RELAXATION
There are a number of places to stretch out those limbs after a plane journey, from the rooftop swimming pool and jacuzzi ($11.30 including basic toiletries, shower use and a non-alcoholic drink) to the snooze chairs and napping areas throughout the airport. Indulge in a free foot massage or head to one of the spa and beauty centres.
There’s a Fish Spa & Reflexology area or, if you fancy getting your head down, rooms at the Ambassador Transit Hotel (within the airport) start from around $62 for a minimum six-hour stay and around $13.50 for each subsequent hour. If a bite to eat and perhaps a shower is in order, lounge use with snacks and non-alcoholic drinks is around $29 for five hours (shower use is about $7) with gym use and attire ($19.20) and nap suites ($28 for three hours) available.
For those with a stopover of five hours or more, a free two-hour tour of Singapore should fill the void. It could even encourage a longer stop the next time you’re passing through the Lion City.
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
For a complete change of scene, check out the landscaped gardens, grotto-waterfall and colourful clouds of insects in the two-storey Butterfly Garden, relax by the koi pond – there’s a feeding frenzy at 9am or 4pm everyday, visit the outdoor Cactus Garden, see the collection at the Orchid Garden or head to the Sunflower Garden where the bamboo walkway is illuminated by firefly lights.
Catch a free film at either of Changi’s two movie theatres which are open round the clock; watch the news, documentaries, sport or a new-to-DVD movie in the TV lounge which has screens tuned to different stations; track down one of the 550 free internet kiosks; enjoy the creativity at the art installations; or tune in at a private music booth where there’s a selection of jazz, new age and classical tracks.
There’s a host of activities that will see the hours fly by for both parents and children with kids’ shows and comfortable chairs for mum and dad in the family zone, an air-conditioned play area and a multimedia gaming centre with free access to a PlayStation 3, LAN gaming and Xbox Kinect. Experience some local culture at the Peranakan Woodblock Rub, an art form popular in Singapore during the 50s and 60s or, for an adrenaline rush, take the TheSlide@T3. At four storeys, it’s the fastest airport ride in the world and participants can hurtle at up to 6m per second.
As you’d expect, there are plenty of places to spend your time and hard-earned dollars at Changi, where the perfume and cosmetics stores claim to have prices much lower than on Orchard Road. Camera and electronic stores are thick on the ground and there are toy shops, the Singapore Zoo Store and Discover Singapore for souvenirs, without leaving the airport, as well as big name brands such as Harrods, Lacoste and Victoria’s Secret. And for those in need of a chocolate-fix, there’s even an M&M Store.
There’s a veritable smorgasbord of options for those who get hungry between flights.
Local favourites such as chilli crab and kaya toast are on the menu. Or you can combine live entertainment and finger food at the Music Bar Lounges, enjoy a drink and a meal at one of the many bars, choose from the usual fast food suspects – we all know the names – or grab a pint at the Tiger Signature Bar.
Or indulge a sweet tooth or two at Honeymoon Dessert, the Butter Studio or The Cocoa Trees.