Image: Comfortable workspaces
In LAX, the Bradley Terminal's reLAX Lounge offers any traveler all the comforts of a first-class airline club lounge for a nominal fee.
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updated 7/12/2009 3:36:04 PM ET 2009-07-12T19:36:04

You have some time at the airport. You say, “There's nothing to do."

Well, you could take a short walk to a quiet office cubicle with high-speed internet, or a day spa offering a wide range of massage options or a relaxing set of rocking chairs for curling up with a good book, or even a permanent exhibit of Zimbabwean sculpture.

Too many travelers assume that airports are little more than opportunities to scurry between gates and wait numbly. "I think a lot of folks look at an airport, and it's just kind of a hassle," agrees Jeff Green, director of public relations for Denver International Airport. "But quite honestly, it feels good here, and there's lots to do," citing Denver's world-class microbrews, dining options, spectacular scenery, and grand displays of public art (some of them large enough to spawn internet conspiracy theories) for starters.

Denver isn't alone in its artistic offerings. San Francisco International Airport (SFO), features an 11,500-square-foot library and museum offering thousands of photos and artifacts from the history of aviation. Many other hubs offer surprising art programs, including Philadelphia, whose numerous exhibits include movie posters, abstract paintings, and American flags; and Atlanta, whose aforementioned Zimbabwean rock sculptures await you between terminals A and T.

If a workout is more your speed, several airport hotels offer day-passes to their gym and spa facilities. In Chicago's O'Hare International, try the Hilton in Terminal 2; in Detroit, the Westin and its gym are in the new McNamara Terminal; and at Boston's Logan International Airport, there's a Hilton just across the skybridge.

And even if there isn't time to leave the concourse, XpresSpa offers vigorous back rubs, facials, and even Brazilian waxing at more than 30 in-terminal locations, including eight in New York's JFK airport alone. Massage Bar and d_parture spa are fast-growing competitors offering similar services.

Once you've worked up an appetite, take a few extra minutes to seek out local flavors. At DFW, Cousin's Bar-B-Q is a taste of Texas, while Miami's La Carreta offers rib-sticking pressed sandwiches and Cuban delights. LAX's Encounter is a Jetsons-refugee lava lamp citadel, is as over-the-top and health-oriented as the city it represents. On the other hand, if you're flying out of the JetBlue Terminal at JFK, you're already surrounded by options from sushi to tapas.

Image: A chance to kick back old school
LaGuardia, O'Hare, DFW, Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and numerous other airports now offer rows of comfy oak rocking chairs, frequently located in relaxing, open spaces between concourses. Put your legs up on your bag, pull out a favorite book, and party like it's 1899.
If upscale shopping is your pastime (and there's room in your carry-ons), luxury boutiques from Swarovski, Bulgari, Hermes, Cartier, and the like are usually grouped in international departures concourses. Alternatively, museum stores offer distinctive gifts, so the Smithsonian Museum boutiques in Dulles, Newark, or Reagan National, the Metropolitan Museum of Art locations in LaGuardia, JFK, Boston, Newark, and Houston; or the SFMOMA store in SFO may be just the ticket.

Wine aficionados can raise a glass at Vino Volo in nine major airports from Newark to Seattle, or Cibo Bistro and Wine Bar in Philadelphia, LaGuardia, and Reagan National in Washington, D.C. Beer lovers, meanwhile, have fresh local brews on offer in SFO (Anchor Brewing), LAX (Redondo Beach Brewing Co.), Seattle (Red Hook), Boston (Cisco Brew Pub), O'Hare (GooseIsland), Philadelphia (Independence Brew Pub), and many other major cities.

Ten things not to do in New York City If the drinks have to wait until after your deadline, the reLAX Lounge in the Bradley Terminal at LAX is essentially a first-class airline lounge—complete with internet connections, free refreshments, business services, and even massages—open to anyone for a nominal fee. Meanwhile, among standard airport business centers, Denver, SFO, and DFW are all exceptional and open 24 hours.

Elsewhere, private cubicles offered by Regus Express (formerly Laptop Lane) in Seattle, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and elsewhere are small but quiet; you might even try taking nap while you’re in one of them. An increasing number of airports—among them Denver, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Pittsburgh—offer system-wide free Wi-Fi. If you have a laptop, just plop down and work anywhere you feel comfortable.

One favorite laptop plop? Anywhere amid the phalanxes of comfy oak rocking chairs which have been replicated from a pleasant little quirk of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport to the favored airport secret of blissful travelers from San Diego to Boston. The gentle rocking motion can make even a stranded traveler having the worst of travel days feel right at home.

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