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Denver International Airport
Photograph: Peter Scott BartaDenver International Airport

The best airports in the U.S., ideal for layovers and the inevitable flight delays

These U.S. airports enhance the travel experience with all kinds of amenities, from the wacky to the relaxing to the downright unexpected

Andrew Hirschfeld
Written by
Andrew Hirschfeld

If you have a long layover or (God forbid) a delay, it can put a damper on any travel experience. Fortunately, quite a few U.S. airports now empathize with that struggle and have ramped up amenities in recent years. Several large hubs are appeasing beleaguered travelers with perks, including pools in New York, restaurant concepts from James Beard Award-winning chefs in Houston, access to therapy animals in San Francisco and even a movie theater in Portland. None of it requires lounge access, either. We looked into the best ones at some of the nation's biggest airports, most known as hubs for connecting flights, to bring you the best options to consider when booking your next flight.

Best airports in the U.S.

1. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

It’s no surprise that New York’s JFK makes the list. It’s a hub for Delta, American and JetBlue, after all. The pinnacle attraction is the new TWA Hotel. Grab a drink at the Connie Cocktail Lounge—a bar inside a retrofitted 1958 Lockheed Constellation airplane. Eat up at restaurants like Paris Café by Jean Georges—the iconic chef behind some of New York City’s best restaurants. There is also a food hall where you can grab some New York favorites like bagels, and Coney Island hot dogs. Up for a dip? The TWA Hotel has an outdoor pool overlooking the airport. Too cold? Don’t worry; it’s heated up to 95 degrees, making it perfect for year-round swimming.

2. Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)

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This midwest Delta Airlines hub tops the list as well. It's not just the amenities at the airport itself but also because of the easy access to public transit that can bring you to a number of attractions close to the airport. The regional light rail has two stops at the airport directly at the terminals—no transfers. You can check out the nation’s biggest mall—The Mall of America—only 12 minutes from the airport via rail. Boasting more than 500 stores and an amusement park, getting lost there for hours is easy. If you want to stay at the airport, there are still a number of ways to pass the time, including a driving range.


3. Portland International Airport (PDX)

Got a layover in Oregon’s most populous city? Catch a flick! This Alaska Airlines hub has a movie theater: Hollywood Theatre, which is located right in Terminal C. There are no feature films at the 22-seat PDX cinema, though. Instead, you'll find short films from an array of local filmmakers. If movie popcorn is not your speed, there are a number of restaurants where you can grab a bite, including Bambuza Vietnamese Kitchen. You can also grab a beer at one of the airport’s breweries or opt for a jolt of caffeine at Stumptown Coffee—a local chain that has since opened locations in New York City, Los Angeles and Kyoto.

4. San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

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This United Airlines hub is often a stopping point for Asia and Oceania-bound flights; this California airport has quite a few amenities that will lift your spirits ahead of a long-haul flight. SFO boasts the Wag Brigade with the help of SPCA. It brings a series of therapy animals for travelers, including dogs, cats, a rabbit and even a pig. If that’s not your style, the airport also has a yoga room and what it calls a SkyTerrace where you can watch the planes go by. Get some fresh air without leaving the airport grounds. 


5. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)

Will you have a boring layover in Cincinnati? Neigh. This Delta Airlines hub takes a play out of SFO’s book. With the help of Seven Oaks Farm—a farm in the region—twice a month, the airport brings in therapy mini horses. Not into horses? No problem! There are still a number of ways you can unwind in this midwestern airport. If you’re a bookworm, CVG offers a free library for travelers thanks to the help of the Cincinnati Public Library system. Then, grab a glass of at one of two (or maybe both, depending on how long your layover is) wine bars.

6. Denver International Airport (DEN)

A hub for United Airlines, Denver International Airport offers an array of amenities to travelers passing through. The Mile High City sits near the continental divide, offering stunning views of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. You don’t even need to leave the airport to get some fresh air: There are two outdoor observation decks to get your moment of peace between flights, both of which include fire pits. Check out public art installations across the airport in between beers, which you can enjoy at a number of the airport’s breweries and tap houses.


7. Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)

It would not be Las Vegas without a little gambling, and you can do that at Harry Reid International Airport. A focus city for both Allegiant and Southwest Airlines, this Nevada airport is not the worst place to have a layover. There are a variety of slot machines and gaming opportunities, including video poker, that you can check out. Gambled out? Hit the gym. There is a 24 Hour Fitness inside Terminal One that's fully equipped. The gym offers passenger day passes but also acts as the onsite gym for airport employees. It also has rest and relaxation rooms where you can take a nap if you need to.

8. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)

While not a hub for any major airline (although maybe not for long), Austin’s airport is filled with amenities that make it a destination in itself. Get your grub on with a number of local restaurants like Salt Lick, Jo’s Coffee, and TacoDeli, which have locations in the airport. ABIA, as the locals call it, is also filled with airport locations of iconic local shops including Waterloo Records, Book People, and the popular clothing store Tyler’s. Embracing the city’s moniker of the Live Music Capital of the World, you catch various live music acts around the airport. ABIA used to have an expansive outdoor terrace that’s open to the public but now it’s only for members.


9. George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

This United hub in Texas is a common stopover for those headed to Central and South America and the Caribbean. It’s also one of only a handful of U.S. airports serving destinations in New Zealand and Singapore, so it’s no wonder this airport is stocked with amenities. Get your grub on with some airport-friendly versions of Houston favorites like The Breakfast Klub, Pappasito’s Cantina, Pappadeaux’s Seafood Kitchen, or even concepts from iconic local chefs James Beard Award-winning Monica Pope and Chris Shepard. You can also catch some live music in Terminal A from various local musicians in many genres, thanks to IAH’s Harmony In The Air program.

10. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

This Midwest United hub has a variety of options for destressing during travel. If you’re headed through O’Hare, there are tons of ways to stay in good spirits. Try out the airport’s Yoga room. First opened in 2013, it offers mats for travelers to use and even instructional videos to guide travelers through the exercises. Prefer to hit the gym? The Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport Hotel offers one-day passes for its exercise facilities, including a running track and even a lap pool. At the Hilton, you can also get a haircut at The Barber Shop if you still have some time to spare.

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