The Best Hidden Surprises at Airports

Most of us never really "see" our airports. Oh, we notice security, alright and pay attention as the baggage carousel as goes 'round and 'round without ever disgorging our suitcase. But I suspect most consider airports nothing more than endless corridors of moving sidewalks and crowded plastic seats. If that's you, you're missing out.

Airports aren't just for flying anymore. Many are re-branding themselves as havens of customer service, picking up the slack from the airlines which pretty much abandoned perks and comforts after 9/11.

Today's airports, in the U.S. and abroad, feature imaginative ways to relax and refuel, while providing unusual conveniences and outrageous souvenirs (oh, we'll get to those). Here are some of my picks for best oddball airport surprises and services.

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Best Nature Trail: Singapore Changi (SIN)

A nature trail in an airport? This huge facility gives you a choice of gardens to explore including bamboo, fern and cacti extravaganzas. Note to kids: some of these ecosystems contain carnivorous plants! Best of the bunch: The Butterfly Garden, filled with the flutterings of tropical species. According to the Changi website, it's the world's first airport butterfly habitat and I believe them. And as far as hiking a nature trail, Changi sure beats hoofing it around DFW on the rare occasions when Skylink is out of order.

Best Spa Services: Calgary (YYC) and Detroit Wayne County (DTW)

This is a tough one since spa services are exploding at airports. Need a quick fix for your nails, a 30 minute facial or a soothing massage? You can find that anywhere, but what if you need a real pick-me-up, non-alcoholic edition? Try the OraOxygen Spa at Calgary or Detroit where you can breathe deeply for a 15 minute session that'll only set you back $18. They do manicures and such there too but keep your ears open for gate announcements.

Speaking of ears, if you want them waxed or have other body parts requiring hair removal, visit XpresSpas at airports throughout the U.S. for all your de-furring needs.

Best Kiddie Stuff: Philadelphia International (PHL) and Frankfurt (FRA)

Wish they'd had these when my daughter was a baby: the NannyCaddy, a vending machine dispensing everything a parent could want from diapers, pacifiers, wipes and more, including the all-important sippy cup. There are NannyCaddys in zoos, children's museums and even aquariums, but PHL is the only airport location I'm aware of.

If you want to entertain the tykes between flights, why not a children's birthday party? There are venues for this at Germany's Frankfurt International, but if it turns out to be anything like a typical Chuck E. Cheese outing, the adults can always retire to the airport's onsite casino for a little black jack or slot machine action.

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